5 Things You Should Consider Before You Start Developing a Mobile Application

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By Setha RATH

Innovation Project Manager
Development Innovations






How many mobile applications do you have in your smartphone? Out of all those applications, how many do you actually use every day? According to Statista (2018), there are about 2.8 million mobile apps available on Google Play Store, and approximately 2.2 million apps on Apple’s App Store, while there are more than 250 Cambodia-specific apps on Google Play Store (Google, 2018). Lots of people come to talk to our coaches at Development Innovations about mobile apps, so I wanted to write up some of our advice to share with a larger audience. Mobile apps might sound fancy, but they don’t always work for all problems, especially when you want to address social issues. I recommend starting with these key considerations before developing mobile apps.

  • 1. Start with a Problem Statement: Put the app idea aside and ask yourself this question, “What is the problem that I am trying to address?” Often, we tend to focus on developing a ‘cool’ app, but we fail to think about the issues we want to address and questioning whether or not an app is an appropriate solution. Consider this scenario: you learned that most high school students in Cambodia are having difficulty managing their assignments because they are distracted by social media and games. Next, you think that developing a time management app might address this issue. But, there are already a lot of time management apps out there! First off, you should create a problem statement, particularly what the problem is and who you are solving it for, and whether there are pre-existing solutions for that problem. It would be helpful if you conduct desk research to learn more about the problem and identify your target user and area first.
  • 2. Talk with Your Target Users: Defining your target user is very important as it helps you think critically about who you are creating this app for, and what benefits they get from the app. Talking to them allows you to grasp their insights and feedback, which could inform the design of your project. I recommend narrowing down your target population to start with – you can always expand if there is demand. In the above mentioned scenario, targeting high school students in Phnom Penh city is preferred over all of Cambodia. Our Deputy Chief of Party Vibol Theng likes to say, “If you target everyone, you target no one.”
  • 3. Explore Existing Apps and Utilize Open Sources and Platforms: Sometimes, it is not necessary to develop a whole new app, you can use the existing one and save money and time. Conducting a rapid search on the available apps on Google Play Store and Apple’s Appstore would help you obtain some ideas. It also helps you explore other Cambodia-specific apps. Besides that, you can use the existing platforms and open source tools such as Google Form, Open Data Kit, Chatfuel, and Verboice. You can also refer to The Toolbox to find out about existing tech tools ranging from mobile apps to websites. On top of looking at the current ecosystem, you should do a market analysis of your competitors. For instance, if you want to develop a Khmer language learning app for foreigners, you should look into the existing Simply Learn Khmer Language app and Speak Khmer – Learn Khmer app. From there, identify your uniqueness and what makes your app different from them.
  • 4. Create Sample App (Prototype) for User Testing: After you have identified the appropriate technology solution and incorporated your users’ insights and feedback, the next step is creating a sample app (prototype) to test with your target audience prior to bringing it to development. This can help you think through how the tool works before you invest a lot of money in the first version. Here is a free website in which you can create a quick and simple app prototype: www.marvelapp.com. There is also a free mobile app called Prototyping on Paper (PoP) available both on Google Play Store and Apple App Store. From our own past experience supporting tech-enabled projects, we learned that developing prototypes and testing them with target beneficiaries can save you time and money as you test with users and get feedback. Here is a sample mobile app prototype created in less than three hours: https://marvelapp.com/fgbead
  • 5. Engage with Potential Partners from an Early Stage: Strong partnerships with service providers is one of the critical success factors for a tech-enabled project. If possible, you should identify partners and relevant stakeholders for your project early on. At the same time, the development of a mobile app requires investment, not only human and financial resources, but also the ongoing support and maintenance after the launch of the app. Think about what technical or project management skills you need so you can find the right partner to complement your key skills. If you are partnering with a mobile app developer, consider the importance of building a relationship. DI’s most successful tech-enabled project implementers said the relationship with a service provider is critical.

Last but not least, here is a resource for you to roughly estimate how much your app will cost, Otreva: https://www.otreva.com/calculator/. If you go through all these steps and decide an app is right for you, please refer to CamboSearchfor a directory of technology service providers in Cambodia, including mobile app developers.