Our last post discussed the first two questions you should ask when evaluating a mobile app idea – what’s been done before and what’s available now? Assuming the answers to those questions suggest your idea is worth pursuing, you then need to consider the economics of turning your idea into a functioning app. As you’ll see, the inquiries get progressively more difficult and more important.
Is there a market for this idea?
The simplest piece of advice for anyone contemplating the launch of a new product is to ask some simple questions:
Do I need this?
Would I use this?
Would this product improve my life, in some small but useful way?
If the competition is feeble or thin, it’s useful to look for blog articles complaining about the as-yet unsolved problems that your app might address.
There are naturally a host of other fine-tuned strategies for determining market validation, but before we look at those, it’s worth noting two things. First, methods to determine the size of a market do not necessarily apply to apps that are ancillary to a pre-existing product. If you are serving existing customers or employees, the size of the market is mostly irrelevant and the real question is whether the utility of the project is worth the cost. In most cases, the answer is “Yes,” either because you can easily use an app to enhance the customer or employee experience or the cost is often less than you might think.
Second, the potential customer base for mobile apps is expanding at an unpredictable and exponential rate, rendering market predictions haphazard at best. In a recent issue of The Economist, environmentalist magnate Vinod Khosla noted that India boasts 650 million mobile subscribers, whereas only 300 million people in India have access to running water. Predicting which applications might speak to the needs of the Indian population is difficult, although it’s a fair bet that Toilet Finder’s best days are still ahead of it.
That said, running a standard keyword search for related apps is probably the best place to start. More refined inquiries using the tools such as the Google Adwords keyword tool can provide data concerning the number of searches conducted over specific periods of time, along with graphic data that shows how those searches are trending.
Will I be able to sell the app?
If the answers to the first few questions in this process suggest your mobile app idea is clear, concise, broadly appealing, technically practical, and not already available, you might think it’s ready to hit the app store, but the evaluation is not finished. For example, if you’re developing an iOS app, consider the following:
First, Apple may reject your app if its functionality requires it to modify the platform’s operating system or other native software.
Second, if your app simply republishes an existing website, it’s time to head back to the drawing board as that will probably be rejected as well.
Third, Apple will reject what it considers inappropriate content.
Finally, it’s important that your app actually be innovative, rather than merely appear so.
For more thoughts on app rejection, check out our post on Apple’s App Store guidelines.
How can I make money?
This is an age-old question and is perhaps the most difficult one to answer. If your app is an ancillary, promotional app for an existing business (restaurant, health club, etc.), it may be distributed as a ‘free’ app, making profit tracking an educated guess, at best. There are literally thousands of existing apps intended only to build brand loyalty and business owners everywhere are recognizing the need to make their product available to consumers who are becoming ever more reliant on their mobile devices.
Additionally, and while it might seem counterintuitive, there are several factors which can make a ‘free’ application more profitable than a ‘paid’ app. Much of this is due to ad impressions generated by ‘free’ apps, a factor that is hotly debated and will doubtless continue to be so.
A future post will explore the ways in which app “sellers” can monetize their projects, including the “lite” approach mentioned above, advertising impression sales, out of app or in-app content sales, and sale of ancillary products through an optimized website. In the meantime, if you have other questions you ask when evaluating mobile app ideas, we’d love to hear them – please leave a comment.