What's the difference between a mobile app POC, Prototype, and an MVP?

8 mins read

When building new digital products, it's important to match innovation with technical excellence and test the assumptions behind the product often and with the right tools.

Proof Of Concepts (POC), Prototypes, and Minimum Viable Products (MVP) are all used to validate the idea of a digital product (mobile app, website, etc.) at different stages.

Mobile Proof Of Concepts (POCs)

A POC is used when testing the feasibility (technical and integration) of a feature.

The purpose of a POC is not only to test the technical feasibility of a feature from a technological point of view but also to show the integration constraints, and to highlight its potential downsides.

At appssemble, when we build a POC, we also create a report in which we highlight all the technical, integration, and user experience constraints that we've identified while testing the POCs idea. By doing so, a POC achieves its purpose, that of validating the feasibility of the feature, and presenting all the possible downsides of the approach.

Why build a POC?

  • Innovation — POCs are usually built when trying to prove if it's possible to achieve a certain feature using the current technology or the current tech stack. This is especially useful when trying new technologies such as AR/VR
  • Increase interest — POCs could also help startup founders prove the feasibility of their core feature to a board of investors, or their target customers.

Example of a POC

When building the voicecal app, we had to first test the feasibility of the idea, whether or not could we could use the voice as an input mechanism for calories counting, and if the idea would work in multiple languages. After we've proven our assumption, we've started the development of the app and use all our findings in regards to technology and user experience constraints, to give life to the first version of the app.

Mobile Prototypes

A POC is used when testing the feasibility (technical and integration) of a feature.

A mobile app prototype is used to showcase the user interaction part of the product its purpose is to show how the product will function from a user experience point of view. There are multiple types of prototypes:

  • Paper-based prototypes — this is the simplest form of prototypes, here the focus is on defining and identifying the flows, screens of the app, and the basic interaction between them. This kind of prototype is used in the early stages of a mobile app product, for defining the feature set and the core screens of the app.
  • Wireframes — those types of prototypes are digital and static, they focus on the flows of the app, the types of components used in each screen, and how the flows and screens interact. This type of prototype is usually black and white, it has no colors, images, or illustrations, and it's used for validating the flow of the user in the app and for providing an overview of the functionalities of the app. Wireframes usually contain all the flows and screens of the app and handle the interaction between all flow combinations (what happens if the user has just registered, what should happen if they are trying to make a purchase but have no payment method added, etc.).
  • Interactive / Clickable prototypes — those prototypes are digital and interactive versions of the designs and are high fidelity versions of the end product. Interactive prototypes represent the final UI of the application (images, colors, illustrations) presented interactively -- meaning that the users can interact with certain elements and navigate between the flows. These prototypes can be accessed and interacted with via the computer using a web browser or using mobile devices where prototypes could run "as apps", hence they represent a great way of getting the feel of the app and testing it from a user experience point of view, without the need to write any code.

Why build a prototype?

  • Validate and iterate — a prototype is a great way to test and validate user flows with your target audience. Based on an initial prototype, and the feedback gathered from the user, the founders can make adjustments and improve the design and user experience.
  • Convince investors — by showcasing your idea in full, investors are more likely to understand the backbone of what you're trying to achieve and they can see your vision for the product and how it would look like, before actually building it.
  • Optimization — after building a prototype, founders get the full picture of how the app will look and work, after collecting feedback from the users, sometimes they discover that certain features are not needed or they simply don't make sense in the general idea of the app, so they can be removed for saving costs in the development phase.

An interactive prototype in Figma. Source Figma.

Example of a prototype

We've built a prototype for the fragrance shop, one of the biggest retailers of fragrances in the UK. We've started with a paper prototype for defining the core features of the product and build a fully interactive prototype of the core features of the app.

Mobile Minimum Viable Products (MVPs)

An MVP is the first version of the app that allows the founder to test, and validate its idea, usually, used for finding and testing the product-market fit.

In other words, an MVP is a version of the app that focuses on the core feature of the product and lets the founder validate their hypothesis and measure things like adoption rate, user satisfaction, and performance.

MVPs are a combination of prototypes and POCs, as they focus both on user interaction as well as solving a real problem with the aid of technology.

When building an MVP it's important to have enough features so that the app becomes marketable, but should be as minimal as possible, it should solve one problem, and it should do it properly. A good example of an MVP would be the first versions of the Shazam app, it did only one thing, recognizing songs and it did it well, later iterations have added a social part, the ability to listen to the song, add it to your library, see charts, etc., but to validate the hypothesis all they needed was a stripped-down version of the current product.

Why build an MVP?

  • Hypothesis validation & feedback — only by building an MVP a founder can truly test their hypothesis and gather feedback. With an MVP, founders can test their go-to-market approach, can gather larger amounts of feedback from their real audience, and can extract metrics like engagement, time spent on the app, or test the viability of their business model.
  • Attract investors — a POC or a prototype could help you raise money, but an MVP can prove to your potential investors that you've achieved product-market fit and that you have traction which are the core things they look at when investing in a startup.
  • Build your audience & get customers — an MVP is a great way of attracting your first customers and testing your product in a real-world scenario. In addition to this MVPs allow founders to get to know their audience better and to build a community around their product.

Example of an MVP

We've to build aical to test our idea, that by using Machine Learning techniques we could improve the process of counting calories and living a healthier life. The first iteration of aical -- the MVP contained only the core feature, snapping a photo of your food and tracking the number of calories in your snaps. Once we've got enough traction (over 5000 users) we've included new features, such a bar code scanning, and integration with Siri and graphs.


POC - Used for validating the feasibility of a feature from a technology, integration, and user input point of view. The focus is on the technological solution and its advantages and disadvantages. (Technology)

Prototype - Used for showcasing the user experience, together with the visual identity/user interface of the app. The focus is on the interface, how does the app look and feel. (User experience)

MVP - A first version of the app, with minimal functionality, build around the core feature of the app. The focus here is on both the technology side as well as on the user interaction and user interface. (Technology + User experience)

When building a mobile product, all of the three concepts are important, however, sometimes you can skip steps.

For instance, if the product you're trying to build, does not present any technical challenges (you don't need to reinvent the wheel) then a POC might not be needed, usually, a team of mobile experts could help you decide whether or not you need a POC.

A design can also be validated without necessarily having an interactive prototype. Prototypes are more expensive than static UI/UX designs so a lot of founders choose to skip those as well.

As for MVPs, every successful app was at one point an MVP, so if you're going to build a mobile product, you can't skip this phase. You can, but you'll spend a lot of resources on building a fully-fledged product, and most of the times you'll learn that users won't use it the way it was designed or it simply does not get traction or it does not solve the problem in a way that it's helpful for the user.

If you have any questions on how to build your mobile product, or what the roadmap for your idea should be, get in touch and we'll help you uncover all the mysteries of successfully building a mobile product.


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