The Big Orange Preview: The Apple Watch

Last week Apple officially released the new Apple Watch for pre-order. After all of the hype orchestrated via television commercials, billboard advertisements and unveilings by Tim Cook, the watches fate now is in the hands of its trusty consumer.

The device looks great, and its variety of slick designs will inevitably cater to Apple’s already established fan base; the sports-fanatic, the sophisticated businessman and the modern day celebrity (granted you have a spare £299.99 going!).

Another innovative function is Apple Pay, which has revolutionised contactless payment in the US by allowing users to buy everyday essentials by simply swiping their wrist. All-in-all given the fact that it’s Apple’s first new product in five years, also the first developed since the death of Steve Jobs, it’s certain to engage, entertain and entice.




Yet with all of its positives come the drawbacks, one of them being the issue of notifications. Apple have openly said that one of their main objectives was to prevent people from being transfixed to their mobile phones, but will the watch prove to be any different?

The watch is designed to cater for the everyday time-seeking and app-addictive individual, wanting to be notified of their daily updates from a number of sources. It has to be taken into consideration that this individual has a lot of apps to run alongside his or her hectic work/social/person life. Mentioning Facebook, Natwest Banking, Gmail and MyFitnessPal to name a few.

What we’re asking ourselves is…are the sheer amount of notifications going to swamp the device and derive it from its original purpose? Is it actually in turn going to make people look at it as much as their phone devices?

The physicality of the current phone notification has been addressed by Apple, as it’s clear to all how frustrating it would be to have your wrist bombarded with constant vibrations.

The system initiating the vibration is something that Apple refers to as the “Taptic Engineer”, which is designed to notify the user with a discreet and gentle tap. It’s evident that Apple have taken the potential annoyance of notification vibrations into account, yet the frequency of these could still potentially prove to be the watches main flaw and direct traffic away from the product all together.

What does this mean for app developers?

This means that app developers (such as us at Big Orange Software: D) will have to carefully think about a number of factors whilst developing apps for the Apple Watch. It’s imperative that users aren’t driven away from the app/product but rather gently reminded of its benefits during key windows throughout the day…


Firstly it’s important for an app developer to get their frequency of notifications spot on. Not only that notifications are sent in real-time context, but that it also doesn’t frustrate the recipient. For instance if an email account were to be linked to the watch and as a subsequent result the watch were too vibrant every 5 minutes (courtesy of spam etc), this may potentially lead to permanent deletion as a result.

Content Type

This then leads us on the next point; is the type of content you’re sending going to be well received by the user? Diverting away from the more commonly known apps (Facebook, Twitter etc.), general lifestyle apps should look at more reminding as opposed to informing.

Fitness apps should remind that nutrition details haven’t been logged in the morning, therefore reminding that he or she hasn’t been to the gym. Money saving apps should remind that the would-be cost of buying a packet of cigarettes hasn’t been logged. Betting apps should remind that his or her weekly accumulator hasn’t been submitted. The list goes on and on…

We ask ourselves what preventative measures could be put in place for this, and the answer is a personalised app notification management feature.

As opposed to simply allowing or not allowing push notifications to come through to your device, we feel it would be beneficial for the watch user to customise his or her settings in terms of the above (frequency and content type). This would then therefore lead to a more personalised service which will then eradicate all non-applicable information.

 Is The Apple Watch For Me?

Finally you have to ask yourself whether the app you’re designing is cut for the Apple Watch. You may wish to get it out on as many platforms as possible, yet you have to consider your apps industry and whether it fits in with Apple’s ‘on-the-go’ product.

Still, we can’t wait for the release!

Stay tuned for Big Orange Software’s Apple Watch in May.


Want to speak to someone about your digital marketing strategy? If so, feel free to get in touch via our website or through Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook.

Or give us a call on +44  (0)1737 45 77 83

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Primary Education & Coding: Too much or a step in the right direction for future British prosperity?

We provide a high level of education to contribute to the future growth and development of the economy. We teach a wide range of subjects from an early age to ensure that all industry sectors are supplied with industry experts. We teach I.T to make children technically savvy from a young to run parallel with the expansion of the digital economy.

