Apps are what make your smartphone really smart. And today you will find an app for just about anything. Whether you want to kill some time, book a flight, determine your data usage, shop at the mall, get the latest news, find what wine to pair with what cheese, check the cab fare, keep a tab on your calories, connect on social media, look for directions or cook a meal, you have an app for everything. Other than the smartphone, apps also fuel the tablet, which has only added to their demand. Little wonder then that apps are gaining immense popularity and every business, big or small, has its own app. The app eco-system is such that there is always space for more and creating an app is not that difficult a task. Here we provide you with an overview of the skills you need, the platforms to look at and things to consider. 

How do you start?
To be able to develop apps, you need to know coding. However, lack of technical knowledge shouldn’t really pose a problem, particularly if you are willing to learn the language. And you could easily do so, courtesy the many online resources. But before you start burning the midnight oil and get cracking on your app, there are a few things worth considering. The first thing is to realise what unique need your app will address. There is no point in developing a copy of an app that is already successful. If there are apps that are similar to one that you are developing, then figure out features that will set your app apart from the rest. And then focus on developing and making it the strong point of your app. Secondly, identify the target audience for your app as this will also help you when zeroing in on the platform you want to build on.

Siddhartha Banerjee, a self-taught app developer who has developed his first app MeterDown for the iOS platform, has a word of advice for independent app developers who want to test waters, “For somebody who doesn’t know developing, but who has a great idea for an app, should spend time conducting research on his target audience. They should figure out what kind of phone they are using. If his research shows that his target audience is using more iOS, then obviously it makes much more sense for him to develop on that platform. Then he can go about learning the coding, but that’s not so easy or alternatively he can hire somebody to create the app for him. So for an independent developer it is very important to do research, understand the feasibility, and if they really feel that the idea is strong enough, then go ahead and take the plunge.” 

The iOS developers platform

The iOS developers platform

Knowing the platform     
Today, each platform has its own strength and is defined by the users. So choosing the platform really depends on the target audience. Even then, from a business point of view, some platforms are more lucrative than others. iOS is considered to be the most monetisable platform; this is mainly due to the fact that iOS users are more likely to pay for apps than others. Rohit Singal, Founder & CEO, Sourcebits, that specialises in developing apps for the iOS platform, points out the advantage of iOS saying, “Developing on iOS can have several benefits depending on the application and the target market. In many cases it's easier to develop on iOS because you only have to worry about developing for and supporting a limited range of devices compared with the huge number of Android devices that all have different specs. iPhone users also tend to be better long term customers for paid or freemium applications and they'll spend more on average than Android users.” A recent report by Localytics revealed that the app retention rates on iOS were 52 percent higher than those on Android. 

Getting your app published on the Apple platform is not an easy task as Apple has stringent selection criteria. Rohit explains, “Apple has relatively high standards for the applications released on the App Store, and it has helped them protect the value of the store to their consumers. There are certain things that Apple provides guidance on that will clearly get your app rejected by the App Store. Some of the other rejection triggers include: using Apple's name, integrating with private APIs, creating something that portrays Apple, the App Store or iOS in a bad light, applications with limited user functionality (demo apps, for example), apps that copy an existing pre-installed OS app, poor privacy policy, issues with inappropriate language or user generated content.” But if you manage to get your app past the check, then get ready to reap the benefits as the App Store gives 70 percent of revenue from an application to the developer—of course, if your app clicks.  
 
Compared to iOS, when we look at Android, then apart from the huge numbers, its biggest strength lies in the fact that it’s an open source platform. Munish Bansal of Mobicules Technologies, which is into developing apps for Android, points out that it’s very easy to get an app published on the Android platform than compared to others. Speaking about its popularity, he says, “The Android platform  today has built outstanding careers in technology innovation and application development. This platform caters to developers who can think differently and build small applications quickly. Since its open source, the scope to learn and work is infinite. For a software developer with excellent coding knowledge, who can think out of the box, Android is the best platform to be. It is no surprise that Android keeps adding the largest pool of developers worldwide each day. Besides this developer can take advantage of the Google Developers Academy and the Google Developers University Consortium that are aimed at improving relationships, encourage creation of apps and services based on Google’s platforms.” The good news for Indian developers is the fact that they can now charge for the apps they publish on the Andoird platform. So if you want your app to reach a large number of users, but also want to make some money, then Android is the ideal platform. 

The Android developers platform

The Android developers platform

The Symbian platform may seem sidelined at the moment, but it’s definitely not one to be ignored. With Nokia Store available in over 150 countries, of which 90 percent are served in their local language, it presents a huge opportunity for developers. Vipul Mehrotra, Director & Head, Smartphone Devices, Nokia India, says, “Nokia Store (Qt and Series 40) and Microsoft Marketplace (Windows Phone) offer a unique opportunity for developers to reach a large number of users in the marketplace. Symbian Series 40 offers you two great development technologies: Java and web apps. Choosing either gives you access to the world's most widely used mobile platform, with hundreds of millions of phones in use every day. The latest full touch Series 40 phones bring a smartphone-like experience to the mass market, complementing the range of Series 40 phones that deliver many mobile consumers their first Internet experience. Up until recently, developers developing for Series 40 typically had two business models to choose between when distributing their apps – distributing them for free or monetizing them through paid download. Nokia is now expanding the options with solutions for In-App Advertising and In-App Purchasing such as the new Nokia Asha 303, the first Series 40 phone designed to support In-App Purchasing.”

