Turning An Idea Into An App

6/1/2013 9:33:25 AM

5 simple steps to help you turn your idea into a successful app

The key to any successful app is a unique idea that meets a need. You can turn any idea into an app, even if you don't know a single line of code. By working with a programmer, you can make your app a reality, but it takes some work on your part up front. Here are some important aspects of app development that I discovered while creating my app for middle schoolers, BrainStars: Math ($2.99, www.app2.me/5326).

1.    Define the app

Before you ever start talking to a programmer, you need to have a solid idea of what your app will accomplish. Here are some questions to get you started:

·         What is the objective of the app? Does it entertain? Teach? Keep records?

·         Who is the target audience? Fifth-grade teachers? Potato farmers? Preschoolers?

·         What are the requirements of the app? Will users need internet access? Login name and password? Will data need to be stored? And if so, where?

·         Finally, what will the app "feel" like? Is it going to be playful and cartoonish? Should it have a professional look? Will it feel like you are reading your favorite book?

2.    Map the flow

Map the flow

Map the flow

Starting from the main menu screen, what are the possible options? Take each possibility and create a flow map of every op­tion. Obviously, this won't be set in stone yet, but if you don't have a clear idea of the flow before you begin the programming stage, your app may meander or have dead ends. Here is an example sketch from a por­tion of my app.

3.    Sketch it out

Each screen is a "face" on your app. You need to be able to show a programmer what your app should look like. Prior to consulting with a programmer, you can either draw or use clip art to illustrate the main screens of your app. Keep the dimensions and orientation of the intended devices in mind. Again, this isn't unchangeable, but is an important tool for conveying your vision to your programmer.

An example of a screen sketch I made, and the corresponding screenshot from the finished app.

An example of a screen sketch I made, and the corresponding screenshot from the finished app.

4.    Find the right programmer

As a newcomer to the app-development world, this step was the most challenging for me. How did I find programmers? You guessed it - Google! But that was just the tip of the iceberg. From the list of programmers in my search results, I checked out each company's website, and I paid close attention to their portfolios of apps to make sure that they had developed a variety of different types of apps, not just the same basic functions each time with different graphics. Then I contacted between 10 and 12 programmers. I gave them a basic overview of what I was looking for and asked for an estimate (be careful not to give away your unique idea). At this point, good programmers will ask you some specific questions about how the app will function before giving you a ballpark price. These questions are the key to seeing which programmers "get" what you are looking for.

5.    Talk money

If at any point you feel that you cannot answer questions without giving away your idea, have the programmer sign a secrecy or non-disclosure agreement; any good programmer should have one. If they don't, you can find one online. Partner with a programmer with whom you can communicate easily and at a comfortable level of detail. Also, with good upfront communication, a programmer should be able to provide you with a reasonable estimate of hours required for your app and lock in a maximum billing limit so that there are no surprises.

Sign a contract with the programmer, including a delivery date and consequences for late delivery. Your programmer should also provide you with what my programmer jokingly called his "bus CD." This CD contains all of the code to my app (we do buy it, after all), so that even if he got hit by a bus, I could still make changes down the road. I was very pleased with Paracoders, Inc., who programmed my app.

Sign a contract with the programmer, including a delivery date and consequences for late delivery.

Sign a contract with the programmer, including a delivery date and consequences for late delivery.

One last tip is to make sure that the "little things" that can add up to a significant amount of money - creating an Apple devel­oper account, uploading the app to iTunes, providing screenshots and app descriptions, and making future updates to meet iOS changes - are included in the contract. The only thing better than those monthly direct deposits into your account for app sales is the rewarding feeling of seeing your idea become a reality.

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