Previously, in What does building a mobile application involve? - Part 1 we talked about what mobile apps were and the different varieties of them. In this installment, we'll talk about generating app ideas.
The App Idea
Coming up with an idea for an app, while seemingly the easy part, I feel is easily the most important and hardest part of the app creation process. There are countless apps out in the wild that are expertly designed and developed, using some of the coolest device features available but they fail to grasp a large audience because they simply don't do anything innovative, imaginative or useful. With the app marketplace so saturated (the iOS app store alone has 350,000-400,000 apps as of this writing), if your goal is to create an app that others will want to download, the onus now is greater than ever on an app's utility. An app that is less elegant but highly useful will always win out over an app that's gorgeous but useless (Note: If you're wanting to build an app simply for the sake of building an app, absolutely disregard the previous statements. By all means, build away at that one-of-a-kind fart app until your heart's content! :-)).
So, this is where the hard part comes in. How to create an app that someone else would want? Well, if I had a quick, easy answer for you, I'd certainly not be sitting here typing this as I'd be off creating these apps that everyone wants (probably from a sailboat in really blue water somewhere). But, since I have no easy answers, I can at least share some questions to ask yourself which might make the process a little easier for you. The first question is obvious: Do you see a blatant need that could be met by a mobile app? We come across things like this every day. Perhaps it's a certain store locator or specialized business calculator that would be useful or map to pinpoint the exact location of city buses and trolleys. If you have an idea like this, I suggest researching it a little prior to doing any heavy lifting simply to see if it's been done before by someone else.
So you've done that. What happens if your one-in-a-million app idea indeed turns out to not be so original? Well, this obviously stinks but don't get discouraged! The next question to ask yourself, is "Can I take an existing idea and make it better?" There are always ample opportunities to improve on someone else's idea without necessarily copying it. Maybe their app lacks that one awesome feature you'd like to see which you think would take it from good to great. That's your opportunity. While it's highly probable you'll have to start your app design from scratch, that one extra feature might prove to be the difference maker.
Once you've gotten your app idea, the next step is to decide what features you want to include in its initial release. Remember, app development is an iterative process. If you try to include every single feature you could possibly ever want in it, you might never get it released. If possible, start small with your most basic, important functionality and plan to expand from that later. Rare is the case that you see a software package, whether running on a phone or a computer, that's only had one release. There's a reason Microsoft comes out with newer versions of its Office software every few years; it wants to add in more features that take advantage of newer computer hardware or that couldn't be completed within the previous development life cycle's timeframe and possibly tweak older features as needed. Your app's development roadmap should plan to mirror this approach (that is, if you plan to go beyond the aforementioned fart app's single release).
So, in short, look for a need that a mobile app might solve. If there are no existing needs to be had, look at existing solutions. Maybe there's something lacking from one of those. Then you're free to brainstorm your app's potential and plan your early retirement.