App on a Budget: 5 Simple Ways to Cut the Costs of Building an App

Apps aren't cheap. A great way to cut costs and save time is by taking the startup approach of creating a "minimal viable product," or MVP of your app.

What kind of cheese does your app *really* need?

Building an app isn’t cheap. To save some dough, many appsters make the mistake of sacrificing app quality or, worse, hiring cheap-but-inexperienced designers and developers. Instead of cutting corners that will likely turn out to be more expensive in the long run, try cutting costs by cutting out all the fat. A great way to do this is by taking the startup approach of creating a “minimal viable product,” or MVP.

In a nutshell, a MVP is a product built with minimum features that are just enough for the product to be viable for release and testing for the purpose of learning more about the product and its potential in the fastest, most effortless way possible.

Now that we’ve got that collective “huh?” out of the way, this is what it means for you: building a MVP app will allow you to take your big world-changing app idea and shrink it down to something you can afford to build.

Using this strategy, you can bring your app idea into fruition with a smaller budget in a shorter amount of time. For your first iteration, you’ll have a bare-bones app that will allow you to test the basics and functionality of your idea, all while buying you time to get more funding and gain the knowledge necessary for perfecting the final product.

Your grand vision might be a smorgasbord of game-ified features with points, leaderboards, and rewards topped off with heaps of in-app purchases, but those aren’t worthwhile to invest in until you know the core concept of your app strikes a chord and works. There’s no point in building a whole monetization engine with in-app purchases in your MVP if you don’t yet know if people would be even interested in using the app. – Bobby Gill, founder of the New York based app development company, Blue Label Labs.

5 Simple Ways to Build a MVP of an App

It’s all about making real tough choices.

1. Support a single platform.

In a perfect world, every app would be available for the iPhone, Android, Windows Phone, and, yes, even Blackberry — except that you’ll have to tack on about 50% of the original cost to take an iPhone app and rebuild it for Android. Building for multiple platforms is neither a cost-effective nor efficient way to develop an app in its initial stages. Instagram and Foursquare both started as iOS apps and developed them into successful products before even venturing out into the Android market. So, pick one platform and stick to it, then branch out in the future when you’ve already seen some demand.

2. Simplify design.

An app’s design shouldn’t be too complicated. For one, it’s good practice in creating the best user experience possible. Simpler designs will also save you both time and money because it won’t require you to design customized, graphics-heavy interfaces or create your own Photoshop files. Don’t be afraid to use out-of-the-box colors, fonts, and UI elements for faster, more efficient turnaround.­ The more you can take from the platform, the better.

3. Pick one social network.

Because sharing capabilities pull data from external systems, it takes a lot more work to integrate multiple social networks into one app. For its first iteration, pick one major network (e.g., Facebook or Twitter) and nothing else. This should be enough to give you an idea of how users behave socially and which other networks would be best suited. (Trust me, you don’t need to implement every social network known to man — your app doesn’t need Instagram AND Pinterest, especially if it doesn’t even deal with images!)

4. Choose a screen orientation.

You know having both landscape and portrait view isn’t free, right? Apps don’t just magically transform their orientation based on whether your device is being held vertically or on its side. Someone actually has to design and code it that way. So, pick one orientation, usually portrait, and build for that in your MVP.

5. Implement a feedback system.

No matter what you do, don’t ever get rid of insights. While it’s painful to cut features you love, it will hurt much more to not have any analytics or feedback mechanisms to tell you how your app is performing and what people think about it. You’ll need to invest in enough instrumentation (i.e., Flurry), app management, crash logs, and end-user support systems to get the most out of your first iteration. After all, this is what a MVP is designed to do – get you feedback on how customers use your product, help you realize what features and support you really need, and show you where your app is at its best and where it’s at its worst.

Note that a MVP or bare-bones app doesn’t mean a dull, featureless app. It just means picking and choosing the most important features that’s good enough for a first release so early adopters or beta testers can try it out and give you reliable, constructive feedback you can use for the final product. It’s about understanding the difference between must-have features and a want-to-have features. It’s about building a basic foundation and growing it into an app masterpiece.

Images: Tom Magliery, Ruben Schmidtmann

About Sara Angeles

Sara is a copywriter, blogger, and content strategist for startups and lifestyle brands. She graduated from UC Irvine and has a background in law, finance, and business administration. You can connect with her on LinkedIn and follow her on Twitter. Her Google+ is lonely. Find out more about her at SaraAngeles.com.

  • risetechnology.com.au

    These days, branded apps are not just for big corporations with money to burn. They are well within the reach of every small business too.