Get creative


Yes, a brainstorm. Did we need to tell you that? Absolutely.The amount of projects I’ve seen that still skip this crucial stage can be staggering. If you work with a team consider including them as well (plus editorial, marketing, sales…). Just make sure that everyone involved is aware of the app’s Product Statement so any ideas are as relevant as possible.

Forget complex online tools, just grab a big sheet of paper or stick some post-it notes up on the wall.You may already have an idea from the previous section about what is and isn’t possible, but at this stage let the ideas flow and you can worry about what isn’t appropriate later on.You might also like to do a second round of brainstorming asking your team what iPhone apps your colleagues rate or regularly use, which bring us on to…

Research the competition (and the inspiration)

If your app idea is similar to something that already exists then look at the top apps in your sector (if there are equivalents). Look at both what is doing well in the App Store, and also what you consider to be excellent (there are many great apps outside the App Store charts).You should also look at the top performing apps in any category (particularly anything that has been high in the charts for a long time) to see what general traits you can learn.What do they do well?

If they are in direct competition with what you are doing (and competition is something you are worried about), consider: can you do it better? If you can’t do it better, can you do it in a way they haven’t done or find a niche that may have been overlooked? If they are in a similar market but not direct competitors (for example you are a local newspaper but get inspiration from the New York Times and Guardian apps) then devour as many apps as you can. Find the best features. Speak to regular users of the app about what they like.Then work the best ones into your app. As well as browsing the App Store, you can also use websites like which claims (and seems to be reasonably close) to showing data from all countries’ App Stores in a single place. As well as viewing Top 100 apps by country and categor y on the site (, you can also check out a particular app and see how it is performing across several countries’ App Stores at once (

Once you have finished going through the apps, take a look at all the apps that have either have inspired you (or you consider direct or indirect competition) on the App Store and see what their users are calling for in the Reviews section under each app. Often you will see the same feature (or bug) brought up over and over. Firstly, any negative comments you see will give you all the inspiration you need to avoid repeating some of the same. Secondly, they may give you ideas for features for your own app.You could browse each country’s App Store in turn for user reviews but there is an easier way. Use to search for a particular app and you’ll get user reviews from every App Store (country) that the app is available in on a single page.

Write down all the features you like in a big list with a brief note next to each one stating the app you saw it on. Even if you don’t think you will use all the features in this version of your app note them all down, they might be useful later.

Re-consider your audience

You should have already put down some initial thoughts on your audience by now, but go back again to see if there’s anything you might have missed. Consider, can they be defined by a certain age group, location, social type, gender? What might they want to see? Know a member of that audience group who uses an iPhone or iPad? Ask them what they might like to see and what similar apps they use, if any. Be a sponge and soak it all up! It doesn’t have to be an inquisition, just take it all in (and note it all down).

Online surveys

I’m a little skeptical about using these, unless you are asking a very defined question about your potential app. Even then though you should always take the results with a pinch of salt (what people say or think they will find appealing is often different to what they will actually do when presented with the same choice in the ‘real world’).

Nevertheless there are some easy to use online tools out there if you fancy digging a bit deeper before building the app. is an easy and cheap online survey solution if you decide you need one. Google Docs can also help with this too (use its ‘Form’ document type).

Focus groups

For similar reasons to my caution with online sur veys, you should also be careful reading too much into results from focus groups of potential app users. However if structured well and you take all suggestions with a pinch of salt though, you can easily get a some good ideas and suggestions for features you may not have thought of.

You don’t have to make it too formal, perhaps a coffee or business lunch, with a random sample of your audience if you can easily reach them.You could also do the same with friends and family, though there is the danger you might only get ‘what they think you want to hear’.