What to do if you have an app idea: getting started [updated]

In this multi-part series we’ll be talking about how to explore, vet, and develop your great idea for an app. We’ll move from the exciting early phases of brainstorming and ideation, to validating your idea, writing a mobile app project brief, finding the right partner, crafting a strategy, building and testing your app, and then taking your product to market

In today’s article, What to do if You Have an App Idea: Part 1 — Getting Started we’ll cover the process of brainstorming, surveying the app landscape, and rough prototyping, giving you a chance to explore your idea from different angles before you move toward assessment and validation.

Got a great idea for a mobile app? Congratulations!

Every app starts with a great idea, and if you’ve got one, you’re probably feeling excited and wondering what you should do next. The landscape of app development can be overwhelming, but the good news is that many have been down this road before you. Let’s talk about your options when you have a great idea for an app and you’re not sure where to start.

Mobile app opportunities abound

First of all, you’re entering the market at a good time. The number of smartphone users worldwide is growing exponentially. By one estimate, the planet will have 4.3 billion smartphone users by 2023

Meanwhile, consumers are spending more and more hours engaged with mobile apps. In 2020, Android users increased their time on mobile apps by 40% over the previous year, a remarkable increase that may reflect changing user habits due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Rising engagement is reflected in the extraordinary profits being made across all app platforms. The 4th quarter of 2020 alone delivered 31.9 billion dollars in revenue inside the two main app stores–iOS and Android

These levels of usage and engagement represent massive opportunities for business developers and app creators. With the right app, you have the potential to reach a vast community of users. With a great app that meets people’s needs, you’ll be solving problems, enhancing lives, and hopefully turning a good profit

The landscape is competitive

Running a mobile app business can be lucrative, but the app landscape is massively competitive. In fact, only a small percentage of apps are ultimately successful. It is important that you go into this process with eyes wide open. Given the intense competition, with a good marketing strategy, funding, and talented developers, you can increase your chances of success. We’ll get into these topics in later stages of this series. For now, we’ll begin by brainstorming.

Getting it down on paper

Now that you’re pumped about the skyrocketing potential of your app adventure, it’s time to start getting your idea on paper. Start brainstorming by thinking broadly. Don’t worry about monetization, marketing, or whether your idea is good enough to fund your retirement. Just start writing down your ideas.

hand placing a 3x5 card on a desk with other cards and post its

Some questions to ask yourself: What users are you trying to reach (be specific)? This can also be expressed as who is your target market? What problems will you solve, or pain-points will you address? Alternatively, how will you entertain, or improve users’ lives? Take the time to articulate several variations on your idea. Fill up a few pages, even. There will be plenty of time for critical analysis later. For now, the sky’s the limit! Let your ideas flow, take a short break, and then let them flow some more.

Thinking about your unique value proposition

If you feel like taking this process a little deeper, you might start thinking about your unique value proposition (UVP). What benefits can you offer users, which no other app currently provides well? At this stage, your UVP may change, but it’s a great time to start trying one or two on for size. Your UVP will become important when we get to Part 2 of this series.

Make a rough prototype on paper

As you explore your idea, now is a good time to try sketching out some of the screens. This will serve as a rough prototype for your project. If there are features you’d like to include, draw those, or make notes in the margins. Don’t worry about the artistic merits of your work–for now just focus on ideation and creativity. Originality is one of your greatest advantages as you try to stand out from the crowd.

drawings of wireframes on a desk with hands gesturing

This is also a great time to make a map of your app. Consider how the user will travel through your app, navigating from one screen to the next. There are great online tools for customer journey mapping and user flows, but for now just stick to pen or pencil and paper. Using your hands can be good for creativity.

Start some informal research

After getting all your ideas out on paper, begin assessing the landscape. Start by visiting the Apple and Google Play app stores to check out the competition. There are already a couple million apps in existence, so there’s a good chance that your idea is not 100% original. Don’t be deterred, but do make note of the apps that could become your direct competitors.

fingers grasp a mobile phone showing app icons

Finding that your idea has already been turned into an app shouldn’t necessarily put you off your idea. However, you will want to consider what will give your product a unique edge. Is it stellar branding? Are you more user-friendly? Is there a feature nobody’s thought of? Or maybe you have unique insights into the market you’re trying to reach?

Talk about your idea and get feedback

Some people with a great idea for an app worry that if they share their idea with others, it might be stolen. The truth is this is not likely. Developing an app takes a big investment of time and money, and most people don’t have the bandwidth to try. The feedback you receive from others, however, could be invaluable.

give people sitting an an office on comfortable chairs and sofas

Discuss your idea with trusted friends, especially if they’re frequent users of mobile apps, and garner their insights. You may find your friends are full of advice. Whether or not you heed their advice is up to you, but listening closely to their words may prove useful. Taking detailed notes or recording their remarks will also help you reflect on the feedback later.

An idea is just the beginning of your journey

Your idea is the genesis of your product, and it may take you far. However, a good idea without execution is merely fantasy, and is worth nothing in the marketplace. The next stages will challenge you to test your idea to determine whether it is valid and should be pursued.

Now that you’ve brainstormed and perused the competitive landscape, you should be ready to roll up your sleeves and face the challenges and uncertainties ahead. We encourage you to stay connected to the enthusiasm you feel at this phase, but also recognize that your project may evolve as you learn more about the market and the product development process.

Going forward: validation and creating a project brief

In today’s article, we explored the process of brainstorming and creating a rough prototype of your mobile app. By this point you should have explored your idea pretty thoroughly and are ready for the next phase.

In Part 2 of this series on “What to do if You Have a Great Idea for a Mobile App,” we’ll start to get more granular. We’re going to explore how do some early validation of your idea, creating user personas, and a basic user journey flow. All of these elements will come together later when we create a project brief

Join us here on the LimeTech blog for Part 2 next Thursday. If you’re ahead of the game, and ready to discuss your mobile app idea with us, please reach out and we’ll be glad to get the conversation going.


Editor’s note: This article was updated by Addie Kugler-Lunt in 2022.

LimeTech is a creative tech company with a focus on app development. We help brands grow their impact by building digital products that please customers and solve business challenges. Our work includes strategy, design, content, and tech planning. Check out our portfolio or reach out to start a conversation about your project.

android    app design    ios    mobile app development    mobile applications    product development    prototyping    

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