The UK’s digital economy is thriving at an incredible rate, now estimated to contribute roughly £100bn to it (

But why are we now starting to teach children to code…?

…and the answer is this. App development plays a significant role in the UK’s economy, reported to have generated around £4bn in revenue in 2014, and has more than likely grown since ( This now takes us on to the main topic in discussion, below.

A couple of weeks ago we were directed to an article on the CBeebies section on the BBC website. Although smothered in easy-on-the-eye imagery it actually addressed a somewhat adult topic; Computer ‘Coding’ is NOW an official component of the national curriculum within primary schools.

Despite being in the government’s pipeline for quite some time it’s officially been rolled out, and primary schools are as we speak teaching kids how to ‘code’. Personally we feel it’s an absolute delight for all of us that we have the technology to mandate such curriculum, interestingly the first in the world to do so, but not all will welcome this.

Inevitably being an app and website development company means that there’s going to be an element of biasness on offer, but let’s take a look at the comments we think this news will generate.




Firstly it’s important to understand that what being taught isn’t coding as typically generalised; tuning in with no food, drink and human interaction as portrayed in David Fincher’s ‘The Social Network’.

It’s actually a stepping stone to learning useful life skills. Project planning, management and execution are the key skills being taught here, which are appropriately filtered down into simple consumable commodities suitable for a five year olds attentional span. And it’s a pretty impressive skill to have at such a young age!

It’s also worth a mention that Barclays Bank have also shown their support for the scheme by offering complimentary 2-hour coding sessions for children aged 7-17.

What Else?

It’s been mentioned by some that pupils at this age should be learning the core subjects i.e., mathematics and science. But let’s wait one second, surely coding integrates both of them…right?

Something else very interesting about ‘coding’ is that it teaches you how to create rather than just consume. Like thoroughly enjoying a particular song but actually being able to put the components together to create it yourself.

One of our Senior Software Developers, Kyle, started learning the basics of how to operate a computer when he was 2. He says it has proven to be a huge contributor to him establishing his career path, conveniently during a point in time when digital marketing is booming!

Now the criticisms…

It could be argued that ‘coding’ will lead to kids wanting more ‘screen time’ during times when they should be playing and/or learning other subjects. Our response to this is…find a healthy balance between screen-time focused lessons, i.e., IT and the other core subjects.

It could also be perceived to be too advanced for the average 5 year old. However measures are in place to ensure that every level of ‘coding’ taught throughout the school years matches the development levels of the recipients.

All in all, we feel that in a digitally advanced era there’s no harm in giving schoolkids a slight head start. Especially in a society which is inevitably going to become digitally dependent.

Do you agree?

Have you got any questions on coding? Want to speak to someone about your digital marketing strategy? If so, feel free to get in touch via our website or through Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook.

Or give us a call on +44  (0)1737 45 77 83

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British Youth Film Academy [Website Project]

Big Orange Software are proud to unveil the updated British Youth Film Academy website –


The British Youth Film Academy approached Big Orange Software to completely re-develop their official website, taking into consideration the overall template and its general feel and aesthetics.

Users are now able to easily navigate through a number of the websites features, varying from its feature films, current news and events and the application to attend the established BYFA Summer Camp.

Our initial focus was on the websites homepage, ensuring that users were able to find their way around the site with ease. As a user’s curser hovers over each window it automatically switches into a preview image to let the user know what he or she can expect to view before clicking. Users are also widely encouraged to visit the BYFA’s social media channels through a variety of clickable portals situated around the site.

Along with a slick new layout catering for film novelists, the website still maintains its fundamental pledge to establish a link between the commercial film industry and all branches of media education.

About BYFA

The BYFA are an established academy who offer professional standard training and vocational experience to students during their academic studies. They ensure that their chances of future employment are enhanced by allowing them to get deeply involved in projects and reward them with invaluable end-credits mentions.

BYFA operates a policy of ‘Learning through doing’, where all talent can be nurtured and developed. Unlike a professional film set, young people are able to ask questions and make mistakes, and are encouraged to develop and progress through the ranks year-on- year.

About Big Orange Software

Big Orange Software are a fresh, innovative digital agency producing web, mobile and software solutions. Our focus is building strong relationships with our customers and bringing them fresh ideas for their app and website development requirements.

