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Best Practices - Mobile app development

It is common in IT firms to hear about best practices from a technical perspective. Be it code review, detailed test cases, documentation etc., people at the workplace will tell you how something is to be done properly?, why something is not executed the right way? or why some processes have to be followed?. Such thorough examination is justified – shipping good, working code is our forte and attempting to optimize that, at every possible juncture, is necessary and commendable.

That said, when the product goes live, all such technical processes take a backseat. The customer is not concerned with the technicalities like what development methodology was used to implement the application?, how many defects were logged?, how long the project took for completion? or how efficient your developers were?. It is the functionality that comes to the fore and decides the future of the product. Therefore, it is more crucial to pay attention to the features your product holds and the value-add it provides to your target group of customers rather than how clean your code is and how efficient your processes are. There is no shortcut to this. There are several factors and criteria that one needs to look at while deciding on what’s the best route to take. Some best practices would make your product look appealing and serve the purpose it was originally intended for. Few important ones are mentioned below:

1. Focus on the USP (Unique Selling Proposition)

Needless to say, this is the raison d’etre of your product. You can claim various benefits of having several attractive features crammed into your application, but at the end of the day it is the novelty and uniqueness of your product that will win you customers. It is the value proposition, that your product offers, that is going to define whether it is going to be embraced by your customers or discarded like many other applications.

The first version of your product should not be comprehensive and complex. You need to tell the audience that your product is unique and has to offer many features which are different from the contemporary applications in the market. Ideally, that would mean incorporating a minimum set of details, with a focus on merely the core and unique features of the application. This would increase visibility of those features and give you a nucleus around which you can construct further details and options.

2. Develop a Clean and Uncluttered UI (User Interface)

Ask any UI designer about the relevance of the user interface to an application and you’ll get to know how it is of paramount importance? It’s no exaggeration; the average user is, both, impatient and judgmental and it is likely that an untidy and a cluttered UI makes him/her believe that the application, itself, is a set of several features and not much thought has been given to its relevance to the product and its value proposition. First impression might not be the best impression, but in this case, it’s a very defining impression, indeed.

It is essential to dedicate a lot of time and thought to the UI design of the product. It is best to adopt a structure/theme throughout the application and to steer clear of any deviations from the original design. Space constraints for mobile devices should be taken into consideration and a minimalist approach should be followed while placing features on each screen. The iconography should be intuitive and touch friendly and the UI should, also, help the user understand navigations across the application. It is, also, advisable to maximize the use of native controls to the OS and to adhere to the latest design methodologies to improve user experience and to give the user a feel of using a fresh new application.

Furthermore, the application becomes easier to use if common norms, in icons, terminologies and navigations, are followed. It is imperative, then, that a lot of thought is given to the UI design and they are not just created as per one’s whims and fancies.

3. Ensure that the Application Does not Drain the Resources of the User

This isn’t perhaps a business consideration, per se, but certainly, if your application drains the device resources, considerably, it is a no-brainer, that in due course, the user would deem it necessary to uninstall the application. And, how often have you installed an application that you have uninstalled at some point? Almost never, I suppose. Surely, this is a situation you would want to avoid.

While a lot of this would depend on the technical architecture and the backend support systems, that are being employed, business decisions could also directly affect application performance. This would, mostly, be with regards to the ongoing background processes, which would result in battery drainage and application sluggishness. If a feature consumes a tremendous amount of device resources, a decision needs to be taken on whether that feature holds relevance to the product. At the very least, it needs to be refactored to be less expensive, performance-wise.

4. Improve Social Engagement

Integrating the existing social networking platforms to the product would ensure that the application gets publicized to a set database of users. Chances of like-minded people, discovering the application, are high if options to share content from the application are placed prominently and are easy to use. Options to invite friends, to try out the application, would also ensure that word spreads fast through the social media to the users.

The data, which can be collected from Google analytics, could be used to focus on areas that receive maximum hits. It would, also, help to understand areas where the users are blocked or cannot proceed from. Such statistics would help to improve business workflow, identify future use cases and devise a strategy for the application while going forward.

Increasing application traffic, also, helps to broadcast the growth of the application, which in turn is directly related to generating revenue and bringing advertising ventures into the application. Investors and potential clients rely on analytics statistics for evaluating the importance and popularity of the application in the market and for analyzing potential advertising hit zones. Such word-of-mouth publicity and its effectiveness are often overlooked. Conforming to social engagement will help to increase visibility of your product.

5. Place Advertisements, Subtly and Strategically

As a general rule, most of the time advertisements are undesirable to the end-user. They tend to distract and irritate users and are, more often than not, swiftly ignored. It would be common logic to get rid of advertisements but, unfortunately, they get translated into something significantly important for the key stakeholders – revenue.

Adding in-app advertising has thus, become an effective method of offering applications for free, which, both, increases downloads and also, generates revenue, thanks to the advertising clicks. There is a lot of thought and logic that goes into creating an application that offers a superior user experience. The last thing we would want to do is to place disturbing advertisements that completely destroy the application feel and drive users away from it. Yet, without these advertisements, revenue becomes a concern. It seems like a bit of an impasse – you cannot have both – a smooth user flow and advertisements, at the same time.

The best we can do, in such a scenario, is to be wise when it comes to advertisement placement. Subtlety is the watchword here – their placement should be done in such a way that the user flow is not obstructed and the content of the application or a key functionality is not compromised. Advertisements stay within the eyeshot of the user. There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution here; the best approach would depend on the nature of your application – its UI and its features. It’s imperative to keep the pitfalls in mind. We must ensure that, at the end of the day, the application is still usable and understandable, rather than bumpy and tedious.

6. The End-User is the King

There are several success stories that people love to speak about and B-Schools like to refer to when it comes to customer satisfaction. The WhatsApp story is one of the finest examples. Their journey from being a status-sharing directory to an instant messaging app was inspired by feedback received from their customers who felt that the product needed to evolve for it to be adopted. They listened to their customers and were able to transform it to the version we see today.

The key term here is customer. Yes, you read it right – the ‘customer’. While a product is a customers’ brainchild, the focus should always be on the end user’s experience of the application. From the developer’s and the product owner’s perspective, it’s all about satisfying the key stakeholder, who invests his/her money on the product, but ultimately, it is the end-user who evaluates your application and decides its fate. It is imperative, then, that we give their feedback utmost priority. This does not mean that we leave the decision-making to them and rest easy. Instead, we need to evaluate those arguments, analyze whether they hold merit or not and take a decision, accordingly. This will help to improve the application and make it more in- line with the users’ expectations, while retaining the core functionality of the product.

Moreover, word-of-mouth is an extremely powerful promotional tool. If a product is designed, keeping the end user’s general priorities in mind, it is a fair assumption that the product would gather positive ratings and rave reviews. This would, then, be passed on to other users who would do the same, thus, spreading the word. For all the promotional strategies and publicity stunts, that your marketing team can come up with, word- of- mouth remains the most effective and reliable tactic and a crucial part of any business’ marketing strategy. Keeping the end-user in mind is essential, to ensuring that your application generates good reviews and garners positive ratings.

The Conclusion

This list is not an exhaustive collection of business decisions that could improve your product. This is just the guidelines; there are many other best practices that complete this iceberg. There are a whole lot of other techniques that could go a long way towards improving the look and feel of your application. This list, though, provides some good points to bear in mind while building that dream application of yours. Once you’ve added these items to your checklist, be rest assured that you have an application to compete with the contemporaries in the market.

Ajith Menon and Preethi Susan George, Business Analysts, RapidValue Solutions

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