What Is a POC, Prototype, and MVP — Explaining the Differences
Building good digital products is a combination of being innovative and following tested mobile app development methods. A proof of concept (POC), prototype, and minimum viable product (MVP) help test a product idea before you make a significant investment.
What are the differences between a POC, prototype, and MVP, and how to choose the one that fits your project best? Read on for answers.
In the world of mobile app development, a POC is a simple project that validates or demonstrates an idea. The purpose of a POC is to check if an idea can be developed and won’t consume excessive resources or time.
With a POC you essentially evaluate core functionality. If your app idea is complex, you can have many POCs to test each functionality.
User experience is pushed aside when you build a POC. That’s because it takes lots of time and work to create an optimal user experience, and that’s not the point of creating a POC. The goal is to validate technical capability.
Features of a proof of concept
Catch early investor interest. You can build a POC to present your idea to investors to acquire seed funding for further development.
Innovate. Innovation happens at the intersection of technological viability and market demand. A POC will help you check if your idea can be built using current technology.
Save time. When you check if your idea can be built, you automatically save time that would be wasted if you were to figure out technical viability issues once you hired developers and committed significant resources and time.
Pick the technology. Creating many POCs using different technologies can help you decide which technology stack is the most suitable for your project. This way, you’ll know early on what’s possible as you move forward and how to structure your product’s roadmap.
Check against the competition. If you plan to release a mobile application in a heavily competitive market, a POC will help you validate unique features in your offer. Your product will need to include a unique approach to solving the same problem to be a better alternative to what’s already out there.
Example of a proof of concept
PONS XR Interpreter
Companies around the world are increasingly embracing remote-work solutions and collaboration methods. We worked with PONS — a global publishing house and our long-term partner — to create a proof of concept for an XR cross-language communication solution supported by AI.
The POC helped validate if XR Interpreter could be used in a professional environment to make communication easier.
What Is a Prototype?
A prototype is where your product’s design begins to take shape.
If a proof of concept evaluates the technical side, a prototype aims to answer the question how the product will look.
The creation of a prototype relies on a cross-functional team effort where designers, developers, and product owners align on the design of the product.
Prototypes help you figure out what UI elements should be included and how the user will interact with them.
Prototypes can take many forms — from simple paper-based wireframes to interactive “clickable” versions developed in Figma.
The upside of building a prototype in Figma is that the software outputs ready-made HTML and CSS code that can be injected into a website or mobile app. There’s also a plugin that integrates with Flutter and converts Figma components into Flutter widgets.
The downside is that it can sometimes take a lot of time to create a prototype, especially if the product’s design is shaped and reshaped multiple times.
Features of a prototype
Convince investors. A prototype is a great way to get investors to consider and back your product, especially in the later state of fundraising.
Optimize resources. When you start with a prototype, you can identify UI elements of the app that have flaws and should be removed before the development work begins.
Iterate designs. Interactive prototyping tools such as Figma help designers create many design iterations in a relatively short time. This way, you can choose the best-performing design and run some internal experiments.
Collect feedback. A prototype lets you ship your product to test users for initial feedback. User testing in this phase can go a long way to improving and helping you chisel out the design, with plenty of time to fix flaws.
Polish the business idea. With a prototype, you can simplify your product idea and transform it into a visually appealing format. If a proof of concept confirmed the idea can be built, a prototype will give the idea a more refined form.
Example of a prototype
Richardo.ch is one of the biggest second-hand shops in Switzerland, handling over 5 million transactions per year.
We worked with Richardo on an overhaul of their marketplace mobile application. The prototype of the app’s redesign was ready in four weeks. The prototype helped us collect the first round of user feedback, giving us all the necessary intelligence for further development.
What Is a Minimum Viable Product?
There are many definitions of a minimum viable product, and, truth be told, there’s no definite one. An MVP for one project might have a different definition for another.
In other words, an MVP depends on the context of your product and organization. One company’s minimum set of features might amount to a complex application in another.
That said, the key to building an MVP is to start learning with a version of your product that contains only the core features but lets you validate your hypothesis.
A minimum viable product helps you gauge the demand and product-market fit — whether your product attracts early adopters and satisfies them.