On the other hand, BlackBerry with its positioning as a business phone, also enjoys a legion of followers. And this, it partly owes to the popularity of BBM. With the BlackBerry 10 OS at the brink of unveiling, RIM is making efforts to resurrect its app world. A huge step towards it was opening up all the API’s. Annie Mathew, Head of Alliances, Research In Motion (RIM), India, outlines the virtues of the BB 10 platform for the developers, “BB 10 is truly an open source platform and a developer can easily develop on it, irrespective of the skill-set they have. Also, we have opened up API’s to the developers. Earlier there was only a certain subset of API’s that was open to third party developers, but today all APIs are open to them. This means developers can now do native integration, with the help of which developers can make their application more useful for the end-user. They now have the option to integrate the app into email, calendar, even BBM and all the services that are there on the BB platform. This will help developers to build apps that are intuitive, which are fast and responsive and is integrated well with everything else that they are using.”

BlackBerry 10 platform

BlackBerry 10 platform

RIM has also announced the Built for BlackBerry certification to help developers differentiate their app from the rest. Going beyond the smoke test, they now have a process in place to test the efficiency of the app, based on which the certificate is granted. Annie says, “When you submit the application into the BB app world it goes through a testing process at the back-end. It will check if it is using all the relevant API’s, it makes sure that the application is more efficient as in using lesser battery and more natively integrated and things like that. If the application complies with a certain set of criteria, uses the native prescribed API then we give it a Built for BlackBerry stamp. How it helps the developer is that it differentiates his or her application from the run-of the mill kind and on the other hand it also acts as an identifier for the user, which helps them when choosing the app.” The current revenue sharing model of BlackBerry for app developers is 70/ 30, i.e. 70 for developers and 30 for RIM. BlackBerry has also announced a 10K Developer Commitment, under which if the developers earn $1,000 on their app over the next year, but less than 10,000 USD, RIM will pay the developer the difference between the revenue earned by the developer and $10,000. All those who submit and get their app approved by January will be eligible for it.
  
One platform that has got everyone excited is undoubtedly Windows 8. Seen as a tough competition to Android and the iOS platforms, software giant Microsoft is going all out to promote Windows 8. Pratima Amonkar, Director, Audience Marketing, Microsoft, tells us why app developers should care about the Windows platform, “Firstly, about app development what we find is that even though it is very much a nascent opportunity today, the ecosystem is really expanding hugely. Developers face a lot of challenges as it’s still a very evolving concept here in India. So what Microsoft is really committed to doing with Windows 8 is a multipronged approach, where we are committed to providing the developers with world class software which will support the app development ecosystem. Windows 8 itself is really the single biggest developer opportunity; it is designed to be what we called fast and fluid. It works seamlessly across multiple coding languages, as well as across different devices. This kind of flexibility is quite unmatched. Also, we launched Visual Studio 2012, which supports modern app development. So we have a clear roadmap of supporting app development.”

Going further, this approach is also evident when it comes to publishing on the Windows 8 platform, where every app is reviewed and feedback provided to the developer. Speaking about the initiative, Pratima says, “Globally, every app submitted on the Windows 8 platform is thoroughly reviewed and the feedback is sent to the developer. An app developer will receive feedback in case there is a problem or if something needs to be fixed, they can then rectify those and resubmit the app. I think it’s a great thing and we have received positive feedback from the developers as well. It’s helping them with ease of adoption; they are able to convert their learning and idea into an app with greater speed and efficiency, than on most other platform.” In terms of monetisation, Microsoft has a process wherein once the app crosses the $25,000 mark, the developers will get to keep 80 percent of the download revenue generated by the app. 

The Windows 8 platform

The Windows 8 platform

RIM and Microsoft, in a bid to promote BlackBerry 10 and Windows 8 respectively, have initiated several programs globally to woo the developers. From hackathons to app fests to giving out alpha devices to providing mentorship, you can gain a lot from their several initiatives if you are keen on developing for these platforms.

Recipe for success
Irrespective of the platform, the success of your app depends on a number of things and all those we spoke with unanimously agreed that at this point in time, the most important factor that will determine the success of your app is the UI/UX interface. As Siddhartha Banerjee puts it, “Indian developers are very strong with their technology, they are essentially good coders. But the biggest thing they miss out on is the UX/UI. A customer doesn’t know how good your code is, he sees the user interface. For them what matters is how easily they can move from one page to another and things like that. I would say 60% of time should go on UX and 40% on coding.”

The design element goes further than merely the user experience and can also determine the popularity of the app, as Rohit Singal points out, “To succeed these days in the App Store, no matter what it is, your app has to be beautifully designed.  When your app focuses on brilliant design, the app becomes your marketing, and your first users become your advertising.  It's also important to spend a lot of time thinking about and designing a great icon that will draw people into your application– many times that little square is your only advertising. If you don't have the design capabilities yourself, find someone who does who you can work with. No matter how brilliant your app's concept or engineering, if users don't understand it and love it from the first screen, it will struggle. And above all, be original, be innovative!” Other than this, factors like native integration, meeting a local need, intuitiveness and unique ideas will help you achieve success no matter what platform you decide to build on. 

Cover Image: Getty Images

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