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5 Step Guide to Mobile App Peer Review

5 Step Guide to Mobile App Peer Review

November 20, 2014 0 Comments

Peer review is crucial before beginning app development.

Begin any development project with a peer review.

App development competition is fierce, making it more difficult to come out on top. You can give your organization a competitive edge and eliminate your competition by beginning any new development project with a peer review: what are other apps doing well, where are they monetizing effectively, and how are they falling short?

The Secret to App Development Success

Creating a successful mobile app requires a team of talented developers bringing a great idea to life. With other organizations already using mobile apps to support their business processes and workflows, standing out can be difficult—even among your own team members. By reviewing those competing apps, you will make fewer mistakes and benefit from other the lessons learned by those other organizations. Here is a five-step process for evaluating competing apps.

1. Understand the Users of Your App

The first step in the peer review process should be to identify the target audience that will be served by your new app. While it may be tempting to suggest that your project will appeal to anybody and everybody, that isn’t realistic. Users want to feel like you understand their needs and want to solve their pain points; achieving this means knowing who they are.

Your user may be a member of a corporate sales team needing to automate workflow and sales tracking, or may be an IT professional needing to track repair requests.Working through the peer review process with your users in mind will help you to see functionality and features from their point of view.

There may be a fantastic app already out there that does everything yours will do, but for some reason has gained little support (or requires proper corporate branding). These instances offer the as much opportunity for success as creating a completely original concept.

2. Identify the Competition

Trying to locate your most immediate competition to evaluate can be tricky. Even if your idea is clever and has never been tried before, be aware that competition doesn’t always mean doing the exact same thing your app does.

Look for your competitors by entering keywords into search engines and app stores. Use the categories and keywords that you would expect potential users to try when searching for your app.

Think about how users will find you, instead of your competition, and download your app instead of theirs.

If your app is intended for internal deployment only, it is a bit more difficult to evaluate your competition directly. But there is no reason you can’t seek out apps that offer similar functionality and review those. To accomplish this, think of your app functionality at a more granular level:

  • Review apps from sales organizations that offer informational marketing materials—this may help you to find ways to better support your own sales team members.
  • Look to apps that allow you to make purchases and track your order history—these may give you insight into supply chain management best practices or suggestions for how to better serve your own clients.
  • Consider the apps best regarded for managing contacts, notes, invoicing, or time tracking if you want to see examples of how your app might better serve your HR or operations departments.

While this approach requires a certain amount of creativity and thinking outside the box, it serves the peer review process very well by giving you inspiration and advice that can be remodeled for use in your project.

3. Make a ‘Like Best / Hate Most’ List About Competing Apps

Whether they realize it or not, other mobile app developers and organizations have done a lot of work for you. By putting their product under your microscope, you have the chance to improve on the things they are doing well while you avoid their mistakes.

The rules of brainstorming apply here: there is no wrong answer or meaningless observation. Behave like a user while scrutinizing everything; you may be surprised by the details that will matter.

It may be helpful to do this work in teams: one person speaks aloud while others record what is being said and seen. You can also record your reviews using Skype or Google Hangouts to keep a record of your experience with the app. You don't have to make these recordings public, and they don't need to be great cinema: just enough to capture your experience trying to use the competing app.

Every app is different, but there are a few things to look for in your review:

  • How does the app icon look on your device? Do you like the graphics they included? How are the font sizes? Curb appeal matters, so don’t forget to notice how these details affect your enjoyment of the app you are reviewing.
  • After the app is opened, is it immediately clear what you should do next and what options are available? Most users don’t want to spend significant amounts of time learning how to use an app, so if it isn’t painfully easy to use it will just seem painful and never get used.
  • Are menu labels clear and meaningful? Are there better terms that would eliminate confusion?
  • Do the features and functions work as you expect? How do they fall short? Where do they excel?

Note the moments where you find yourself feeling like something is missing. These will identify potential competitive advantages of your app and lead to marketing material, like being able to advertise yourself as ‘the only app of this type that lets you do that thing you wished for.’

Completing this stage of the peer review may involve some financial investment, such as those required for in-app purchases to test all of the functionality. This isn’t a place to skimp: the profitability of your app may depend on how much easier or more compelling your app makes these tasks.

4. Review App Store Descriptions

An effective description can be instrumental to the success of an app. In time you'll be crafting one of your own, whether you will be publishing your project to a public-facing app store, or distributing it internally to your team members. This task can be made easier if you know what competing apps (or those simply offering similar features to yours) are saying about their features.

As you read through app store descriptions, scrutinize a few important details:

  • Decide if the description clearly answers important questions like: “What is it?” and “What does it do?”
  • Question whether the most valuable details are above the fold (displayed without the user having to click on a link for ‘More…’)

If the app profile you are looking at references professional reviews or awards, be sure to save this information as you may be able to appeal to these sources to assist with promoting your app as well.

In the end, you will need to picture these app descriptions side by side with yours. It can be helpful to review this information before you use the app for the first time and then revise it after you have given it a try.

5. Read App Reviews

Given their candid nature, reviews can tell you a lot about an app.

Positive reviews are often less meaningful, but it can be valuable to look for common threads among them. If a large number of users praise the app for offering a particular function or feature, you should be certain you don’t leave that one out of yours!

Negative reviews should be taken with some suspicion, as users with a predetermined bias can post them. Common experiences are more important than isolated problems. Users often attempt to contact app developers through their reviews. To this end, you may see feature requests or complaints that suggest obstacles or opportunities you may also face.

As you skim reviews, look for keywords that could relate directly to your target audience. For instance, if you are looking to provide marketing materials to your clients offering support for the products and services you offer, look for reviews on similar apps that begin with phrases like: “My clients complained that…” or “I wasn’t able to find what I was looking for, because…”. These kinds of details often reveal subtle flaws in core functionality such as menu systems or search interfaces –don’t make the same mistakes!

You can look for reviews in a number of places, including app stores, news outlets, and blogs. Note where you find reviews and when you're done, you'll have a nice little "trapline" of places where you can post bait for your app.

Peer review is a process that is often misunderstood –it isn’t about trying to steal users away from other apps (or clients from your competitors), particularly when your project is intended for internal distribution. Instead, it is about delivering the best product to your users, while learning from the mistakes (and triumphs) made by others.

Don’t discount that you may need to run through these steps multiple times to various degrees during the course of your development project; app creation is an evolution, so don’t be surprised if your initial idea changes as you see it come to life.

Michelle Tackabery

An experienced content and social media marketing professional, Michelle writes frequently about the practical applications of information technology.

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