Research Sources for Coding Your Own App

By Nikhil Abraham

Once you know what your app will do, you can focus on how your app will do it. After breaking down your app into steps, you go over each step to determine how to accomplish it. For more complicated apps, developers first decide which of these two methods is the best way to complete each step:

  • Building code from scratch: This is the best option if the functionality in a particular step is unique or strategically important, an area of strength for the app, and existing solutions are expensive or nonexistent. With this option, you and developers within the company write the code.
  • Buying or using a preexisting solution: This is the best option if the functionality in a particular step is a common, noncore technical area for the app, and existing solutions are competitively priced. With this option, you and developers working on the app use code written by external third-party developers.

One company that recently made this decision — publicly and painfully — is Apple with its Maps product. In 2012, after years of using Google Maps on its mobile devices, Apple decided to introduce its own mapping application that it had been developing for two years. Although the Maps product Apple built internally turned out to initially be a failure, Apple decided to build its own mapping application because it viewed mapping capabilities as strategically important and because turn-by-turn navigation solutions were not available in the solution provided by Google.

Whether you’re building or buying, research is your next step. Here are some sources to consider when researching:

  • Search engines: Use or another search engine to type in what you’re trying to accomplish with each step. One challenge can be discovering how the task you’re trying to achieve is referred to by programmers. For instance, if you want to know your current location, you might enter show my location in an app into a search engine, but this results in a list of location-sharing apps. After reading a few of the top-ten results, you see that location-tracking is also referred to as geolocation. When you search again for geolocation, the top results include many examples of code that show your current location.

For more generic searches for code examples, try including the name of the computer language and the word syntax. For example, if you want to insert an image on a web page, search for image html syntax to find code examples.

  • Prior commercial and open-source apps: Examining how others built their apps can give you ideas on how to improve upon what already exists, and insight into pushing existing technology to the limit to achieve an interesting effect. For instance, say you wanted to build a mobile app that recognized TV ads from the “audio fingerprint” of those ads and directed viewers to a product page on a mobile device.

To create this app, you could build your own audio fingerprinting technology, which would likely take months or longer to build, or you could partner with Shazam, a commercial application, or Echoprint, an open-source music fingerprinting service. Either app can record a 10- to 20-second audio sample, create a digital fingerprint after overcoming background noise and poor microphone quality, compare the fingerprint to a large audio database, and then return identification information for the audio sample.

  • Industry news and blogs: Traditional newspapers, like The Wall Street Journal, and tech blogs, like, report on the latest innovations in technology. Regularly reading or searching through these sites is a good way to find others who have launched apps in your space.
  • API directories: You can easily search thousands of APIs for the functionality you need to implement. For example, if you were creating an app that used face recognition instead of a password, you could search for face detection APIs and use an API you find instead of trying to build a face detection algorithm from scratch. Popular API directories include ProgrammableWeb and Mashape.

APIs are a way for you to request and receive data from other programs in a structured, predictable, documented way.

  • User-generated coding websites: Developers in different companies frequently face the same questions on how to implement functionality for features. Communities of developers online talk about shared problems and contribute code so anyone can see how these problems have been solved in the past. You can participate in developer conversations and see the code other developers have written by using Stack Overflow and Github.