Home » Clearing the Confusion: PoC vs. Prototype vs. MVP – What’s the Difference?

Clearing the Confusion: PoC vs. Prototype vs. MVP – What’s the Difference?

by Dragos Ruse
24 minutes read
PoC vs. Prototype vs. MVP hypersense

In mobile app development, these three terms are used a lot and often confused for synonyms, mostly by the startup scene. We will enlighten your vision about how these methodologies fit right into your product development plan as we go deeper into the meaning of each one: Proof-of-concept (PoC), Prototype and Minimum Viable Product (MVP).

Understanding the differences between these 3 concepts might not be so easy for startups or brands who explore mobile first digital products meant to expand their offer to online customers. Creating fantastic and useful products surely is their goal but they should also keep in mind optimizing their budgets and minimizing risks through new ways. Everyone wants to avoid wasting money by making the wrong choice and having to start all over again. 

We spent almost 20 years creating digital products for our partners and we offered consultancy every time they were planning to build a new mobile or web product for their markets. As we’ve seen a lot of things happening during our vast experience, we would like to share with you valuable insights about how to determine the product strategy to penetrate the market. 

Our expertise in custom software development for both web & mobile helps us provide accurate advisory for creating any digital product on a new business model. We’ll make sure you understand the pros & cons of each concept to make the best decision and start building your new custom app with the right approach. You can always reach out to HyperSense Software for a proper recommendation or a meeting to share your idea with us and start working together. 

POC, Prototype, or MVP – What’s the best to choose?

Let’s go through the specifics of these three approaches and learn about the differences between them. We will analyze the pros and cons for every concept, so you can understand better what each of them can offer.

1. Proof-of-concept in app development

You’ve probably seen it often as PoC which means Proof-of-Concept and what it does is testing from a technical point of view the feasibility of a particular concept. The PoC app method works with a straightforward end goal in sight, demonstrating whether that goal is achievable or not. After the implementation of this process, we should know if this can be built.

When to pursue a PoC?

The decision to pursue a PoC in app development is influenced by many different aspects. Your decision will be influenced by the product specifications, helping you frame the concept’s proof. Follow the most important aspects below:

Did you create a prototype?

Rarely a product has only one feature, most of the time there’s much more besides it. Documenting and illustrating all the features the product requires through a prototype is one part of the product definition process. It’s worth taking the time to plan your development only when you have this done. 

You should first tackle high-risk features through a PoC because they need more coding time and functionality isn’t proven yet. If your key feature doesn’t seem doable, there’s no sense to invest in developing your product’s other functionalities. You should rather save those costs and create your product’s opportunity to pivot. Focus your efforts in a different direction that can generate business value while re-using the PoC code in other ways.

Has this type of product ever been built before?

If you don’t find a similar product to yours on the market, then you should apply the PoC method. You must be keen on the practical potential of your plans in the real world, ensured for the real users.

Proofing all the innovative feature requests from your clients is essential before planning the project. We can also do a technical risk assessment of your product specifications if you’d like, making the first feature tackle decision easier. 

If you discover another similar product with the same features that was created before, the products will be easy to compare on the market. So testing the features’ values that was already proven becomes pointless. Advancing with this phase, we find the next question:

Are your competitors already doing this? 

Being aware about what’s out there helps you understand what your competitors are doing.

See also
Developing a Successful Minimum Viable Product (MVP): A Comprehensive Guide

If you’re building a digital product that targets a market with several competitors, your product will probably land in this category, because being original and coming up with something never tried before is rare.

Even if your product might have similar features with those of your competition, you can always approach from a different perspective regarding one specific feature and infuse your vision into it. We recommend running through a PoC pilot with a feature like this one. This is how your competitive advantage might work as expected.

Are the new technologies like AR, AI or IoT at the core of your product?

