6 benefits of mobile app prototyping

10 min read
January 20, 2023

Have you ever heard of Google Wave?

It was a web-based collaboration and editing tool launched in 2009.

Chances are, you’re not aware of it because it was one of the few Google projects that got shut down soon after it launched.

The reason? It was difficult to understand what it was meant to do, and it wasn’t well positioned in the market.

This is the kind of situation that proper prototyping can help you avoid. That’s why we recommend making it one of your core app development strategies.

Here are some other benefits you can look forward to.

Validating the mobile app’s concept

One of the most common reasons to create a prototype is to validate your app idea.

A prototype can be a relatively low-cost way to test your app with users before you commit your entire resources to it.

It can tell you if the concept works as desired and resonates with your target market.

This is critical because the top reason apps fail is that the market doesn’t actually need them. Here’s some research to back it up.

Most common reasons for app failure

Source: The WebApp Market

Indeed, there are so many app projects that failed simply because the developers didn’t understand their market.

Take Hailo, a taxi-hailing app that tried to take on Uber.

Hailo was extremely popular in Europe, especially in London. So the company tried to replicate that success in New York City.

It didn’t work. And it was all due to a wrong assumption—that the New York and London taxi industries were the same, which wasn’t the case.

Hailo app

Source: Fortune

As a result of their ill-conceived business model, they pulled out of the American market at a massive loss.

It was a problem that could’ve been solved via validation with a prototype—the way Uber did it.

See, Uber didn’t begin as a big app with a splashy launch and millions of dollars in funding.

Instead, it started as a prototype called UberCab, developed on the side by its founder Garrett Camp.

UberCab was tested in New York in 2010 with a fleet of only three cars. The ease of booking sparked interest among commuters.

This encouraged co-founder Travis Kalanick to test it again in San Francisco. The rest is history.

UberCab interface

Source: Enlume

Analyzing the outcome of Hailo and Uber gives you an amazing view into the power of prototyping and how it could help you avoid wasting millions on a failed idea.

Making quick iterations to the app

There’s more to prototyping than just validating an app idea. You can also use it to refine a mediocre concept into a winning one.

That’s because prototypes are fantastic at getting feedback from people very rapidly. And if you apply the right feedback to your app, you can optimize it in record time.

Plus, the insights you’ll get are that much more valuable because they’re grounded on evidence rather than mere speculations and what-ifs.

Indeed, it’s why the people at the renowned design firm IDEO coined this popular saying:

If a picture is worth a thousand words, a prototype is worth a thousand meetings.

This rapid improvement capability is what propelled many apps to become success stories. This includes Instagram, which was known as Burbn when it started.

Burbn interface

Source: PG Designs

Burbn was initially a location-based app similar to Foursquare. It allowed users to check in at locations, earn points, and post pictures of the places they visited.

However, this early app proved to be a failure because it was too complicated to use. So, the founders decided to pivot the app in some way.

After analyzing their users’ behavior, they discovered that people used the app’s photo-sharing features the most.

After various prototypes and iterations, they developed a simple photo-sharing app that enabled people to post photos in just three taps.

People loved it because there was no app like it at the time.

This app, as you might’ve guessed, became Instagram.

Instagram original interface

Source: Wired

Instagram’s founders succeeded not because they created something new.

Instead, it’s because they combined two existing features—photo sharing and filters—into a package that no one else thought to do.

And you don’t arrive at such a great idea just by guessing. It requires rapid iterations with plenty of prototyping to pull off.

Getting buy-in from stakeholders

Prototypes are one of the most useful tools for attracting buy-in from clients, investors, and other stakeholders.

This is especially true if these people aren’t tech or design-savvy. Some would have difficulty picturing, let alone understanding, your app idea if you gave them just words or diagrams.

In this scenario, your prototype acts as a bridge. It connects stakeholders with your idea via something they can see and interact with.

And that gives them concrete evidence to make better investment decisions.

Marc Andreessen, the venture capitalist behind Foursquare, agrees that prototypes are powerful. When pitching an app idea to an investor, he says that:

The best thing you can walk in with is a working product. Or, if you can’t get to a working product without raising venture funding, then at least a beta or prototype of some form — a website that works but hasn’t launched, or a software mockup with partial functionality, or something.

It’s even better if you’ve already run a prototype against your target market.

This will give you real-world metrics that could prove to stakeholders that your app idea could be successful.

Even if you didn’t get buy-in from your stakeholders, their feedback on the prototype would tell you why.

That gives you valuable and actionable insight that you can use to pivot your app into something that your investors would be willing to back—with far less guesswork.

