This article first appeared in The Economic Times
August 13, 2015 – BENGALURU: There is an app for everything today: to study, to order groceries and to even call a valet. Two people could build an app, given the vast resources available today. There are even courses that help non-coders build apps. But can they sustain it? Unlikely, say experts. Akshay Kingar, who runs Foofys, an app development firm in Bengaluru, says the first step in developing apps is to spot big problems.
“WhatsApp identified that people needed to talk to one another, without paying. Flipboard improvised on the “flip” action. They might not be the best-looking apps, but they stick, because they solve a very big problem,” said Kingar, whose firm works with Prana Healthcare Enablers, Happily Unmar-ried, among others. His firm was picked as the best startup in the Mobile Applications Conference in 2012.
Compared to creating websites for PCs, developing mobile apps is a different ball game. “Website keeps you in a bubble. Even if a website crashes, it is blamed on the browser or the net connection. Not so for an app,” said CEO Pallav Barah of aida. io, which is developing a platform to turbocharge the app development process.
Android and iOS platforms lay down the frameworks where one can build an app. But even before that, a bit of groundwork always helps. For instance, when Foofys was asked to develop an app for hyperlocal gaming communities, Kingar immediately set up several WhatsApp groups, just to understand what sportspersons talk about before the game. He observed their behaviour for about 20 days, and then started sketching out the specifics of the app. The user experience team conducts research, observe behaviour, while the user interface folks build the first prototype. They create a ‘wireframe’ or a bare-bone structure on a paper or on software, laying out the elements, mapping out what buttons lead to which actions. Once this “prototype” or skeleton is clear, the team of developers and designers enter the Android or iOS environment. If the app is more than just a calculator or a flashlight and needs to fetch data from servers like a Facebook or Flipkart, technologies like Java, PHP, Ruby on Rails, Python come into the picture.
Foofys said it takes at least five people to work on an app full time — the user interface/user experience person, an Android developer, a tester, a coder (who works on Ruby on Rails, Java and related technologies) and a project manager (in case of services firms). There is no step-by-step approach or a hand-over phenomenon.
Everyone works in parallel and rapidly tests the app before they release it to the Play Store. It takes about two months to develop an app. Foofys, which is an established firm, charges `3-4 lakh to develop a basic app for clients, while the maintenance could go up to `7 lakh a month. Starters can make do in much fewer amounts. Once released, it is important to talk about it on social media, blog about it and create awareness.
“It should be a two-way street — app developers should create awareness and desire among users to get the app,” said Manish Maheshwari, founder of txtWeb, which he exited to Intuit. Most startups and developers forget that an app is a means to an end and are often under the impression that a founder needs to know how to make apps.
“Mobile application development, per se by itself, is not a barrier to starting up. What is key, is the business model that the app is built around,” said Piyush Shah, chief product officer at mobile ad network InMobi. But do you ever stop working on an app? “You never stop tweaking it,” said Pallav Barah.