Creating Mobile Apps On A Budget

by Tory McBroom · 1 comment

missing-child-app-splashIn the first post in this series I chronicled how I came up with my idea for Missing Child Alerts… plus a few tips to help you find your inspiration.

Now, I want to discuss the creation process – from design to final product.

But, first, there are a few things to consider before you get too deep into the creation process. This planning process will help you really put things into perspective before you make the final leap.

Identify your audience
So, you have the next great mobile app idea, but who exactly do you envision using this app?

Hint: don’t say everybody!

You need to narrow down and focus on who this app will appeal to or benefit the most. This will help in the creation process, but more importantly in the marketing (and possibly selling) process of your app.

Which Devices To Create Your App For
There are three major players in the mobile device market – iPhone, Android and Windows Mobile – all of which require different frameworks and coding languages! This is important to understand.

Luckily, in my case I was able to find a solution that made it easy and affordable to create my app for all devices, which I’ll get into below.

If making money with your app is your goal, how do you plan on monetizing it?

The two main ways for mobile app monetization are either selling your app or offering it for free, but with ads displayed on it.

In my opinion, even if you plan on releasing a paid app, you might want to still consider offering a free version. Offering your app for free will typically generate far more downloads of your app, which you can then use to promote paid versions, as well as other apps you may release in the future.

Who’s Going To Build The App?
Unless you have a strong coding background in say Objective C or Java (or even HTML5) and are familiar with SDKs that go along with each app store, you will most likely want to hire an experienced individual(s).

Finally, Keep Things Simple!
I can’t really stress this enough. Of course, you want your app to have all the bell’s and whistles and perform every great function known to man, but keeping your app simple will not only help you keep your sanity, but will save on cost, time and inherently the risk involved.

How I Created My App

Now, that you have your app idea in mind and planned out, let’s take a look at how I finally created my app.

As suggested above, I first identified my target audience. As much as I would like an app that helps find Missing children to be for everyone, I knew the target audience – the people I would focus the majority of my efforts building and marketing this app too – would be a smaller group of people.

More specifically, people with children, as I feel they would be more emotionally drawn to the app.

This is extremely useful, especially when it comes time to market the app because it narrows down the audience that will be most interested in this type of application and will be more likely to download it, share it, etc.  This will allow me to get the most bang for my buck, so to speak, as far as time spent marketing.

“If It Don’t Make Dollars Then It Don’t Make $ense?”

Then came monetization…

How was I going to make money from the app? Do I even care if I make money?

Ultimately, what it came down to was… any income made from the app would just be a bonus.

Being a father of 3 young children, I was just more interested in creating a quality app that would help locate missing children. I knew going into it that it wouldn’t be a huge money maker, nor did I care. I’ve made a good living from my web endeavors and I’m very grateful, so it’s time to give back!

And while there are ads on the app to help cover the recurring cost of push notifications when it comes up, it’s made less than $20 in a year’s time, … and I could care less!

Now, the two biggest unknowns to me at this point were:

  1. Which devices did I want to create the app for?
  2. And who was going to build it?

I really didn’t want to limit my audience to say, just iPhone users, or just Android users.

However, and this is a BIG however, the cost to create this fairly simple app, from actual quotes I received from several different companies, would be roughly $2,000 per device!!

Therefore, if I wanted to create this app for iPhone, Android and Windows mobile, it would have cost me roughly $6,000.

So, after doing some research on the matter, I came across a neat little open source framework called PhoneGap.

Basically, what PhoneGap does is it allows you to create mobile apps using HTML5, CSS and Javascript, put them in a wrapper, and turn them into a mobile app that works across all mobile devices as if it were a native app (mostly).


Depending on the complexity of your app, PhoneGap may not be right for you, but for my simple app it was exactly what I was looking for.

Now that I knew what devices I was targeting, and subsequently, the framework being used (PhoneGap), it was time to find an experienced PhoneGap developer.

I have a LOT of experience using oDesk so I created a simple job description and posted it.  This is one of those times where you don’t want to get to detailed in the initial description as not give away your idea. You’ll want to attach an NDA (Non-Disclosure Agreement) to the job posting so when applicants request more information about the job, you can have them sign it to protect your idea.

**Tip – Not all mobile app developers have an in-house graphics team, which can lead to an additional expense. Make sure you know exactly what you’re paying for and if you want, even do a little bit of the leg work yourself buy collecting your own graphics to be used in the app.
After weeding out the applicants I finally chose a company called Agile Infoways, which I can confidently say did a great job from start to finish.

Since this was my first mobile app they really helped me out through the whole process. And while I’m typically a firm believer in “You get what you pay for”, by utilizing off–shore services combined with the PhoneGap framework, I was able to create the app for all the major mobile devices for $1600! About $4400 cheaper than the average quote from competing companies who wanted to create the app in native languages.

So, with the company chosen, work was to begin!

I sent Agile Infoways the graphics I collected for the app and a rough layout of what I wanted the different screens and navigation to look like.

Let me tell you, and this is something I could have done better, but the more detailed you are in exactly what you want your app to look like and perform, the easier and quicker it is for the programmers to put it together. For every extra minute you spend on this step, you save yourself an hour of hassle later down the road (completely made up statistic, but you get the point).

There are several tools out there for creating wire diagrams and storyboards to assist you in this process, but to be honest, I just used a simple image editing program to create a rough design of what I was looking for.

Rome Wasn’t Built In A Day”

Like the old saying, don’t expect your app to be built in a day, either… or even weeks. Mobile app creation is a long process, in my case taking just over two months when it was all said and done.

But, that doesn’t mean you just sit on your hands for two months while the programmers are busy punching code. This is an opportune time to setup your developer accounts for Apple and the Google Play Store, as well as chart you your marketing plan for when the app goes live! You want kick the app off with a bang, so having a solid plan in place ahead of time is crucial, which we’ll get into in the next part of this series.

Plus, during the creation process, the programmers should be sending you test copies of the app for you to try out on your phone. Be sure to take advantage of this and thoroughly test and provide detailed feedback so they can it right.

**Tip – Be careful of a little phenomenon we in the software world call “Feature Creep”! This is where you constantly think of new features to be added during the beta phase that you think are must-haves before you can release your app. What this does essentially is just slow the release of the app. While a lot of extra features would be nice to have, most are not that important and would be great additions to a phase2 or later release.

One of the nicest things about working with Agile Infoways was when the app was completed and it was time to submit to the app stores, they helped me out through that entire process, which can be somewhat confusing, especially for a first time app submitter.

The Apple app store is very picky on what they allow into their store, so if they don’t accept your app the first time, don’t panic, as it may be some little error or infraction that can be fixed.

Luckily, my app was accepted on the first submittal!

So, when it was all said and done, two months and $1600 later, I had my first mobile app in the app stores and ready to be downloaded.

But, it wasn’t time to uncork the champagne bottles just yet…

Nope, it was time to get the word out, which I’ll dive into how I marketed my newly released mobile app in the next post.

Let me know if you have any questions or comments below!