At the end of 2008–the year it launched–the Apple App Store had just 5,000 apps. By 2017, the App Store had 2.2 million apps, and Google Play was even bigger with 2.8 million. Apps are essential elements of today’s digital economy–the critical links that connect customers to the brands they use most–resulting in more transactions and deeper brand loyalty. With users downloading over 500,000,000 apps every day, companies around the world are struggling to keep up–they just can’t bring in app development resources fast enough to meet their operational demands.

The obvious and increasingly popular solution is to outsource app development. But with so many outsourcing partners to choose from, how do you know which one is right for your organization, and your specific set of needs? Here are some key issues to consider as you evaluate app development agencies.

Broad vs. narrow skillset

It can be tempting to exclusively look for a partner that is focused on developing mobile products in-line with your app’s desired functionality. After all, they’ve shipped similar products before and can presumably get you up and running more quickly. But there are drawbacks to consider as well.

When the same team develops the same kind of app over and over, they tend to acquire a bias towards a certain way of thinking and approach to development. You start to hear comments like–“this is the way things need to be done,” or “we’ve already validated what consumers want.” That mindset makes it harder to come up with new features and capabilities that can differentiate your app in the marketplace, and that satisfy the unique needs of your specific customer base. Conversely, an app development agency with a broader skill set may bring a more open mind to your project–as well as ideas and capabilities from other projects to engage and delight your users.

Enterprise-level experience

With so much demand for outsourced app development, it’s not surprising to find a lot of new entrants to the field. But it’s one thing to develop an app for a four-person gaming startup, and quite another to do so for a global Fortune 500 service company.

So before you hire any app development partner, take a good look at their case studies and ask how much experience they have with organizations of your size and complexity. And while familiarity with your vertical industry is clearly useful, it’s even more important to make sure that your partner has experience dealing with the kinds of procedural, operational, and even bureaucratic issues which will impact your app development project.

A lot of development companies talk about using rapid prototyping to bring apps to market more quickly. However, if they can’t integrate with your legacy systems and don’t know how to help get everyone in your organization on board, the project will struggle to reach the finish line.

Research capabilities

When it comes to mobile apps, the term “state of the art” has a half-life of about 30 days. Technology, capabilities and UX are advancing so rapidly that even if you benchmark today’s hottest competitive app, you could end up with something that seems stale when you launch just a few months down the road. That’s why the best outsource app partners invest in advanced research capabilities, so they can tell you what’s next–and make sure your app has it. Research is also the key to ensuring that your app doesn’t perpetuate the same misguided development assumptions that are holding back your competitors.

A recent example– while developing a streaming video platform for children–WillowTree developers came to the realization that no one really understood how kids consume video. Leveraging our in-house usability lab, research and usability testing was conducted with children age 3-14, uncovering a key insight: kids of all age groups don’t search for videos by title, they search by character. This completely changed the platform’s search functionality, leading to a stronger strategy for driving engagement.

Employee turnover

App development outsourcing is a hugely competitive field, where talent is at a premium. And while no mobile agency partner can guarantee that a developer won’t leave in the middle of your project, you can take some steps to minimize that possibility. Ask prospective partners about average employee tenure and turnover rates. Compare their reviews on Glassdoor to see how happy employees are. And find out who the key players will be on your project, and how long they’ve been around.

Post-launch marketing

It’s not enough to simply launch an app. Your app has to get into users hands–or more specifically–onto their mobile devices. With millions of apps to choose from–and thousands more coming online each week–getting consumers to choose your app is growing harder all the time. So it’s a good idea to look for a partner who can help with your go-to-market plan. At WillowTree, we provide advanced mobile marketing services to help clients increase the number of active users, session lengths, and retention rates by optimizing the four main aspects of app engagement:

  • Onboarding users effectively and efficiently
  • Differentiating mobile apps from the web experience, and using smart banners/interstitials to drive users to mobile apps from the mobile web
  • Using push notifications to re-engage users
  • Enabling deep linking that allows app content to be discoverable

Apps are battling for space and attention on smartphone screens around the world. And while those screens may be small, the stakes are enormous: Forrester Analytics says that consumers will make $118 billion worth of purchases on apps this year, and that’s just in the U.S. Yet users say that 50% of the apps on their devices aren’t even useful–and they don’t hesitate to delete the apps that don’t work for them. Companies invest billions in infrastructure, processes, and personnel to bring their content and products to market. If their apps don’t showcase all that effort in the best way possible, even the most loyal customers will eventually move on.

Is partnering with an external agency the right decision for your next app development project? Take a look at our insights on best practices for creating mobile RFPs or contact us directly to talk about whether or not WillowTree could be a good fit for your next project.