Mobile app development Project plan

Public Art PDX - mobile app screenshotOver the past four years, I've worked on more than a dozen native apps for iOS. In this article, I'll share a few insights gained through my work on three nonprofit apps:

Native App or Mobile Web?

Native apps are written specifically for a single mobile operating system, such as iOS or Android. They tend to be more expensive than websites – so why would you build a native app?

  • Performance and gloss: Sluggish experiences translate into a loss of audience and attention
  • Rich media: Your audience doesn't have to wait for individual media files (audio, video, and high-resolution imagery) to download over unreliable cell networks
  • Offline access: Apps can be self-contained
  • Integrate emerging technology: iBeacons, environmental sensors, health monitoring devices, etc.
  • Buzz: It's still easier to get your fans – and the press – excited about an app than a website
  • Focus: Apps can present an immersive, full-screen experience, without the distractions of web addresses and navigation
  • Multi-screen experiences: Technologies like AirPlay allow apps to present visuals on big screens – great for education and presentation contexts

Mobile websites are still sometimes a good alternative when:

  • Budget is limited
  • Cross-platform is essential (especially when combined with budget considerations)
  • Your audience will always have a decent internet connection
  • Media files are small or not essential to the experience

Defining the Project

If you're not sure precisely what you want to build, hire a designer or developer to explore the possibilities through a limited discovery phase. This might include user stories, screen mockups, design elements, etc.

One great way to narrow the scope and features of an app is to write the app store description first, and sketch out five screenshots that will best convey what your project is about.

Be Prepared

Next, assemble your content: all of the text, images, sound, video, and other material you want to present.

Gathering and structuring this data doesn't require complex database development. The Regional Arts & Culture Council uses a Filemaker Pro database to keep track of their public art collection in Portland. The Des Moines public art app is based on the data they manage in their Wordpress-based website.

This is a long-term investment: when your organization makes a conscious choice to maintain a database, you will be ready to re-use the information in a variety of contexts well beyond the app you currently have in mind. It's impossible to know how you might want to present this information in five or ten years, but you'll be ready for new opportunities as they arise.

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