How iOS developers can build better apps

Things have changed in the iOS economy.

While it’s still possible since the 2008 App Store launch for relatively inexperienced developers to create hit products, it’s a lot less likely. And while you still get stories of young developers making it, for the most part it’s all about the big dev firms.

I’ve been thinking about this for a bit, and thought I’d try to put together a few ideas that may help people thinking about making an iPhone or iPad app.

Start where you mean to finish

If you haven’t yet started building your software, then App Store optimization may not be particularly high on your list of priorities. But given this is where you will end up once you build your app, it makes sense to consider this first when you first imagine the idea for a new solution.

If you think about it, getting your apps near the top of the listings in the App Store is just search-based optimization like anything else.

At best, search means developing ideas people need and delivering it in forms people like. The search machines on an app store may work differently, but they really still are search engines and you can still try to optimize your position within these results.

There are several things you can try, though one of the most important steps to take is to make sure you follow the App Store Guidelines — don’t waste your energy making apps the guidelines themselves tell you Apple won’t distribute.

These guidelines suggest the importance of focused thinking when describing your app, and I’d argue that you need to be equally focused while you plan what your app is going to do. They say:

  • Don’t stuff keywords into your app names
  • Or your app descriptions
  • Make sure chosen keywords are relevant, descriptive and optimized for your app.

Think laterally about this, and it should be clear that the more focused you are at the start of the development process, the easier it will be to deliver solutions that focus around those guidelines.

Do your research, not your code

The keywords you select need to be appropriate to what your app does, but you can optimize those selections by testing them against tools such as Google’s Keyword Planner Tool or (I think more effective) SEMRush.

These tools will give you a sense of which words are most likely to draw attention to your app if used as keywords and may also help improve your assessment/expectation as to how well your app is going to perform. After all, if the entire world is looking for an app that turns every selfie you send into Santa Claus and your app does only the Easter Bunny, you may need to refine your sales estimates.

Research matters.

Keywords you choose (at best) need to drive good search traffic but deliver a small number of results.

The dark arts of identifying these words has made some people rich and left most of us frustrated. Within this, don’t forget to study the needs of different markets so you can deliver slightly different lists into different language app stores — localized search is everything online today.

Review them often.

Be focused

Have you ever hung out with a really smart, creative person, heard them fire out a million ideas, and then found out they have not been so successful?

Ideas really matter, but having an idea is the easy bit. The challenge is to whittle those ideas down, get focused, and manage to (to paraphrase Steve Jobs) make sure your idea becomes something you actually ship. (“Great artists ship”).

Ideas come easy.

Action takes struggle.

That’s way simpler to say than to achieve, but it seems reasonable to think that spending energy to reduce your idea down to its rich essence should help you create an app around an idea that resonates.

Too much complexity wastes development time, can interfere in the UI, and may even make the user experience less alluring. So, I’ve always thought checking through winners of the Apple Design Awards is a good way to get a few ideas about simplicity, or (for more complex apps) what I call “nested simplicity,” in which the app itself develops along with your needs. Take a look at Agenda for a good example of this (or even Quip).

Think different

You can simplify things the hard way while building your app if you like, but I think it’s more efficient to spend plenty of time analyzing your idea until you can figure out what problem your app aims to solve and in which order you should introduce each planned component.

There really is nothing wrong with developing an app in line with a five-year plan, and I suspect the VC community like to see developed plans.

Preferably on a spreadsheet.

The deal really is that the more focused you become on what you need your app to do, the easier it becomes to find a specific niche in which you want your app to thrive.

By now, you’ve thought about your app, what it is, what it does, and what problems it solves, and you have a pretty good idea concerning how many people may want to use it. So, be sure to put all of that knowledge to work in a 50-word app description.

Edit that so it still makes sense.

Now it’s time to open Xcode and begin building your app.

Hope this helps.

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