Asking a mobile app developer or an app agency the right questions will make or break your mobile app project. Your questions will immediately reveal to mobile developers whether you are in the know about mobile app development, and if they can quote you some extra. Developers’ answers, in turn, will let you choose the best candidate.
Without further ado, let’s jump right into these questions. If you only read some, then skim over the first ten questions. You’ll learn what questions to ask and what red flags in the answers to watch for.
You can also skip to questions you are most interested in:
- General App Development Expertise
- Advanced Mobile Experience
- App Development Cost
- App Building Process
- Post-Development Assistance
- Closing Round
Reading Time: ~15 min
To get the ball rolling, fire these initial questions at a mobile development agency you are considering. The questions will help you to quickly shortlist the candidates to pros and fish out wannabe mobile developers.
1. How many apps have you developed?
Everybody is after numbers these days, big numbers that is. Ask anyone what the best proof of the claimed experience is, and they’ll tell you it’s the number of successfully completed projects.
And so these app agencies will pour you with numbers: “We have developed over 101, 200, 300, etc. apps!” What nobody says is half these apps are nothing but an icon (outdated and taken down from app stores), while another chunk never made it to the stores (remained a proof of concept). In practice, there is usually only a handful of high-quality apps on a portfolio that you’d even risk to install and review.
Takeaway: You are looking for quality apps that are more than icons in someone’s portfolio. Ten to twenty quality apps are a good sign.
2. What apps can I download from the App Store or Google Play?
Following on our previous question, this one is a logical continuation. If an app agency has a rich portfolio of apps, they should provide proof links. Ask for a couple of apps they are proud of, download one and put on your Homer’s hat: tap around and see if you get any positive vibrations.
The thing is, a portfolio is always nice on a website or in a brochure they send you. By contrast, a live app on your own smartphone will paint a completely different picture.
Takeaway: Check out the app on your own device: a running app and doctored screenshots are different things.
PS If you seek to develop an enterprise app (generally not available in the app stores), and the company is offering you a live demo of an enterprise app they did, go for it.
3. Can I talk to the client for whom you developed the app?
Yes, still going down the rabbit hole. You will be surprised how many teams will send you links to apps where they did only a fraction of the scope. Therefore talking to the client who financed the development of the app you just played with is always a good idea.
You’d want to learn how the dev team delivered on the promises; what their strong sides and shortcomings are, etc.
Takeaway: You are looking for a reference from the client whose app you have tested.
4. What programming languages do you work with to develop native apps?
Nowadays, iOS apps are developed with Swift, while apps for Android — with Java or Kotlin. However, your CTO may have a better say in this, especially if you already have an app and need to build on top of what’s been already produced (e.g. a legacy app in Objective-C).
Takeaway: Bid them farewell if they use something different from Swift for iOS and Java or Kotlin for Android.
5. Do you have experience in developing cross-platform apps?
Cross-platform app development frameworks serve a great purpose; they let you optimize the app development budget. Some of the most popular tools on the market that produced quality cross-platform apps, like Bloomberg’s consumer app, include Xamarin, React Native, PhoneGap, and Appcelerator.
Takeaway: If developers stand the ground repeating a “we-develop-only-native-apps” mantra, the chances are they will be really expensive and really, really good.
6. Is it a good idea to use a cross-platform development framework for my app?
It’s one thing to get a nod from your potential development team on using a cross-platform app development platform. And it’s quite another — to get them explain to you why. Why should you build a cross-platform app, rather than native apps?
Takeaway: They should talk to you about non-graphic-intensive apps, default animations, minimum visual effects, reduced development budget and snappier delivery.
7. Will my app work as designed on iOS or Android?
This question is the trickiest and works best when you have at least a high-level requirements document. A competent app development agency should be able to immediately spot weak areas in your app functionality and draw your attention to them.
For example, iOS developers only recently got access to the NFC framework that allows third-party apps to interact with real-life objects via NFC.
Takeaway: Pick an app feature you are most concerned with and ask how they will tackle it. Can they offer you an alternative to reach the same effect if Apple or Google is restricting this functionality?
8. What if I don’t have the requirements for my app?
The drill is “We will help you draft the app requirements”, but make sure you get your hands on some samples of their requirements documentation to check the quality.
Takeaway: A skilled business analyst is a welcome addition to any mobile project. So check if your candidates have one.
9. What is your app back-end development expertise?
Listen carefully to what your developers have to answer because back-end is the second big thing after the app itself (if not bigger). Your app will work with a server to store data, sync it with other devices, get notifications, etc. So your mobile development team should absolutely have a full-stack engineer or two to build a back-end for your app.
