Deciding what to build

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Find advice about deciding on the apps and games you’ll create for Firefox Marketplace.

In a world where the mantra ‘there will be an app for that’ so often seems to be true, it might seem daunting when it comes to choosing what app to create. However, as the often misquoted former United States Commissioner of Patents Charles Holland Duell said in 1902, “In my opinion, all previous advances in the various lines of invention will appear totally insignificant when compared with those which the present century will witness. I almost wish that I might live my life over again to see the wonders which are at the threshold.” Those words are as true today as they were over 100 years ago.

Generating your idea

So where do you start? Here are some suggestions:

  • Something simple ─ don’t be afraid to start with something you know, even if it embodies the same ideas as apps that are already in the Marketplace. You may want to use your first app as an opportunity to learn the tools and processes, and that’s fine. However, do also consider whether you can offer something unique or better than existing apps, so yours stands out as more than simply a ‘me too’.
  • What you know ─ a hobby, a skill, interest, or sport. These may all offer possibilities for apps that help or inform people with a similar interest.
  • Everyday problems ─ many successful apps address everyday problems. Talk to family, friends, and work colleagues and look out for ‘you must be able to create an app for that’ comments. Also look for activities where information on the internet can be given more meaning because of a user’s location or current activity.
  • Missing apps ─ review the catalog of apps in the Marketplace to identify what might be missing.
  • App feedback ─ don’t overlook the feedback provided on other apps. Within this feedback you’ll come across request from users for enhanced functionality, different features, complaints that some part of the application doesn’t work well, or hints that the user expected the app to do something entirely different. These comments may very well offer inspiration; just be careful that it doesn’t result in a ‘me too’ app.
  • App suggestion sites, internet forums, and suchlike ─ a number of sites provide a way for users to make suggestions for mobile apps. These can also be fruitful sources of ideas, but remember to check the Terms and Conditions before you start creating an app based on an idea you spotted on one of these sites.
  • Open APIs ─ many sites and services offer open APIs that enable you to access their data and services. These range from the APIs to control gadgets through to the data of large governments and independent providers. These offer possibilities for implementing new ways of doing things, performing new tasks with gadgets or presenting data in ways that offers unexpected help to users.

Validating your idea

Whatever the source of your inspiration, you should:

  1. Confirm the problem you want to solve is a real one and that users will want an app to solve it. There is some excellent advice on this process in the Planning Your App page in the Design section of the App Center.
  2. Compare your idea to apps that are already in the Marketplace and the stores for other platforms. If you find something similar, it’s not a reason to abandon your idea, rather to ask yourself ‘can I do it better?’ You may be able to solve the problem faster, better or in a more engaging, enjoyable way ─ ‘building a better mousetrap’ may be just what’s needed.
  3. Check that you have the necessary rights to create your app. Not all ideas and data are offered in an open way. At one extreme you may be able to use the data or service by doing little more than providing an acknowledgement for using them, at the other there may be licensing and cost implications. Make sure you understand these before starting your project.
  4. Check that the technology is available. When a certain kind of app doesn’t exist it could be that the technology you need to implement it simply isn’t available on the target platforms, a supported peripheral or data source.

But don’t be afraid to experiment. Just because all the advice you get says it’s a bad idea, once implemented and unleashed on mobile users it could strike a chord that no one around you could recognize. In addition, if you first app isn’t a great success you are in good company — Angry Birds was its developer’s 52nd game.

And talking of games, here you have both more challenges and more opportunities. The same options exist in determining a good game to develop. Think about games you played as a child, family games, games you played at school, even local or regional games that may translate to a global audience. Another fruitful avenue to explore is local myths and legends, not only will they help define the game play, but the fact they may seem quirky, odd, or strange to a global audience can add to their appeal.

It's also worth remembering that your app doesn't necessarily have to be for a mobile device. Firefox Marketplace apps can also be installed on desktop PCs and tablets. So if your idea is for a complex app, that is more suited to the focus a user will apply on a desktop or tablet PC, don't discard it. And also remember that a complex desktop app might benefit from a mobile version focused on a key set of tasks the user might want to perform away from their desk.

There may already be millions of apps out there, but there are millions more to come and the unlikeliest sources could just be the genesis of the next big app thing.

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