The BYFA were extremely happy with the final product they received from the whole team here at Big Orange, and we think you will be too…


Have you got any questions on website development? Want to speak to someone about your digital marketing strategy? If so, feel free to get in touch via our website or through Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook.

Or give us a call on +44 (0)1737 45 77 83


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What Will 2015 Bring For App Developers

Infographic – What Will The Rest Of 2015 Bring For App Developers

If 2014 was the year of mobile; then 2015 is definitely the year of apps!

We’re a few months in and we’ve already seen huge technological advancements – just take a look at some of the amazing ideas coming out of shows like CES and SXSW.

Technology and ‘intelligent’ gadgetry has become so ingrained in our lives that it’s now become a part of our regular daily routine, with many relying on applications to manage everything from work to their day-to-day affairs. Continue reading

Introducing Our New Digital Marketer & Content Writer – James Tee

We have yet another new starter at Big Orange Software in what has been a very busy 2015 so far!

Our impressive track record of technical knowledge, customer care & operations continues to be the main drive behind our expansion in our office in Reigate.

We are now pleased to welcome James Tee as our newest member of staff, who will be working on the marketing & content writing team. As a newly established position James will ensure that your product will reach those who matter most, your customers!

Professional Experience

James has recently come from a PR background and has extensive experience in content marketing and social media campaigns for clients such a Mercedes-Benz, Ralph Lauren and Rolex.

James has always had a passion for writing and has had a few articles published for his local newspaper when he was 16 years old.  Nowadays James likes to use his way with words to help brands reach out and connect with their clients to increase publicity and engagement.

About James

James is a keen explorer and has travelled around Europe on two occasions with nothing but a train ticket, a backpack and a much-too-folded map in hand. He is also a keen sportsman and will give anything a go, however his favourite sports are football, tennis and badminton.

He also enjoys the casual game of croquet in the summertime too…

Contact James


If you’d like to contact James with any queries in mind, you can get him on his email which is or contact him via LinkedIn.

Welcome to Big Orange Software, James!

The 2015 UK Solar Eclipse – Stay Smart, Stay Away From Smart!

As the UK prepares for the first solar eclipse since 1999, we at Big Orange Software urge you, rather controversially, to stay away from all things tech… Billed as the most spectacular partial eclipse for decades, it’s inevitable that social media engagement is going to boom during the two-hour event, but let’s face it nothing is going to be as spectacular as the main event itself.


‘That’ concert regret comes to mind here; when you’re at your first ever gig and get overwhelmed by the sheer excitement of it and feel the need to record EVERY SINGLE song on your device. You then leave the venue with your ears buzzing to then be addressed with sheer disappointment when you find that the recording resembles a somewhat crunching noise, with thousands of screams in the backdrop.

What we’re trying to say here is, don’t miss the moment by trying to capture it.

We forecast that Facebook, Twitter & Instagram are more than likely going to be the big hitters this Friday, flooded with images of ‘Eclipse Selfies’, Jaffa Cake ‘Total Eclipse’ jokes and hazy images of the sky, but these may come at a price…

Photographing the sun can cause damage to cameras if the right steps aren’t taken. The lens in your camera can get damaged by the sun, it’s advised that photographers use a solar filter should you want to record.

So whether you’re at work, at home or even at your local GP practise waiting room. Sit back, put away the device and simply enjoy… …and then Tweet like mad!

Facts For Our Followers

  • The alignment will see the moon pass directly between the sun and earth between 8.30AM and 10.42AM, reaching its peak at 9.34AM
  • Northern Scotland will have the best view, with the likes of Shetland seeing almost 98 per cent of sun covered, Glasgow 94 per cent and London 84 per cent
  • One of the earliest recorded eclipses was the Ugarit eclipse in 1374BC which took place in Northern Syria

The Most Anticipated Tech For 2015

For developers, 2014 was a year in which app creation was the focal point for many of the major technology companies. In the summer, we were treated to a new, simpler coding system for iOS, enabling greater detail and enhancing the mobile experience. It was also the year of the Phablet, with LG, Samsung and Apple all launching phones with screens larger than 5 inches (the starting point for phablet classification).