Takeaway: The most experienced teams will offer both: custom back-end and third-party solutions like Firebase, Back4App, or similar services.
10. Have you worked on similar apps?
Here we keep digging to see if they have the specific expertise you are looking for. After all, developing a simple reference app and building a mobile enterprise solution will require different skills.
Takeaway: Keep in mind that you will never find a team that developed exactly the same app as you need. Because if they did, why are you building another one?
11. What is your mobile development capacity?
In other words, how many mobile developers they have on their team. As app development comes underway, having enough developers for things like sick days and sudden scope changes will become crucial.
Takeaway: Remember that more is not always better. However, in most cases, two developers will deliver an app faster than one developer.
Even though it may seem like you have already asked enough questions, you’ll do no harm by asking more. It’s what they call real due diligence, and it always pays off. The answers will show if the candidates are sincerely interested in working with you, as they’d have to go an extra mile to have you pleased.
12. Can you make my app multilingual?
Modern apps can reach a global audience and therefore need to speak different languages. It’s a pretty trivial task unless you are dealing with Arabic or a hieroglyph-based language.
Takeaway: Ask if they provide translation service packaged into their proposal.
13. What hardware did you have the chance to use in apps?
Questions about hardware expertise are very appropriate when you are devising an Internet-of-Things application, or otherwise want your app to support some specific hardware features of a smartphone, be it gyroscope, Bluetooth, NFC, or something else.
Takeaway: Does their sample app work? If not, do they have a prototype? If not, can they build a prototype to show their expertise with a specific piece of hardware?
14. What monetization strategies do you suggest for my app?
Not everybody can afford an app just for the fun of it. If an app is not promoting a brand, it must bring in profit in some other way. Knowing your monetization options will help you decide the route: paid, free, in-app purchases, ad-driven revenue, etc.
Takeaway: The team should explain why such and such monetization strategy is ideal for your particular app.
15. Have you worked with any mobile ad frameworks?
Mobile ads will probably come up during the previous question — as one of the revenue generating options for your app. There are four biggest players in this market: Google, Facebook, Twitter, and more recently Apple.
Takeaway: Get down-to-earth and start thinking about what ad types each ad framework can offer to appeal to your target audience best.
16. What OS versions and device models should my app support?
Of course, you should do your own research and know your target audience’s preferences, but keep in mind that the more device models and OS versions your app will support, the higher will become the app development budget.
Takeaway: As of June 2018, iOS 10+ and Android 5.0+ are a safe bet to cover as many devices on iOS and Android as possible, without hurting the app development budget.
17. What mobile analytics do you advise to build into my app?
Every app has a purpose beyond making you rich and famous. And that’s solving a particular problem for your customers. How do you know if your customers are using the app as you envisioned? Well, just as there is web analytics for websites, there’s also mobile analytics for mobile apps.
These tools let you see how your app is used and identify potential bottlenecks for your users.
Takeaway: Google Analytics, Flurry Analytics, AppSee, Localytics — these are the names you want to hear from a reliable partner. And you can pick any: they all are really good.
18. Can you build a smartwatch companion app for my main app?
You can add a little twist to your questionnaire and ask a question that not many mobile developers can answer affirmatively because Apple Watch is still a relatively new product and app development hasn’t really taken off for it. Same goes for Android smartwatches.
What you will definitely like is how developers will try to impress you with something else instead.
Takeaway: It’s OK really if the company does not have hands-on experience with smartwatch apps.
Of course, the app cost is going to be one of the deciding factors for choosing one team over another. So take your time to go through these questions about the cost of mobile app development. This will help you align the budget for the mobile app.
You might also want to check out our blog post that details how much it costs to develop a mobile app to gain a better understanding about budgeting mobile app development.
19. Can you work out a fixed quote?
What you ask here, in reality, is whether they work on a fixed-price or time-and-material basis. Both approaches have their own pros and cons. Be mindful that a fixed quote also means you agree to have less freedom changing the scope during development.
The approach with a fixed quote also presupposes that you already have well-documented requirements for your app. Otherwise, you’d have to wait for the team to work out the Functional Design Specification document for your project.
Takeaway: Get yourself an agile team that works on time-and-material and limit the total number of hours they can burn per month.
20. What is your hourly rate?
Some people open with this question and end the conversation right there if the rate is higher than what they expected. However, how do you know the amount of work that goes into the rate? Ask additional questions to find out what the rate includes, e.g., engineers’ work, project manager’s work, etc.
