David Tucker is a principal architect at Universal Mind. As the resident Apple and Adobe expert, he works closely with Universal Mind’s clients to develop rich user experiences that leverage many of today’s exciting new development platforms. Follow David on Twitter @mindmillmedia.

Many companies have mobile apps at the top of their to-do lists, but while churning out a quick app is fairly straightforward, developing a strategic application or digital “solution” is considerably more complex. Smart planning is essential.

Here are 10 things to consider before developing your app.


1. Agree on goals for the program.


When developing a digital solution strategy, first examine your organization’s goals for the program. Are you looking to be seen as innovator, or fend off competition by showing progress in the space? Simply showing initial momentum and previewing the future roadmap can often place you ahead of the competition. Should your digital solutions help build customer loyalty and enable greater customer self-service, or is your highest priority to create new revenue streams? Once you’ve agreed on the goals, prioritize them so you’ll know where to start.


2. Understand your target users.


The next step is to understand who your target users are, their goals and requirements, and the technologies they use. This process includes researching the platforms your users are most likely utilizing, then gaining an understanding of each user experience. Every device is different, and every user has multiple needs. For example, a person might typically use an online banking application to pay a bill, but he might use the bank’s mobile application to find the closest ATM.


3. Build a user testing focus group.


Spending time with your target users is the only way to ensure you really understand what they are looking for in a mobile application. As you move through the process of discovery, you can discuss ideas with this group on a daily basis. Focus groups can provide value from the far beyond the initial discovery phase.


4. Identify a minimally viable solution set.


Don’t try to tackle the whole problem at once. Instead, companies should identify a minimally viable solution and start there. In other words, release a basic but functional app as a foundation, then take advantage of the efficient upgrade paths most devices offer to provide regular updates. This enables you to enter the market more quickly and refine as needed. Plus, periodically giving your users access to new developments ensures your organization stays top-of-mind.


5. Plan for multiple releases.


With mobile applications, releasing the initial version is only the beginning. Statistics show that many users will re-engage with your application when new features are added. Spread key functionality across the first handful of releases to keep your users engaged. Be careful not to release too often, lest users feel bombarded. In many cases, a 2-3 month window between major releases will keep your users engaged over a longer period of time.


6. Balance your users and your business.


Balancing business drivers with real user needs can be difficult. In many cases, the two are at odds with one another. Therefore, arm yourself with the right information to make smart tradeoffs. Collect research such as user studies, expert opinions, and business viability and technical feasibility studies. This body of data can then be weighed to achieve the best balance between user-centric solutions and business-value gains.


7. Know what is out there.


Spend time exploring apps in each of the platforms you plan to support. Each platform offers different interface paradigms and a different collection of applications. Experimenting with the most popular applications will help you understand not only what is possible on the platform, but also the user’s expectations. If possible, use a different mobile platform device during the exploration process.


8. Bring your IT team into the discussions early.


The far greater technical challenge is tying your backend business processes to a digital solution that encompasses smartphones and kiosks, for example. The technology infrastructure for a multichannel solution goes well beyond the platform you choose for front-end development. In order to be successful, companies must consider how to architect data delivery and API management as well as security, scalability, content aggregation, device optimization, API translation, etc. Bring your IT team into the discussion before you get too far down the planning path.


9. Decide on a technology you can live (and grow) with.


As the mobile space matures, there will be many more application develop choices. In many cases, your goals will help determine what you choose here. For example, if your goal is to reach as many users as possible across all platforms, you may choose an HTML framework with little hardware integration. If your goal is to provide deep hardware integration for augmented reality technology, then you’ll probably develop a native application. Decisions around technology can directly affect your app’s functionality.


10. Plan to analyze.


The final step in the process is determining how to measure success. With a morass of potential features, devices, platforms and technologies, success can be challenging to define, but it will affect your ultimate strategy. Consider the following questions.

  • Will this increase our transaction volume and, therefore, revenue?
  • Will this increase customer adoption and retention?
  • Will this increase our brand recognition and loyalty?
  • Will this decrease our costs?
  • How many people do we want using our app?
  • How do we want to integrate the solution with our social media program?
  • How will we integrate with our existing analytics tools?

Images courtesy of iStockphoto, TommyL, Nikada

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Developers interested in creating cross-platform mobile apps have a new tool for their arsenals in The-M-Project. The-M-Project is an HTML5 JavaScript framework that targets iOS, Android, BlackBerry and webOS platforms.

Think of it as jQuery Mobile with the added bonus of a NodeJS based build tool. The project is new and in the very early alpha stages, but it already looks very promising.

The-M-Project has its own git repository that you can fork or download to your own system.

The project files include all the UI and Core files from jQuery Mobile. The real special sauce with The-M-Project is its build tool, Espresso. Espresso was written in JavaScript using node.js and with it you can build your code and run it on a built-in server. Espresso is available bundled with The-M-Project or you can download it from its git repository.

All right, so that all sounds good and geeky, but what exactly can this project do? Well, as we said, the project is still in its infancy but already the developers have put together some sample apps that show off some of what you can do.

This screenshot shows off the Twitter demo and the app. Accessing the app from an iPhone or Android device brings together an experience that feels very similar to that of a native iOS app. What is particularly cool — and this is the jQuery Mobile base — is that you can adjust your browser window’s size to see how the UI elements scale up or down.

If you want to explore the insides of the sample apps, you can check the source code out on Git Hub.

The team behind The-M-Project, M-Way Solutions, has a basic roadmap outlining its plans for the project. The first public release is out now but future updates will be coming soon and the production ready 1.0 version is scheduled by the end of 2011.

Developers that want to contribute by filing bug reports and submitting patches can go to Git Hub or look at this page for more information.

What do you think about JavaScript/HTML5 mobile app frameworks and tool kits? Is this where mobile app development is headed? Let us know your thoughts.

More About: HTML5, javascript, jquery, jquery mobile, mobile app development, mobile apps, node, node.js, the-m-project

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