Blackberry has also made an interesting, albeit slow re-entry into the Smartphone market with the Passport, and Microsoft is starting to reaffirm itself as a plausible contender in the mobile sector with the launch of Windows 8.1 and Surface Pro tablets.

So what does 2015 have in store for consumers and ultimately app developers? Here, we have rounded up our top five favourites which we think are the ones to watch next year.

Continue reading

Introducing Our New Business Development Manager – Sarah Williams

At Big Orange Software we are proud of the achievements that we have been able to accomplish in 2014.
Our superior technical knowhow, consulting expertise and customer care has resulted in us expanding our operations, and we look forward to continue this success in the New Year.
It is for this reason that we are pleased to announce that we have a new member who has joined us at this most exciting time. Sarah Williams joined us in early December as a Business Development Manager for the company and she has already had a positive impact on the team.

Sarah Williams

Continue reading

A beach, some sky, a lovely message.

Backend as a service – is your app in the clouds?

As we peer at the detail of the latest World Cup stats from Google, for those not so keen on the beautiful game, it’s time to think about all of the many thousands of stewards running around behind the scenes keeping things together. Who does this for your app project? It’s time to peer into part six of our top ten tips for creating a mobile startup. Following up from our guide last time on how to find the perfect app developer / designer, we are now start to explore who is powering your app, who is behind it.

“Behind every great man, is a woman rolling her eyes…”  Jim Carry, quote from ‘Bruce Almighty’

As Facebook suffers it’s worst downtime of only fifteen minutes, it looks like the original face-stretching actor Jim C has also suffered the agony of trying to make sure his Backend as a Service (BaaS) keeps up with his frontend delivery. In essence every mobile app that is out there is a thin client to a much larger backend system, where data flows from app to database and back again over (hopefully) secured web services. A few years ago this would have required custom development as existing CMS tools could not provide the features developers required for apps. Now there are a range of cloud providers in the market, with the successful Parse snapped up by Facebook in 2013. What should you ask your provider?

 The power of the cloud for your app

Brooklyn Bridge
Behold the power available from the cloud that passes over us all
  1. Features, features, features – data storage is a given, are you going to provide me with any other features, such as push-notifications that are mobile specific?
  2. Your train is on platform 2, iOS only - do you have lovely SDKs or integration kits for every-mobile-OS-under-the-sun? Without Badu support, we are OVER!
  3. Price as transparent as water – can you see start for free and see the price levels clear as you scale up and down?
  4. Service updates and availability, better than air - what guarantees of uptime do you get for the service, has it been reliable in the past?
  5. Scorched earth policy, leaving and joining- is the sign-on process easy and how hard is it to get your data back out of the platform is you want to leave?
  6. The power of Yo, upscaling ability - what happens if your app experiences a surge in traffic up or down, is that a quick and easy process to upscale?
  7. Shop around for solutions - which are the best options out there to pick and choose from for your particular app?

Features, features, features

Some old cameras with film. Ahh, lovely. What features does your cloud-powered app need to have for your app to work? As you start to develop your app, whether in M.V.P. form, prototype or full blown app, you will soon want to store information in a database for users to get to later on. This may include:

  • Users creating an account, profile, logging in
  • Users storing data based on their app activity
  • Users making purchases, via in-app systems or externa
  • Geolocation for your app, with local lookups
  • Push notifications for status updates
  • File storage and access globally, including CDN and video

The cloud providers realised that there were different systems for each mobile eco system e.g. APNS for iOS and GCM for Android requiring developers to create two or more sets of code to support both. The solution? A cloud-platform based cross-platform solution to make integration easier. Before you choose your provider, list the key features you want to use now and what might be on your ‘wish list’ for later on to ensure they can support your plans for the first and any subsequent release you have there.