Takeaway: Don’t make the rate your sole deciding factor. Try and check what amount of work and efforts go into the rate. How much output will you be getting with a given rate on a weekly basis?
21. What do you need from me to provide a quote?
If your candidate hasn’t asked you a ton of question already, ask yourself. Find out what you need to provide for the team to come up with an accurate estimate. Some teams will ask only for requirements, others will need designs.
Takeaway: Simply ask: “Have I given you everything to work on a quote? Do you need anything else?” Those questions will make them double-check if they have enough to prep a quote.
You will be spending at least a couple of next months with these guys. It may be worthwhile to check out their internals: what their development process looks like, what you should expect and what you shouldn’t, etc.
22. Do you provide a roadmap?
With this question, you basically request that they provide you with a roadmap for developing different parts of your app. The roadmap should be divided into sprints and contain specific dates for delivering specific functionality.
Takeaway: Make sure the roadmap is reviewed and updated each couple of week, as there undeniably will be changes, and it’s better if you know of them in advance.
23. Who owns the source code during development?
Yes, developers can hang on to the code, especially when working on a fixed-price basis. Usually, there is a clause in a contract that says something like “the client gets the code once the final payment has been completed”, only in legal gibberish.
Takeaway: When working with an agile team on time and material, make sure you set up your own code repository and request daily code commits.
24. Who’s on your mobile app development team?
A decent team for developing a mobile app would typically include mobile engineer(s), server developer(s), a business analyst, a project manager, a UX/UI engineer, and an account manager. Of course, you can always hire a single developer, just be ready to wear many hats while building the app.
Takeaway: Ask for CVs and check if you will have direct access to developers. You want to work with real people, not some abstract mobile developers.
25. Waterfall or Agile?
Which is a polite way of asking: are you obsolete or not? Seriously though, there are still some pundits who cherish waterfall as a secret gift of IT gods, and there are certain merits to this approach. However, nowadays agile is the only king in software development realm.
Takeaway: Get an agile team.
26. What is your QA process? What do I need to be able to test?
This is where your app development candidates will start to raise their eyebrows as clients never ask such things. You want to find out what their test devices are, especially when developing an Android app.
Takeaway: If they ask about your phone model, the app will one hundred percent work on your device. Test the app on a couple of alternative models too.
27. What has been the biggest issue on a mobile app project?
Here you just try to establish a deeper level of trust with the team.
Takeaway: Have they also elaborated on how that issue could be avoided?
Your app is out — congrats! Now what? Well, before you buy a Concorde and fly all over the world, there are some things you need to take care of to make sure your app is on the right track.
28. Do you provide app maintenance and support?
First, you should check if a candidate provides maintenance and support services. Apple and Google churn out new OS releases at a steady pace. You’d want to keep your app updated with the latest and greatest features.
Takeaway: Project ten percent of your total app development budget for maintaining an app on a yearly basis, once it has been released.
29. Do you have an ASO expertise?
For your app to be noticed in the app store you need to spend some time taking care of the app’s description, keywords, screenshots, etc.. There are many minute details that will influence download rates.
Takeaway: It’s not critical if the company does not provide such services. You can get these services from a firm focusing solely on digital marketing, including SEO and ASO.
30. Once I accept the app, is there a guarantee period for bug fixing?
No one can guarantee the complete absence of bugs. Even after rigorous QA rounds, there is still a chance a little bug got hidden under one of the options in the app. It may be really hard to spot; hence the guarantee.
Takeaway: Check if they limit the number of bugs they fix for free during the grace period.
So you’ve got this far. How do you make the final decision? Well, let’s see if we can squeeze some perks out of your future app development team by going the extra mile.
31. What do you expect of me on the project for us to succeed?
Different things may happen during the project. You are better off aligning your expectations with the reality. Stay proactive, ask questions, provide feedback, demand status reports, and sometimes let it go — to get a top-performing app in the end.
Takeaway: Be proactive and know what developers expect of you on the project from the get-go.
32. Do you have any mobile-related open-source contributions?
This question is just to surprise them. The chances are, they do not have such contributions and so will try to come up with something interesting to seal the deal. In case the team does contribute actively to the developers’ community, you’ve discovered a gold nugget of a firm.
Takeaway: Just have some fun and take it easy if there no specific contributions.
33. When can you start?
Your development team has been waiting for this very question from the beginning. The question may sound trivial, but at the same time so awesome for the team. The question is also important for you: the sooner the team starts building the app, the sooner you will get a killer app!
Do you have more questions on mobile app development? Bring them on! We’ll be happy to help you tackle them or go deeper on some of the questions above.