Augmented reality (AR), the Internet of Things (IoT) or artificial intelligence (AI) have unlocked new achievements for people in their everyday lives. If these new technologies are at the core of your product, you should focus on building features based on them, in order to provide a demo and a validation before deciding that the product’s base will be around IoT, AI or AR. The core features need to work first, regardless of the type of product being built.

The PoC is helpful in framing the development process

Framing the app’s development process is enabled by the PoC, helping you identify your product’s high-risk features and prioritize them. It’s also helpful in breaking down product development yes or no pilot projects for testing your product’s technical viability.

When the test results of your PoC pilot are positive, you’ll be highly motivated to build your new digital product and launch it to market. There’s also the unfortunate possibility that the test results turn out to be negative, but don’t despair.

A PoC fail isn’t a project death ringing, but rather the perfect signal to pivot your digital product. Sometimes you might need to rethink your approach entirely, as the technology chosen won’t deliver the expected results. So take the opportunity to pivot, because by this time you spent only a small amount of money to validate/invalidate your concept. If the PoC method wouldn’t have been applied, you could have spent more money, time and effort actually building the project to find out near its launch that the chosen technology doesn’t really work.

2. Prototype in app development

Starting to create your product while paying more attention to the user’s needs is the moment a prototype becomes useful.

Prototyping is a method of creating a new product at a smaller scale that can be tried and tested by your audience before beginning the development process. You probably guessed that the prototype doesn’t have all the things sorted out, it’s only a core product with some value proposals for the users, ready for testing. The prototype is not yet the shiny end product, rather the start of an iterative process, where the user comes with an input for creating a better next iteration, on and on, until the final version satisfies.

Borrowed from the manufacturing industry, the prototype concept is a unique first-version of a product created by manufacturers, let’s say the sample of a couch, a phone or a car. After that sample gets tested and the production line is set up, then they’d do it again with a second prototype, then with a third and so on until the expected results are reached.

The difference in product development is that we can mainly have design-only prototypes or coded digital products that work as prototypes (close to PoCs, but used for different purposes).

The interactive mockup of your digital product is a design prototype, created without a line of code. Platforms like Figma or InVision help us assemble screen designs into a prototype, creating a ‘smoke and mirrors’ version of the product. The great thing about a prototype is that it’s responsive to taps while imitating the way a user inputs data, providing an almost real-life experience of using the product.

Take into consideration that the process is not that simple to transform in one jump your idea into a prototype. You will need to go through an important process of product definition, where the fit of problem-solution will be clarified, as well as the validation strategy and the overall business model, before beginning the implementation. In other words, a prototype is at the border between defining a product and implementing a product.

Are there many types of prototypes?

In app development there are 3 types of prototypes and you need to know them before starting to design your own. The one you’re choosing depends on the volume of information you’ll be working with and what your end goal will be.

a. Pen and paper prototype

The name suggests what this type of prototype really is, the pen and paper used to sketch the very first iterations of the product, instead of reaching for digital tools. The pen and paper get replaced with sketching on a whiteboard when there’s a team working. 

Paper prototypes are great methods to:   

  • explore the features
  • get your team aligned before beginning to work in-depth
  • understand the building blocks of your competitors by replicating their features

b. Low-fidelity interactive prototype

This type of prototype is also called a wireframe prototype, taking your product brief, or the paper prototypes you have created, to showcase your product’s flows and features in an interactive way.

It’s usually created without focus on colors, illustrations or images, having a minimal accent on icons & typography. Focusing on in-app copy and functionalities to demonstrate how the product works in real-life situations.

See also
Understanding the Differences: Soft Launch vs. Full Launch in Software Development

Wireframe prototypes are great to visualize and review the functionalities of your product. You can gather early user feedback by putting it together in a prototyping tool, to check things like:

  • Is the product used as intended?
  • Is the variety of actions available on each screen understood by users?
  • Is the UX copy consistent & clear everywhere?
  • Is there value found in what the product offers?

