Why it might not be time to build a custom app…yet.

This is the first of two articles that will help you figure out if you need a custom app. You can read Part 2 here. If you would like to discuss your app idea, we’d love to talk to you!

Before you commit to building a custom app, consider whether existing software, a combination of available solutions, or further proving your concept would be a better next step. Read this article to consider those options, and contact us at Novvia if you’d like to discuss your idea further.

Do You Really Need an App? 

If you watched TV in 2009, you may remember the first (now iconic) commercial for Apple’s new App Store, which had debuted the previous year. In the ad, an iPhone 3G user scrolls through mobile applications (apps) on a home screen while a narrator describes information a phone user might want. The questions range from the straightforward (How many calories are in my lunch?) to the niche (How much snow is on the mountains?) to the frustratingly familiar (Where did I park?). To find answers to these questions and more, the narrator says, “There’s an app for that.”

Today, the App Store is home to nearly four million apps and nearly a million more games. Meanwhile, Google Play houses over two million apps and almost half a million games. If there was an app for “everything” in 2009, then surely the same and more is true today.

But even though there are already millions of apps, people keep making more, with no sign of slowing down.

Have you ever thought, “There should be an app for that”? Maybe you own or work for a business and think a custom app would help your customers access your services in new and improved ways. Maybe you run a nonprofit and think you could increase engagement with your cause through an app. Maybe you just think you have an idea for a great app that would be fun, helpful, or better than what’s already out there.

If you think you have an idea for an app, what should you do? Do you need to learn code? Should you hire someone to make one for you? Are there other, better (or cheaper) solutions? This article explains three reasons you may not need to develop a new app.

Reason #1: Existing Software Solutions are Close Enough

We’ve all had experiences where we decided that something was “close enough.” If you have ever used software or an online tool to track your exercise or check up on the latest news, you have probably noticed that the tool does a lot of what you like, but not necessarily everything. In this case, “close enough” is just fine. But if you need to run a critical business feature or keep in contact with an aging relative, then “close enough” is not OK.

When it comes to deciding if you should build an app, first ask yourself: “Is there already an app that’s sort of like the one I have in mind?” If there is, then it may not be worth the time, energy, and money required to build (or hire an app developer to build) a new one.

For example, there are dozens if not hundreds of content management systems, many with countless plug-ins that allow users to customize the systems. Similarly, there are numerous podcasting solutions, customer relationship management options, and marketing apps. Many of these apps have been through several upgrades that have improved their usability and functionality. Moreover, many of these apps are free to try. You only have to pay if you decide the app does what you need it to do and does it well enough that you’re willing to pay.

Sometimes an existing software solution is definitely “close enough,” and you’d be better off using an app that another developer has already built than you would hiring someone to build a new one.

Reason #2: A Software Mashup Would Get the Job Done 

If you’re trying to stay in touch with a wide range of people online, you likely use more than one social media platform. Some people use TikTok, some favor Twitter, and others spend their time on Instagram. Each of these platforms has advantages and helps you connect with others, but it’s the collection of all of them, used together, that allows you to maintain contact with as many people as possible. In this sense, using several of these services together could be called a “mashup” solution to the challenge of staying connected.

In the vast world of mobile and web development, there are also mashups–ways to connect different types of programs or apps so that the combination does something a single app couldn’t do on its own.

In order to determine whether a mashup approach might be better than creating a new app, ask yourself: “Is there a way I could plug into what’s already out there (or what I’ve already built) to make something new?”

For example, an app you are considering might have plug-ins available that could help you arrive at the “close enough” solution we just discussed (WordPress is a good example). An application programming interface (API) might allow you to join two applications that, working together, would allow you to do what you need to do (think of how Zapier uses APIs to connect different software). Alternatively, there may be a no-code program you could use to develop software that works for your purposes (HubSpot is one example).

Even if you need to hire an app developer to smooth some of the rough edges of a mashup solution, that process might require just a few hours rather than the hundreds or thousands of hours it could take a web development company to build an entirely new app.

So before you embark on building a new app, consider a mashup.

Reason #3: You Need Proof of Concept Rather than an App

The last reason you might not need to build a custom app is that you haven’t spent enough time figuring out exactly what you want, or if it’s worth building at all.

It’s generally a bad idea to make a big decision without figuring out what it will cost you and whether whatever you are getting yourself into is worth it. Most of us probably wouldn’t sign a contract for an apartment before figuring out if we can afford the rent, marry someone we haven’t decided we like all that much, or take a job without knowing what it pays.

In the same way, when it comes to building an app, you should ask: “Is this idea good enough that it deserves the cost required to develop a whole new app?” Just because you have an app idea you love, that doesn’t mean you have an app idea worth pursuing.

If you’re not sure your app idea warrants talking with a development company, here are some steps you could take:

  1. Talk to trusted friends, family, or colleagues. When you describe your idea, do people look at you blankly and say, “Yeah…maybe”? Or perhaps they say, echoing the Apple ads, “Actually, there already is an app for that”? In short, if the people around you don’t seem to think your idea is very good, that bears some consideration.
  2. Go to the (virtual or physical) drawing board. Make sketches, slide decks, wireframes, or napkin drawings. What would your app actually look like? How might it work? How does it differ from existing solutions? These early brainstorming sessions will help you prove to yourself that your idea is good–or persuade you that a close enough or mashup approach would be better.
  3. If you already have a website, explore whether a web wrapper or a usable, functional mobile site would do what you’d like your app to do. In this step you are asking the question, “What would the app do that the website doesn’t (or couldn’t)?  

Bonus Reason: You Just Don’t Need an App Yet

The title of this article says you may just not need a custom app yet. If you start by using a “close enough” or a mashup solution, you may come to a point where you outgrow it or realize it doesn’t quite work. You might prove your concept and realize there really isn’t an existing solution that does what you want.

Whatever the reasons you might eventually decide it’s time to contact a developer to build a custom app, just remember that starting with an existing solution doesn’t mean you have to stick with it forever.

The Bottom Line

With six million apps (and counting) on offer, two things are sure: First, whatever you are looking for, there may be an app for that. Second, even if there is an app for that, the possibilities for new ones are nearly endless.

Whatever you do, don’t rush into thinking you need a custom app. Explore existing solutions, consider how a mashup of solutions could combine to meet your needs, and take the time to figure out if you really do have a great new idea.

If you think you should create something new, keep an eye out for Part 2 of this to see if you’re right!

Novvia is a software development company that provides personalized solutions to meet our clients’ diverse needs. If you are considering a custom app or curious about our services, we’d love to talk to you! We are available to discuss your idea, share more about what we do, and help you figure out how to achieve your goals. Click here to schedule a conversation with a member of our team.