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3 Approaches for Brands: Contracting iPhone developers

Posted By Brandon Mensinga On May 12, 2010 @ 9:30 am In App Experience | No Comments


There are three routes you may be considering for app development; digital marketing agency, mobile marketing specialist and development houses. Each tackles the problem from a different perspective and requires a different set of due diligence. Beyond the stock & trade diligence questions, here are a few issues and questions that should be top of mind.

Digital Marketing Agency. They readily understand your brand positioning, marketing strategy and can drum-up the creative concepts targeted to hook your target audience across multiple channels. However, they typically possess limited knowledge of a particular channel, which in this case is the iPhone / iPad. This includes context;  brand app trends, relevant metrics and competitive benchmarks. It also includes specifics; user interface and feature possibilities. The domain expertise issue becomes even more problematic if they punt it down the chain to sub-contractors. The net result is paying high brow agency fees for an app that does not maximize the opportunity. In summary, agencies are a mile wide on marketing expertise and an inch deep in channel knowledge.

Domain Expertise. Do they know who the “hot” brand apps are in your segment and what unique value proposition they offer? Can they provide intelligence on what your competitors are doing with respect to; concept, UI, features, marketing etc.? Are there recent app store metrics, trends and launches that you should be aware of?

Development Expertise. The yes / no question. Do they have in-house experience in iPhone development? (Objective C, Cocoa Touch, and Xcode development). The quantitative question. How many developers do they have dedicated to iPhone development? The qualitative question. What are three hard lessons they`ve taken away from previous iPhone projects that would inform your requirement? If sub-contracting, how do they ensure quality and timeliness?

UI / Feature Expertise. How many brand apps have they produced? Which ones are available on the app store? Play with the apps. The agency may have a wicked cool website, but can they deliver great user experiences for iPhone? Have they helped craft and execute comprehensive strategies such as sponsorship, licensing 3rd party software etc. How did they collaborate with previous clients to define UI and features? Can they provide an app mock-up designs as part of the sales cycle to illustrate your concept?

Development House. You will need to assign internal; product management, project management, QA and UI designer assets. Typically, development houses simply write code. The project management they offer usually extends solely to their development work. Moreover, QA will often be limited pushing the burden of catching issues to you. If you have a clear strategy, set of requirements and user interface design then this approach can be cost-effective and timely. If you do not assign resources and specify things on-the-fly this approach can be painful, time consuming and ultimately expensive. In particular, the user interface needs to be explicitly planned to ensure the `the right` product outcome. In summary, development houses possess tell me what to do and I’ll do it expertise.

Development Expertise. How many iPhone projects? How many on the App Store? Have they developed a diverse range of apps from a feature / functionality standpoint or are they niche (for ex. games only)? Have they done a similar app that matches up to your requirement? You can quickly determine quality levels by checking the comments on the App Store for any severe issues such as crashing, functionality not working etc.

Project Expertise. Do they provide a design specification? Do they perform independent QA complete with test cases and final test report. “Be honest with me, is your unit testing a quick check or do you actually spend time to walk thru functionality to ensure everything is working?”  Do they provide release notes (i.e what’s changed from the last time) for each deliverable? Speak to the project manager that will be assigned to your project. Do they have solid communication skills?

Beyond the call. Are they pro-active in resolving user interface and requirements clarifications? Better yet, are they capable of thinking from a product / strategy perspective and able to provide suggestions, ideas on-the fly for improvement? Or are they mindless coders with no UI sense and not cognizant of what they are building. Ask for references and call them asking this question. If you receive a cookie-cutter proposal and minimal effort put into answering questions in the pre-sales cycle, run for the hills.

Mobile App Specialist. They have an in-depth domain expertise ranging from the latest app store market trend to the latest iPhone OS API serving up a mature breadth of app experience. However, they typically lack an ability to translate corporate objectives and market strategy into a compelling set of requirements. Moreover, they may or may not have a professional user interface designer. The difference between Joe Shmuck iPhone geek designing an app and a professional is significant. Remember apps are all about solving the right problem and user experience, not about how well architected the code is. They may also be caught-out on more complex server needs and may lack the heavyweight skillset needed to handle things beyond the client. In summary, all iPhone, all the time expertise.

Development Expertise. How many client-server projects? What did they develop on the server side? Provide detail. What kind of custom UI work have they done? Provide details! Have they worked on similar projects? Have they worked on the scope of project your considering?

Strategy Expertise. Do they provide market requirements / concept definition services? What is their process to accomplish this? Have them show examples, provide references. Speak to the lead. Do they have the depth of experience and background to handle primary market requirements?

UI / Feature Expertise. Do they provide user interface design services? What is that persons background, skillset and experience? Have them show examples of their work.

When you receive your competitive bids, ask yourself; do they have documented, specific experience we are seeking and will the go beyond the call to ensure we create a successful mobile app. Vendor selection may be the difference between “having” an app and delivering a meaningful product for both consumers and the business.

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