If the feedback you receive is either negative or contradicting at this moment, you can still make changes with very low costs because you’re still early in the process of developing your new app.

c. High-fidelity interactive prototype

The closest prototype to how your digital product will look and work in real life is the high-fidelity interactive type, which includes a complete product UI, while being linked up in an interface for tests. Here the UI designer pursues the business logic and the product’s UX to produce the UI designs while bringing them to life in the shape of a high-fidelity interactive prototype.

The color palette and the building blocks of different elements are decided by the designer. Each screen gets consistent icons, photos and design added once again in technicolor. Designers also decide the animations and micro-interactions that users experience, resulting from the feedback of using the product. They will also take care of the cards whooshing open or close, buttons changing colors and screen swipes left or right.

Prototypes are built to be tested

You’ll have the equivalent of a cardboard Lamborghini ready to take for a ride by the time you get this kind of prototype created in Figma or Invision. So what you need to do now is test it.

The value of the prototypes is felt and appreciated by future users and potential investors when they test them. This way you’ll have a clear image of what you should really build and it incentives the investors to fund your project. 

At this point, being aware of how people interact with your digital product is extremely valuable because if you need to change things, there’s still room to do it at lower cost rates compared to the costs of changing in the development process. 

A prototype is very useful for anyone wanting to test an intermediary digital product before launching. The real purpose of creating a prototype is gaining product validation by surfacing user feedback.

The meaning of a prototype is not perfection but rather the capability of showing errors in the design phase or at the beginning of development. Save costs by building a prototype and generate new ideas before implementing the digital product. This leads us to the MVP – the 3rd methodology of validating the concept of a new product.

3. The Minimum Viable Product (MVP)

The author of The Lean Startup, Eric Ries, popularized the concept of the MVP (minimum viable product) by defining it as ‘that version of a product which allows a team to collect the maximum amount of validated learning about customers with the least effort.’ Starting the learning process right away while making adjustments on the way is the key of an MVP because after you build it, you enjoy the advantage of seeing how the customers will engage with it.

MVP created successfully in 3 steps

A digital product becomes successful after going through 3 levels which combine the usefulness, the usability and the delightfulness. Let’s find out the specific meaning of these terms in product design.

Using the new product to solve a need means that it’s useful. In the context of struggle or need, the solution build should be useful. 

The product’s ability to improve the experience of using it makes it usable. There are multiple solutions to solve a need, but the usable solution is not only useful but also fits the main purpose better.

Delightful means bringing something more than its usefulness and suitability for a certain situation where the satisfaction reaches the maximum level, making you feel good, delighted by the colors chosen and the story behind the product, enjoying the design very much etc. There’s a big appeal and diversity to the delightful side of things and different expectations makes it vary.

A stunning MVP will touch all these levels: at least at a minimum level, the digital product will be useful, usable, and delightful.

How minimal is the MVP?

The basic, core-value-focused type of digital product, put in front of some users to see if they interact with it and how, is the minimum viable product (MVP). The insights generated about the target audience are meant to match the business goals.

This is how you plan your MVP: 

First, the core assumptions about your new product

If the validation strategy is good, the MVP will be just as good. The core assumptions or guesses are used to create the validation strategy by planning to test whether the users would actually behave as imagined. This is how one of the main risks is reduced when launching a new digital product, proving that the MVP is an amazing tool to use.

Follow your competitors for insights

What your competitors are doing answers to your question

If your product is a productivity app, you have to find the niche that makes you stand out from the likes of Evernote or Fabulous. If you’re building an on-demand delivery app, you should have something extra compared to Glovo, Bolt Food, Uber Eats, FoodPanda or DoorDash. If your product is a finance app, you should have something to stand out against the likes of Revolut, Monesse, Wise or the Apple Card. The baseline is set by what your competitors are doing.

See also
Unlocking Higher Conversion Rates Through Mobile App Development

Look at what’s viable on the market.

