Android, iPhone, Palm Pre, Windows, Blackberry and more. It’s no wonder they’re called smartphones. Sometimes it takes a genius just to figure out how to sync up to your exchange server. So think about how difficult it is to develop a mobile app! That’s why we jumped at the opportunity to interview Gregg Dieckhaus. He develops mobile applications for our partner, Unidev, specializing in Android development. Take a look at how developers start a mobile development project.
Watch the full podcast below:
Liz: Hi, and welcome to the TNI Podcast Series where we interview web, social media and interactive professionals. Today we’ll be interviewing Gregg Dieckhaus. He’s a mobile app developer at Unified Development. And he specializes in Android app development. Let’s welcome Greg.
Gregg: Hi, thanks for having me.
Liz: Thanks so much for joining us. So, just to get started, can you tell us a little bit about the steps involved in creating a mobile application, and how you developed the design, navigation, all that fun stuff?
Gregg: Sure. I think the first thing when you’re developing a mobile app, you have to really design to the platform that you’re working on. A phone has limited space, and that must be taken into account. The other thing when you’re designing a mobile app for a phone, you can take advantage of features that a phone has that a computer doesn’t. Right away, you can deal with the touch interface. A phone might have a GPS that you could take advantage of. What I like to do is kind of develop a small mock-up of what each screen is going to be and kind of develop toward that.
Liz: Great. So, I’m just going to jump right into the question that everyone has.
Liz: How do you determine pricing for a mobile application, and how does that whole system work from idea to execution?
Gregg: Well, there are a lot of ways you can price applications, or go about it. There are really three ways: you can give a free app; you can do a paid app, and you can do an advertising supported app. And the other way is really that you can do kind of a light, which is a free version that leads into the premium version.
Liz: Yeah, I’ve seen that; I actually use an app called Checklist, and it has a Checklist Lite, and then you can pay for the full-blown Checklist app with more features and functionality.
Gregg: And so, I really think that if you’re developing an application for your customers, that really need to be a free app; because that app is really driving business to your main business. You don’t want to charge people for something that really you’re just trying to get business themselves. If your goal is to be an application developer that’s trying to make money off of this, then obviously you have to either get into the advertising or the paid app. I kind of like the model of a free version with a paid version afterwards. I can give you some examples.
We’ve done applications where there has been a free version and a paid version, and we’ve done advertising versions. And a free version, I’ll just make up a number like 15,000 downloads, the paid version of that might have about 1%; some might have maybe 150. And that’s a paid version of a $0.99 version. I don’t know if you went $10 or something. I have no idea what it would be.
Liz: If anyone would even want to download an app for that much money.
Gregg: Right. But an advertising version really is a combination of both; but my experience is the advertising revenue really isn’t there unless you are Angry Birds, or something that has millions and millions of people using it all the time, because the advertising revenue click through, you’re just not generating enough money to make it worth your while.
Liz: And I’m sure that this varies for every different application that you develop, but how long does it typically take from having the idea for the app to execution? Is there like a good range that you can give us?
Gregg: Some things can be done really fast. If you just want sort of standard text on the screen with buttons to move and get display information, in general that’s very fast. When you start getting into interacting, activating the device or the GPS, things like that, then they start taking longer.
Liz: Sure. And what advice would you give to someone who is looking with help to develop a mobile application?
Gregg: I think that the Internet is your friend.
Liz: A great resource for researching.
Gregg: It really is a great resource. There are user groups out on the Internet for really every platform. And when I started with Android, which is really my specialty, we just went with the simple “Hello world”; basically just how to get your phone to say hello world to it. And then from there it was, how do I get a button to interact? How do I get a picture to get on the phone? How do I do this?
And so, you just kind of methodically step through those things, and you take your picture in your mind or that you’ve drawn out, or mocked up for what you want your app to be and just sort of work to that. I know in the Android the big thing is layout, and it’s not necessarily easy to get what you’re put down visually on your piece of paper or mock-up to happen on the phone.
But that’s really I think the best way to work toward it. Start with “Hello world” and then move from there. And it makes you learn the API, because all these platforms have an API that’s specific to them. Take advantage of stuff that somebody else has already written.
Liz: So, if a customer comes to you and asks you to build a mobile app for them, it would help you to have sort of a mock-up of what they would like to do. But it also helps you if they’ve done some research on the front end to see how a lot of apps are laid out, and how the navigation looks.
Gregg: Right. And there are standards for these things. So when we develop, we want to try and develop toward that standard.
Liz: You don’t want to try and reinvent the wheel.
Gregg: Don’t want to try and reinvent the wheel. I know a lot of people have different philosophies, but my philosophy is to try and keep it simple. If there’s too much on the screen, it gets overwhelming. Again, keep thinking about your platform; if it’s a phone and you got a lot of buttons, and you got a big thumb or finger you’re trying to hit that button with and you hit the wrong one. I think it is a good idea for people to kind of look at maybe applications, not even anything like what they’re doing, but kind of get an idea of what a standard application, how it acts and behaves. Then, I think you want to try and emulate that.
Liz: OK, that’s great advice. And how many mobile platforms exist then? What are your different options for developing on different mobile platforms? How many are actually used?
Gregg: Well, there’s the big one I guess, is the iPhone and Android. So, there’s iPhone, Android. Windows Mobile has come out with a new one just recently. There’s going to be your Blackberry, and I believe Palm just came out with one. I think there are more and more all the time.
Liz: So, there’s not only more mobile apps coming out on the market, but there are more platforms to build those applications on that are coming up every day as well.
Gregg: Right. One of the difficult things within Android, for example, is there’s many different versions of Android. So, you have to decide what version of Android you’re going to build for. Are you going to build for an Android II device, which really is most of them that have been sold in the past year? Or, are you going to develop for the newest thing called “Honeycomb” which is their tablet interface, and develop toward that? So, it really is difficult to decide where you’re going to go because it’s so fractured right now.
Liz: It makes sense. And in your opinion, final question, what’s more difficult rocket science or building a mobile app?
Gregg: Well, I guess it depends on which way you take it. Building a mobile app is easier than rocket science. But if you wanted to build a mobile app that was going to run on multiple platforms, that’s probably more difficult.
Liz: You might want to become a rocket scientist, instead.
Gregg: You might want to become a rocket scientist.
Liz: So, that’s up in the air–to be determined.
Gregg: Right, because for each of these platforms, unfortunately, there’s no unified development for them. You have to develop an [Phone app that’s its own set of development, and Android app has its own development. So it’s almost like every platform you’re going to support is a whole other double, triple the work.
Gregg: Typically, I think you’re probably going to want to, at least, be in the iPhone and the Android world, because that’s what really people, at least, in the U.S. are thinking as, “I have a phone and this is really where it’s at”.
Liz: Great. Well, thank you so much for joining us today, Gregg. We really appreciate you sharing all of your knowledge about mobile app development. We know it’s going to be a really big part of interactive communications in the future. We appreciate you coming.
Gregg: Thanks for having me.
Liz: Thank you. And you can find one of Gregg’s latest apps at the