Clutch spoke with Valerie Verveda, project manager at Intersog, as part of a series of interviews on mobile app cost and platform choice.
Please begin by introducing your company and your role there.
We are Intersog. We've been in the market for nine years. We're an outsourcing company that provides custom mobile and Web development for clients. We also help with the design as a part of our services, if needed. We create customs solutions on iOS, Android, Windows Phone, and other platforms. We've worked in many different areas, such as medical, gaming, social, and other business and business-to-consumer services.
I am Valerie Verveda. I work as a project manager to curate how the projects happen, to communicate between the developers and the customer, and to help with the development through the release of the product. Often, we help with product development as well because, in most cases, clients simply have their idea in mind and we apply the best practices and innovations for the actual look and feel of what the apps will do. It is often the case when we help the product to be developed in a way in which client did not expect before, but the client finds these ideas to be great improvements, both for user experience as well as for gaining a larger market share.
Mobile App Platforms
What are the objectives a client should define before they select which platform to use?
In most cases, the client comes to us with their choice already in mind. Most of the mobile applications are developed for Android and iOS. We also develop on other platforms. The main question usually for them is either to go first with only one platform, and then develop it into the second version, or do it right away on both. Many clients choose the iOS version because the coverage is higher because there are more profitable users, and just because they know that their target audience is iPhone users.
There are others who like to develop both platforms at the same time. These are the ones who would like to have major coverage right away, who would like the release to be massive and cover as much of the market as possible. In this case, the question is whether to do native applications or to do the PhoneGap versions, which would make it faster to develop the mobile solutions for both platforms. It saves money and resources, and it may be faster to get to market.
If it's for something like Windows Phone, for example, then usually it's for a really specific need of the client. Therefore, we can do any of these options. They really differ from client to client, so there's not really a general approach.
Can you describe an example from Intersog's experience for which PhoneGap or hybrid was the best option?
We were hired to build a medical mobile application that was going to be part of a larger Web solution. It was needed to cover some of the particular user cases. We decided it was much better to do it using PhoneGap because it would be faster to develop, faster to get to market, and would make the clients happier sooner while also decreasing the budget.
There are some challenges that come with the PhoneGap technology, so sometimes it's better to use the native application when there is difficult functionality inside or there's some specific requirements that are don't look quite as nice if done with PhoneGap. Native is a bit more sophisticated in this way.
Are there any examples in which you felt that Android was the better option to use first?
One example is one of our current projects, which was made first for Android. It was done as a pilot version because it was a better, more advanced technology that was available for that particular solution. On iOS, it would have been hard to find a readily available solution, so to speed things up it was decided to go with a pilot Android version to see how it goes.
Android lately is quite developed. There are so many open source resources available and free libraries to use. In a way, Android is advanced in its own area, and the innovations come faster to Android than to iOS.
Is it faster to develop in Android or iOS, or are they about the same?
It's about the same. Android may be a little bit less time, but it very much depends on the functionality.
Do you build any Windows applications?
Yes. We do them. Usually, we do the Windows phone in addition to Android and iOS, so for a full package. Recently, we built one for the European market in the gaming area.
Mobile App Cost
What are the key drivers that influence the cost of a mobile application?
The design of the app plays a crucial part in the development cost. It can be designed to be very simple, with really basic features and components. It can also be sophisticated with a lot of animation, and effects.
It also very much depends on the functionality. The application may work independently, for example, if I had an app with a book for users to read. It would be the application without any kind of back-end. There's no logging in or anything like that. It very much simplifies the process because there are no backend developers, PHP for example, or any other technology developers would be required. When there are so many interconnections, more things need to be done. Everything needs to be verified and to be checked for different use cases, and you must figure out how the errors are going to be handled. All of that would be a separate, large part of any application that works with servers.
When you're developing an application for both iOS and Android and there is a server side, you have to take into account how things are handled because it's quite often that on iOS that you can do something which you technically can't do on Android or the other way around. Then, some common solutions need to be thought through together by the team, to find a solution for all of the three technology stacks.
Locally stored mobile apps are usually much simpler but, at the same time, it very much depends on the functionality. If there are a bunch of things inside, then it might be the similarly expensive or even more.
Are there any examples of a feature or technology that doesn't work as easily on either iOS or Android?
For example, for iOS applications there are certain things that cannot run in the background. Only some particular types of application profiles can do that. For example, newsstand apps have the permission from Apple to do that. If you can't prove your app has these features and necessity to run in the background to renew the content, then your app will not be approved by Apple for this functionality. So, this may be a limitation for iOS, for example.
How do you go about estimating a price, and then charging a client?
That depends on quite a lot of factors. That depends on how specific the client's vision of the solution is. If he really knows what he wants to be done specifically and down to the point and, if we both know that it's not going to be changed in the process or afterward, this most likely would be the case for a fixed-price project. Also, we usually do small projects first at fixed price, just because it's easier to see how we work together, how we as a company can deliver to the client what he wants. We can then go further and develop something more advanced. It's a good learning period for both of us, to see how we can cooperate together. Therefore, this would be the starting point.
There are some other situations when the project is innovative, and the client is still thinking through how things are going to be handled. It's quite probable that things are going to be changed along the way. We have such projects like one of the latest ones we are taking part in, which is an innovation for the medical industry. It makes very much sense from a business standpoint to change priorities when something new comes along or when we know we can do something differently. This is a case when the time and materials pricing model works best.
Time and materials also works best when the client pays just for a person or a team, like an outsourcing model. The employer and the development teamwork together, think together, and communicate directly without any external help. A project manager may or may not be needed, depending on availability of the client for the whole team. When the client is short on time and trusts the project manager, then the project manager can really simplify life for both the team and the client. Then, the project can be allowed to go along and may change quite significantly. The client can transfer his vision and the specifics to the team directly.
Does your company have a minimum budget that they require? Is there a typical size project on which you typically work?
No. There are often projects which are small, but they have such a great idea that we would love to take part in it. We want to be a part of such a great thing. It doesn't matter whether it's small or large, just that it's a great product that is going to be out there, and we would love to be on board. We also do very large projects, which include mobile, Web, and back-end development, and quite a lot of even third-party services that are being developed together with our help, with the client and some third-party services.
It's really nice from stability standpoint to work with a client for a long-term project to create a meaningful product that is going to have a huge impact, or a big change in the market. Right now I am working on three projects, one in business, one in entertainment, and one in medicine that are going to be huge. One of them was released recently. It was the Video Medicine app, helping clients connect to the doctors online over video chat.
In terms of your business model, you have offices in Chicago, Canada, Germany, and Ukraine. What is beneficial about your model from a cost and value perspective?
In the last few years, more companies have moved to using offshore businesses because of the price. At the same time, developers in Eastern Europe are not low quality. There are quite a lot of talented people, including in Ukraine where Intersog is also located. Ukraine is now one of the most developed countries in the information technology sector globally, and quite a lot of international companies are here, like Google, Microsoft, and others because there's potential here. Our professionals are known on the international level.
So, the main reasons are price and professionalism as well as the convenience of our work scheme options. Sometimes, companies like to have in-house development teams and may not prefer offshore development. It has a major disadvantage. In general, it costs more to have an in-house development. For the remote work, it takes some time to make it happen. You have to spend some effort to make the communication work and to make all the differences in the culture work, but it is a great thing to get in place, because different mindsets help big things happen.