Your train is on platform2, iOS only

The advantage of using a cloud provider is that they support all of the platforms that you can think of. There are always going to be new surprises in the world of mobile apps, with programming langauges like Swift appearing, but in the most part the following platforms are still in use around the world currently so check your provider supports the following:

  • iOS for iPhone and iPad (as well as the new iWatch! Oh, spoiler alert there)
  • Android for all lovely smartphones and tablets from Samsung et al
  • Kindle SDK for the Fire-y phones and tablets from Jeff
  • Windows OS for all those shiny Microsoft Surface 3s shipping soon
  • JS support or native cross-platform OS platforms
  • WebOS for older Palm and other tablet devices
  • OSx for those two people still making Mac desktop apps

Price as transparent as water

The process of gradually increasing your userbase over time can also apply to your backend web servers, applications and databases. The theory behind cloud computing is that it is flexible and delivered to suit the needs of the customer, be that using teraflops of data to search for life on Mars – –  or to register and login a few thousand users on your app. What you want to be able to do is probably try a few services out for free to start off then ask for information about service pricing. This can be set on usage rather like traditional hosting or set based on number of users. If the former, expect the usual file storage, bandwidth in / out and speed capabilities to increase with cost levels. Check that the breakpoints can work with you expect your expected traffic to rise over time and that they rise gently so you can gradually increase your resources at a cost you can can afford. One final aspect to check is the cost of any support issues that you might want to raise. Most services will cover a few quick technical questions with some answers for free but if you have a more in-depth question or problem with the service, can you still submit that for free? Is there a paid version where you can pre-buy business level support?

Service updates and availability, better than air

A plane on the runway, waiting, not going anywhere.
We expect air to be there, how about your mobile backend service? On standby?

We don’t often wonder about how services like Google’s Gmail are constantly available, we just decry them when they go down for around an hour on one day. Your app users will expect a similar level of service when they start using your app, irrespective of whether it is a free or paid app, so making sure your backend service is always available is important. Ask your provider how they make sure their service is redundant and check what Service Level Agreement (S.L.A.) is provided by them, their guarantee of uptime. They may also provide analytics of how the service has performed in the past, although as with other services, past performance is no indication of future performance. Maintenance is always required to keep any service up to date so make sure you have subscribed to the right email list to check the alerts that providers will be issuing before they carry this out. Most will provide enough notice for you to alert your users, if they even notice, as many of the maintenance windows will be designed to be as small as possible hopefully and won’t affect your service to any major degree.

Scorched earth policy, leaving and joining

A lovely woodland scene. It's quiet, very quiet.
What do you leave behind if you leave your cloud service? Does your data survive?

After the big event, there is often a lot to clear up, unless you opt for a Burning Man style “take everything with you” policy. For future planning, it is always worth checking how easy it is to close your account and export all of your data. Do you have to give months of notice before leaving or can you just end at the month when you are all paid up? Are you able to extract all of your data in one fowl swoop in a download that you can then use easily in another platform, is the data machine readable at all? If not, is there a programmable way you can get at an export of your data via an API to save elsewhere? The other major issue is how to migrate your users over to the new service that you might be moving to, if this a bespoke backend service or even another hosted service. You may have to issue an app update to change the URLs you are using to point to your web services, if you aren’t able to simply update the DNS and map this over to your new service. In that case, it is worth sending out messages to your users well before time so that they are aware of the upgrade and also investigating whether to include code in your apps to automatically check for an update when they launch.

The power of Yo, upscaling ability

Recent apps that have launched and either flapped their way to the top, or yo-yo’ed their way up the charts, have seen interstellar growth in a very short period of time. Check that your provider is able to scale and what sort of timescale they would be looking at to do that. Can you resize your existing service to make it larger or do you have to migrate from the simple to the more advanced service? Do you have to factor in time for a server re-build or a DNS upgrade so that you service is unavailable for an amount of time? The advantage of using scalable services is that they can flex both up and down as well. There will always be upwards and downwards movements in your visitor numbers as promotions and other activity affect your traffic levels. You may be affected by the seasons or peaks in e-commerce about Christmas for example. Whatever the nature of your app, if you can reduce your service need at your downtimes, you will be able to save money over the course of a year. If you can predict when these up and downtimes may well occur, then some services also provide the ability to automatically scale up and down for you which is a definite bonus.