There are different ways to keep your MVP at minimum effort, but you can’t let it cut into what makes it viable in the market. If your product can’t stand on its own well enough to warrant further investment, you need to pivot or approach the problem differently.

Here’s the neat part of these methodologies: if you’ve done your proof of concept on the trickier features, or gotten your prototype out to users early on, your experience with a live MVP will have better results than jumping straight into the water.

The business value of launching an MVP

If you’ve applied a proof of concept beforehand or prototyped your product, an MVP can help you focus on what really matters: are people actually using your product? And is it profitable enough to turn it into a business? If your audience is resonating with your product, focus on understanding how that is happening and how you can make it better.

If you’re not getting baseline results in how users are acquired and their actual usage patterns, ask yourself why. It might mean you’re not targeting the right people, or it might mean your product isn’t offering enough value to their users. Each case requires different actions to improve.

Do you always need to build an MVP?

Simply said, no, if your business model risks are low or are not product-dependent. If your product is very similar to existing mobile products, then grab all the knowledge you can from what others have already invested time and money into finding out.

As Eric Ries puts it, “we have to manage to learn something from our first product iteration.” If you can learn the lesson through other people’s experiences, there is no need to reinvent the wheel, is there?

However, the product concept does require an MVP, if:

  • Your product demands a different behavior from the user on a given matter
  • The core value of the product is nothing new, but the UI is significantly different
  • You want to build the product iteratively and properly lean

At this point, you might still have questions about your MVP, including:

  • What is the thing you want to validate?
  • How many features should you include?
  • How will you get the product in front of us?
  • Who will be the initial MVP audience?

These questions can be answered only when put into context. This is exactly why we do a Product Discovery Workshop with all of our clients who come to us with a product idea.

Key differences between a prototype, a POC and an MVP

As we’ve learned by now, it’s your product concept and your context that dictates what you need when it comes to choosing between a proof-of-concept, a prototype, or an MVP.

There might even be cases when we’ll recommend doing at least two of the three before launching your product. Here’s an overview of the differences and takeaways of each, so you can make a better-informed decision.

What is the difference between a prototype and a proof of concept?

A proof-of-concept proves the technical feasibility of a product and whether it can actually be built, while a prototype is basically a sample, testable version of your product, typically design-based.

What is the difference between a POC and an MVP?

The POC method tests the feasibility of your idea and whether it can be turned into a functional, viable product, while an MVP is an early-stage version of your product, proposing some core values and which will be tested with real users.

What is the difference between a prototype and an MVP?

A prototype is a unique, trial version of your product that’s put to the test before launch, while an MVP is tested by real users and tweaked according to their feedback and input.

While it’s important you don’t mistake any of these methods as replacements for what your product should be, remember that each can help you gain insights about your audience, the tech stack you need, and your business model. That, in turn, will help you save costs and set yourself up as a successful product maker. 

Conclusion: POC, Prototype, or MVP for your next app?

Are you still having a hard time understanding these three concepts and figuring out how they apply to your product? The most important thing you can do is keep moving forward, instead of being stuck in decision paralysis. Choosing how to start is something everyone has had to do at some point.

The short version for deciding between the three is this:

  • The proof-of-concept (POC) method revolves around testing if an idea is doable from the technical side – in other words: can we make it work as we want it to, with the current technology and coding options available?
  • A prototype is a visualization of a product, meant to showcase the core user flows and help you identify usability flaws. It can be kept low-cost, or taken to full interaction levels, depending on what you’re looking to test
  • A Minimum Viable Product (MVP) is the first live version of a product. It’s the core value proposition version wrapped in the essential features. It’s made to be launched as soon as possible to generate valuable user feedback and revenue.

What you need to keep in mind is that it’s not about choosing just one approach. All three of these methodologies are used by product development teams to make informed decisions based on tested hypotheses. Using them saves money and brings to market a product that has the best chances of success.

Contact us to find out more about what we do and how we can help you!

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