An MVP should contain the minimum number of features that still make your product marketable. Remember, the goal is to collect and analyze user-generated data and feedback.
With every subsequent iteration of your MVP, you know more about your users’ problems and can further refine your solution. You iterate until your MVP turns into a full-fledged product that responds to the needs and pain points of your audience.
But minimal doesn’t mean inferior or simple. That’s often misunderstood. While an MVP has only the core functionalities, it should be a high-quality, unique, well-performing release of your product — but never inferior.
Features of an MVP
Get user feedback. An MVP is an excellent tool to find out what your early users think about your product — and learn from their feedback to improve on the product’s next iterations.
Save resources and money. Because you don’t have to implement all of the features into your MVP, the development work is reduced. Also, when you analyze user feedback, you can build a clear product roadmap and development path — the risk of over-building features will be minimized.
A minimum viable product also gives you a chance to introduce gradual product expansion, meaning you start working on another release after you have secured funding.
Attract investors. While a POC and a prototype can help you raise seed funding, an MVP can help you gain bigger investment — after all, if your MVP gains traction and racks up positive feedback, investors are more likely to be convinced to back your business idea with money.
Let the money in. With an MVP out on the market and sufficient marketing, you can start acquiring paying users that will support your growth.
Example of a minimum viable product
Lighticians Apollo Control
The Lighticians Apollo Control project was to enable communication with Apollo Bridge — a wireless router that connects to lighting fixtures. Together with Lighticians, we worked on an MVP that would connect the hardware with mobile devices.
The minimum viable product for iOS that we created let lighting professionals manage on-set lights from the comfort of a mobile application.
Interestingly enough, the MVP was developed from a proof of concept delivered by Lighticians — in the PoC, the company confirmed that the connection with the wireless router could be established.
What Is the Difference between a POC and Prototype?
A proof of concept essentially addresses the question of feasibility — that a certain idea can be realized with a specific technology.
Usually, a POC serves as an internal project whereas a prototype can be shipped for initial feedback to learn more about the flow and design.
What Is the Difference between an MVP and Prototype?
An MVP is essentially a finished product, even if it lacks some of the features. With an MVP, you can start collecting user analytics and add or refine features in the next iterations.
A prototype lacks the business logic of your product and addresses the questions of design and UX.
POC vs. Prototype vs. MVP: How to Choose the Best Approach?
Every project is different and requires a custom approach. That said, a disruptive or complex business idea might need to go through all three stages of development to ensure a cost-effective approach to delivery.
Going from a POC through a prototype and MVP might also be necessary to validate your idea thoroughly and invest resources only after you’ve confirmed your product is likely to gain traction on the market.
The exact approach to software development depends on the amount of data and resources you have when you start building it.
A quick guide to help you get your bearings:
Why do you need a proof of concept?
Attract seed investors
Validate the idea’s feasibility
Choose the right technology
Why do you need a prototype?
Collect initial user feedback
Convince Round A investors
Narrow down designs
Why do you need an MVP?
Gain first users for deeper and insightful feedback
Save and optimize resources
Start monetizing your idea
Do You Always Need to Code Your POC, Prototype, or MVP?
Many software agencies will pull you into spending a lot of money and time to prepare a POC, prototype, or MVP. The truth is, to test your idea with real users, you don't need a single line of code. But even after you validate that your idea makes sense and confirm it is a sustainable business model, you can still do product discovery that won't end up costing you a fortune or take six months to build.
For example, to build a simple mobile application that has your core offer inside, you can try creating it in one of the no-code or low-code solutions. This way, you'll have a working app ready for testing in as soon as two weeks. However, even a low-code tool requires a relatively good experience with mobile app development and product expertise to create a reliable piece of software.
The best thing about low-code tools is that they're an immensely powerful method to speed up your product discovery efforts. Once you see traction and interest in your idea, you can deploy full-fledged mobile app development that'll solve any possible issues with scalability and integration limitations.
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Maja oversees content production at nomtek. Restlessly creative, she has over nine years of experience as a content writer. Maja loves cats, long-distance running, and orbiting the Earth during meditation sessions.