Shop around for solutions

There are a large number of providers of this sort of technology. Hopefully we have provided you with some of the main questions to ask each of them and review before taking the plunge with one of the solutions. Let’s run through the key ones to consider:

  1. Parse - the original service that started back in 2012 now owned by Facebook.
  2. Kinvey - a flexible service with some great developer resources on-board.
  3. Bassbox - a new entrant into the field, removing vendor lock-ins throughout.
  4. Kumulos - a service which focusses on strong customer support.
  5. Backendless - the instant backend service for mobile apps.
  6. Applicasa - a backend service targetted at gaming apps.
  7. Appcelerator - with over 600,000 developers in over 162 countries.
  8. Kony - enterprise level service with multi-channel cloud support.
  9. FeedHenry - backend services and app building tools provider.
  10. AppEngine - a flexible backend service from Google.

Next time…

Let us know how your search for a mobile backend as a service provider goes and send us your comments below. Next time? Come with us and learn how to, Tell your audience about your apponce you have developed it. If you have any questions or want us to cover a particular area in a future post, leave a comment below and we can follow up. Thanks y’all and see you next time! [Image credits via Unsplash ].

Want to create your own app?

mpu-wide If you have a mobile app project in mind and would like to get in touch about it, please fill in the form below, email us at or ring on 01737242329 – we look forward to hearing from you soon!

Some shoes, in a field.

App developers / designers – where you at?

As we count down the days to the next Apple WWDC and attempt to guess which company they are going to buy next, it’s high time to polish off the crystal ball and peer into part four of our top ten tips for creating a mobile startup. Following up from our guide last time on how to create your lean MVP for your mobile startup, we are now delicately tip toeing into the topic of how to choose your app developer or designer for your mobile startup project.

“As humans we have this innate need and desire to meet people,” he explains. “In the past, social networks were concerned with connecting you with distant members of your network of friends. Tinder is all about connecting you with new people. And we find that valuable…”  Justin Mateen, co-founder, Tinder

As Tinder starts a social revolution in the world of singletons in new and interesting ways, despite their best efforts many will struggle to use this in a business context. Trying to find the right app developer or designer for your project is always tricky due to the explosion of the whole app world since July 2008 and the launch of Apple’s first App store at that time. Forewarned is always forearmed we believe so before you step into the abyss that is developer-networking, here are some key questions to have up your sleeve. Let’s start with the key questions first and why you need to ask them:

You want to meet who…and why?

Cup, coffee, glass, desk.
Shall we chat apps over a coffee or two? Do you develop or design apps?
  1. Location, location, location – where are your new app workers and can you see, talk and chat with them easily, are they all definitely human?
  2. Together, apart and together again – should you get a separate designer and developer, bring them together or look for combined, superhuman skills?
  3. Cut me a slice and come on board – is it worth providing a revenue share agreement to an app designer or developer to bring them on board?
  4. A picture may hide a thousand words – you did create all that work in your portfolio and understand it completely throughout, don’t you? Really? REALLY?
  5. Daily commits, builds and bug checkers – what is this, why is this important and what does Joel have to say about it so that you can replicate his findings?
  6. Slot a goes into tab b - what is the design and development process and how should this be run to bring you the best and most appropriate ideas for your project?
  7. Show me the way to go home…and test – where testing meets UAT meets maintenance and support for the banishment of all problems
  8. The end is the start - where keeping pace with the ever changing app eco-system is helped or hindered by your choice of agency

Location, location, location

Desk with hipster equipment
Do you want to join the Crew? App market places allow both parties to meet up.

As the lovely Kirstie Allsop continues to push, when not releasing craft books of course, location is always an important factor when thinking about how to resource your mobile startup project. As is common now in software development for websites and e-commerce, there is an increasingly strong trend to source expert designers and developers from other countries outside of the UK due to a lower cost base. Sites like oDesk and Elance offer a wide range of support for projects and are even offering discounts for recruiting staff far and wide, with a range of advice and guidance about how to manage the process remotely without ever actually meeting the people that are working on your project. Even marketplaces such as Crew have started up to match projects to designers and developers.

In the last few years, we have also come across more and more hybrid entities in the mobile area. These tend to still use talent overseas, including Asia and now Russian countries, but have a head office and management function in the major cities around the UK. You get the opportunity to meet people at the company you have engaged for the mobile project, but you don’t get to actually see the people beavering away at the code for your project. The people you do meet may not have direct experience of creating smartphone or tablet apps and also have to relay all of your instructions and feedback across to them for any work to be carried out at length for you. This translation and distance in the relationship could well lead to complications where the fine details in projects is always important to create a great quality product.