Designing a good user experience

If there’s one essential practice you need to implement in order to achieve fantastic user experience (UX), it’s prototyping.

That’s because you can’t measure your app’s UX until people interact with it. A prototype gives you this opportunity.

And the best part is that you don’t need to wait until you have a fully fleshed-out design before doing a prototype.

In fact, a prototype is a must at every phase of UX design, especially in the early stages.

Just look at the prototype below, made with nothing but pen and paper.

Paper prototype

Source: Digital Agency Network

Such a prototype is useful for getting feedback from users on your app’s UX. You can determine if your UI is intuitive, if the color scheme makes sense, or if the layout is confusing.

To do this, you can have testers rate your prototype using the System Usability Scale, or SUS. It can determine your app’s overall UX based on three metrics.

One is effectiveness, or how successful your app is at fulfilling the user’s objectives. For instance, if you’re testing a ride-hailing app, is it doing that as promised?


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Next is efficiency, or how much effort is required to perform tasks in your app. Too many unnecessary steps can lower your efficiency and negatively impact UX.

Last is the overall satisfaction of the user. Was the user happy using your app, or was it a negative experience?

These metrics are measured with a questionnaire. The results are then ranked on a scale that indicates the overall usability of your app’s design.

System usability score

Source: Adobe XD

A SUS is a fantastic way to get broad insights into your UX. But if you want more detailed responses, you can use other usability testing techniques to do that.

The bottom line is that an excellent UX is nearly impossible to achieve without a design prototype.

Using the prototype to market the app

Prototypes can become excellent marketing tools that can help create buzz and attract users to your app—even before you launch it.

For instance, you can use a high-fidelity prototype to grab app screenshots for your website, social media, or landing page.

You can also feed it to influencers to further create traction with your app.

Furthermore, you can use feedback from your prototype testing and turn them into testimonials for your marketing.

Beta tester testimonials

Source: Medium

For example, the grocery shopping app GRAPE shared what beta testers thought of the platform on its blog, effectively creating interest in its app even during testing.

Marketing a prototype works particularly well in games. And there are several success stories to prove it.

One such is the popular mobile game Pokemon GO. Throughout development, developer Niantic organized beta testing rounds of the game with select users in Asia and Australia.

This generated huge interest from North American users, and fans were especially anticipating the beta test version in the US.

Pokemon Go beta testing announcement

Source: Dragon Blogger

No doubt, Pokemon is a popular franchise and could’ve generated buzz on its own. But seeing other players enjoying the prototype in other countries further brought people into the game.

As a result, Pokemon GO became a massive success in the US. In fact, more than half the game’s users are Americans.

It was also the third highest-grossing game of 2020, with $216 million in revenue.

This example proves that you shouldn’t just shelve your prototype once you’re done with it. The smart strategy is to make it an effective marketing tool.

Reducing the cost of app development

It’s no secret that developing apps is expensive. Even the simplest project can cost as much as $40,000, and adding more advanced features can easily make it reach millions.

But did you know that a prototype can help you potentially lower these costs? It has something to do with the 1-10-100 Rule.

1-10-100 rule

Source: Smarte

In a nutshell, this rule states that the cost of fixing a mistake becomes exponentially more expensive the further the mistake occurs in development.

For example, if a bug costs $100 when you launch it, it would only cost you $10 during development and $1 during planning.

Thus, detecting and fixing mistakes as early as possible can help you reduce your development expenses dramatically.

So, what has this got to do with prototyping?

Remember that one of the roles of a prototype is that you refine your app before release.

A prototype can help you find bugs and errors early on, so that they can be fixed or even prevented while it’s still cheap to do so.

Need help with your prototype?

We hope you’ve appreciated just how powerful and beneficial a mobile app prototype is.

And the good news is that it doesn’t require an insane amount of time and effort to make a prototype. You do, however, need a skilled development team.

This is where DECODE comes in. With our extensive experience and skill set, we have what it takes to build a mobile app prototype that will shine.

Interested? Get in touch with us today, and let’s talk!

Written by

Petar Simic

Co-founder and Shake CEO

Petar leads Shake (DECODE’s sister company) as CEO, delivering the product to a growing number of happy, innovative clients. Day-to-day, he ensures the engineering, design, product, marketing and sales teams all work in harmony. Before moving to Shake, Petar led DECODE. Although an engineer by schooling, his natural talent soon saw him making an impact on the marketing, sales and branding side of things. Petar’s passions include architecture, skiing, sailing, and a good glass of red wine.

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