What I Learned Looking For an App Developer

It's been about a month now, and in my mind, RailROWMap has been a huge success, and everything I've wanted it to be! I've heard from a few users using older phones that the maps may take some time to load, if they do at all, however in general, the app has been stable. That being said, I'm trying to fix some bugs that will help users of older phones better use the map. But this is the reality of owning an app, finishing it is just the beginning.

Image: Nathaniel Abadji via Unsplash

With that in mind, I figured I should discuss how we got here, and how this went from being a few months-long project to turning into nearly a year of starts and stops, and having to continuously share that the app was, in fact, coming, and what you can do to if you're looking to develop an app yourself!

1.) There are a LOT of app developers out there

One of the reasons that I felt so strongly about having to have an app built was the ongoing transition of the internet from primarily being accessed by desktop computers, to mobile phones and devices. The app won't be a moneymaker for many years, if ever at all, but I thought it was necessary to keep up with technology and trends. The internet of things is where technology is headed.

But since this is where the industry is headed, there are already numerous programmers and app developers vying for your business. Competition is a good thing, not a bad thing, when it comes to getting a proposal for the project at a decent price, and far more importantly, a finished project.

Image: Sigmund via Unsplash

Thus, you'll have a ton of choices in selecting your developer. Don't automatically pick the company or individual who reaches out to you first. Do some research on them and take a look at their portfolios of finished apps. And please be meticulous in doing so. A small flaw in UI or a misspelled word may not sound like cause for concern, but considering the programming that is going into the app, a visible bug is certainly should be a red flag. With our second developer, I noticed this a lot, and when I would bring this up to them, they stated it would be fixed in the next build, only for me to find that it was still there. 

Take your time in sifting through developers, and even a few weeks of searching during the planning phase of your project may seem like a lot, but it could save months of frustration later down the line.


2.) Overseas doesn't necessarily mean cheaper

You may be tempted to search outside the United States or your home country for an app developer, and if such a developer speaks English well and can understand and build your project, for a cost less than a developer in your city could, why wouldn't you choose them? 


Well, there are numerous ifs in the previous sentences, but even so, an overseas developer may not be much cheaper than a developer here, if at all. Further still, there are less protections for you, in case something goes wrong. Which brings me neatly to my next point.

3.) Everything that can possibly go wrong, will. (Especially with some operating systems)

Power outages, severe weather, corrupted code, a locked Apple account, these seem like avoidable mistakes, and in most cases they are, but it's still something that can happen and bring a project moving full steam ahead into a complete stop.

Image: Lee Junda via Unsplash

You have to think about what can happen in your timeline that might delay the app. Things like making sure your computer is up to date and has the necessary updates and software seem like no-brainers, and yet this added at least a few days to our project time. In addition, filling out your company information for both Apple, Google, and any other company you're planning to use for your app proactively will easily save you time in the long run. It might be impossible to plan for a power outage or a global pandemic, but at least in the power outage case, saving your work frequently and in many different places can be a huge help.

4.) Internet searches aren't necessarily your friend.

Here's an exercise that should be obvious, but still is worth noting: searching for app development companies online is going to yield numerous results, but importantly sponsored results will show at the top. Those are companies that have enough of a budget to market, but that also means their margins need to be better, and those costs could eventually come down to you. 

Image: Charles Deluvio via Unsplash

Word of mouth, social media, LinkedIn and freelancing companies such as UpWork could yield better results for someone you're looking for, rather than a simple Google search, saving you time and potentially money. Hint: People who are on UpWork are often on other social media sites. Keep that in mind.

5.) More expensive doesn't always mean better. Neither does cheaper.

In the development cycle, there will become a time when your time will be far more valuable than money. Our initial timeline was about three months from proof of concept to getting the app out into the market.

It took eleven months, three developers, and lots and lots of unnecessary stress.

Lighting $100 Bills on fire didn't help things either. Image: JP Valery via Unsplash

I had the option of selecting a developer who charged somewhat higher fee than our budget, but assuming they were able to complete the app, I would have saved money in the long run, only using one developer. If I'd given a timeline of 4-5 months, we would have released in June of 2020, as opposed to January of '21.

I also had quotes that were over 3 times as expensive as others, and those quotes even wound up being higher than our final cost.

So with all this said, get several proposals. Compare and contrast developers and their experience, and take at least a little time to get things right at the start. I'm reminded of a saying from the carpentry world, "measure twice, cut once".

Finally, anyone that tells you they can develop an app in 48 hours is clearly lying, no matter how pretty their website looks. You need a realistic timeline for development. Your app won't even be viewed in 48 hours, let alone developed from start to finish. Which brings me nicely to my final tip.

6.) And then watch it all fall apart when its rejected by Apple and Google.

After everything, the first iteration of the app was rejected by both Google and Apple. In Google's case, they at least let us know what the issue was, and we quickly fixed it and received approval. Apple however, rejected our app the first time with no underlying reason as to why.

Image: Usman Yousaf via Unsplash

You can guess how that made me feel, to come so far to have the gate close on us. But to give up then and there would completely invalidate what we had accomplished over the last 11 months.

After fixing both the iOS and Android apps, we had another glitch with Apple who this time advised us as to what the problem was. Upon fixing it, we finally got approval for the app after another week. This is to be expected when developing an app, and having a calm mind about an initial rejection can help you refocus and make sure that when you submit the app again, it is approved. 

That being said, particularly with Apple, they can and will reject your app if it resembles a similar app to the app store in functionality, or if what the app does could be done in a desktop environment. Keep that in mind if you're planning to design an app, as you will be asked how the app creates added value for the App Store and Google Play. 

Good luck to all of you who are building apps, and I hope my positive and negative experiences can help you in the process of development and creation of new apps!

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