In the end, the issue of whether distance is a factor for you or whether you would prefer to engage a UK-based digital agency to create your app is a personal one and is often influence by cost. If you are have a very clear idea of your app, have explored this in wireframes and sketches and have a smaller budget, then going offshore for your first version and any subsequent amends will save you money initially but may cost more in the long run with issues over quality and reliability to deliver. If you are at an earlier stage and want to explore your idea further and see how it fits into a wider campaign for your company or brand, it would probably be better to engage a UK agency who can meet, sit down with and scrawl on paper together with to get your ideas across and build a great app. In our experience, this is always more productive in the short and long term.

Together, apart and together again

Surely combining things is better than going individually, isn’t it? Two heads are better than one aren’t they? When it comes to app developers this ain’t necessarily so. The disciplines are fairly well divided in many digital agencies. The iOS developers don’t share much in common with the Android developers, neither of whom touch much Windows development at all. Designers are also rarely developers as well in our experience as they just employ different skill sets.

Engaging one agency to design and another to develop however, is increasingly common. Often the requirement to produce an app comes out of the more creative, design-lead marketing and promotion side of a business and so the two can be created separately. Ideally however, we would recommend keeping them in the same entity if at all possible. The heady goals of designers can sometimes not match the practicalities of the development team – that lovely feature to add a Facebook friend included in the full colour designs may not be supported by their API and if created separately are rarely checked together until it is too late and the deadline fast approaches. Chat to your prospective list of agencies, freelancers or other app designer and developers to see how they would approach this. Our recommendation is to make sure they can offer both sides of the app coin, with design and development in the same organisation.  The cross over between the disciplines during the early and even final phases will lead to a much better product in our experience.

Cut me a slice and come on board

Screenshot from iTunes
Is creating another Flappy Birds on a revenue share agreement the way to go?

A problem shared is a problem halved, as the old fairy tale goes…mind you, they also say don’t go into the woods at nighttime because of bears, or maybe that was something about picnics. Anyway, for those seeking to make the next billion from a clone of Flappy Birds, the temptation to share the risk for your new mobile startup project is strong. The rationale for entering into a revenue sharing arrangement with a designer or developer is that not only is the risk shared but so is the reward for both parties. The project will then fly out of the door as the whole team are motivated to create an exciting bug-free app release with amazing features and want to stay engaged with it as the sales and profits rise over time to a level where the helicopter becomes a realistic purchase.

While this may attract the smaller freelancer searching for their next project, for others and for many digital agencies this approach does have it downsides. For any app project to succeed in a competitive marketplace, every app requires dedicated promotion and marketing to survive and thrive over an extended period. In a revenue sharing situation the initial costs are lower which is great for the project owner, but unless they provide a significant marketing budget, the app designer and developer may struggle to recoup their costs over time from the ‘revenue’ element that is offered by the project owner so may not be as engaged as you would want them to be in your app project.

Even if you do find a freelancer or even organisation that does want to take your project on with this sort of agreement in mind, there are still some operational issues to consider. If they accept an agreement from you, they are probably doing it for other people as well. You will need to make sure your project is getting as high a priority as others and watch out for the situation which may arise if their other projects are making them more money and yours suffers as a result. If another agreement is giving them a greater share as well, the freelancer or agency may decide that it is more in their best interest to pursue that instead of your project.

A picture may hide a thousand words

Screenshot of the chupa website
The Chupa mobile site has apps-a-plenty but are they any good for your project?

With the rise in sites and exchanges that will allow people to buy and sell app source code such as Chupa, it can be hard to tell from a website portfolio whether the company or individual actually created all of their work themselves. Designers have always taken inspiration from other projects which is fine and developers have also always shared code samples – now even projects like WordPress have open sourced their app code to join other projects available so there is a wide range to choose from out there.

The question to be answered by any app developer or designer is whether they can present the pros and cons of their own apps that they have worked on. Are they able to explain the full stack of code that went into the project, which open source libraries were used, what features they included in any web-based admin panels and so on? If they had their time again, which elements would they maybe re-write or if they are working on a future version, what amends are coming into the project? Discuss this with your prospective app designer and developer to see how they view their previous projects. This will help you to understand what skills the app developer or designer has in understand the totality of the project and how they have been involved in it over time, which they can bring to your own app project.

Daily commits, builds and bug checkers

Screenshot from Joel's website
Joel on Software brings his 12 step check for software stardom – are they any use?

Primarily designed for job applications wishing to join digital agencies, Joel Spolsky listed twelve conditions that every software firm should have in place to create a great environment and produce wonderful projects, such as having a bug database. The list was created in 2000 so some of the techniques have been eclipsed by new practice, such as continuous integration replacing daily builds. On the whole however, the list does remain a useful starter when interviewing any app developer, to see how they cover key areas such as source control, bug tracking and testing in their projects. You need to feel confident that these areas are covered by their approach and that they have experience in these elements are they are core skills which should be applied to your app project.

Slot a goes into tab b

Post it notes at an agency
Is wireframing and userflow work in the development / design process?

If you have an app idea in mind, you may be anywhere on the spectrum of having nothing sketched out at all to having a full set of wireframes. When you arrive at your app designer or app developer, what is their typical software development process to run through to create your app project? From agile to waterfall and everything in-between, there are many buzzwords in this area and pros and cons from each. Most projects will run through the following elements however which you will need to make sure are included:

  1. Requirements gathering – what platforms / users are you targetting? how are you monetising your app project and promoting it?
  2. Design phase – do you have a set of brand guidelines / identity, how many rounds of amends are included here?
  3. Pilot testing – can you use tools to create an interactive prototype at this stage to test out the project and collect valuable feedback?
  4. Development phase – how is this managed, it is agile or phased in rounds? how can you deliver feedback on builds, how are these issued to you?
  5. UAT and pre-flight checks – how is the final testing run (outlined below in more detail) and who is creating the test scripts involved?
  6. Launch and test again – get ready for launch time!
  7. Revise and re-launch – check your user feedback, revise and re-launch to keep your app project at the top of the appstore charts

Show me the way to go home…and test

Over time the number of different Internet browsers has grown, making it hard for project owners to test their new web-based project in every single combination available. Virtual testing services sprang up to get around this problem with even Microsoft getting in on the party. The same issue now applies to mobile projects as the variety of Android smartphone and tablets grows daily and the two form factors for iPhone including the 4 and 5 shape joined with a variety in levels of iOS out there in the app ecosystem. Your app designer or developer should have access to test devices in their workplace or may choose to use one of the many mobile test studios available, even Google provide this at their Campus in London for those wishing to test out apps and mobile sites.

Testing thoroughly is important as many app designers or developers may require you to sign the work off as being complete and functioning before they release the final code to you. User Acceptance Testing or UAT is based on this process, where you have a list of the key functions of your app that you can run through in a series of test scripts to make sure you app is working correctly as you originally specified. Check with your app developer or designer to see how they include this in their process as after this is signed off, you will probably be entering into a support and maintenance period which is probably chargeable for any future work, depending on how they handle this in their organisation.

The end is always the start

The world of apps is constantly changing so for many seeking an app designer or developer, the thought at the forefront of anyone getting an app created is what happens after their app comes out. Make sure you check with your app agency about how they handle updates and amends to your app over time. As the Apple WDDC approaches for this year and iOS get another release, you need to check with your agency whether it can test your app in any developer preview release before these hit the store and your users start testing and letting you know of any problems.

New platforms and even app stores emerge over time as well, with Android moving into the TV space as well as Amazon and even Tesco rumoured to be creating their own smartphones. Chat to your future app agency to see how they keep in touch with these changes in the landscape and will communicate these to you so you can keep your app project up to date and reaching as many customers as possible.

Next time…

Let us know how your search for an app developer or designer goes and send us your comments below. Next time? Come with us and learn how to, Match your app to the power of the cloud. If you have any questions or want us to cover a particular area in a future post, leave a comment below and we can follow up. Thanks y’all and see you next time! [Image credits via Unsplash ].

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