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App Development
6 minutes read

Proof of Concept Vs. Prototype: What Is the Difference?

By Jose Gomez
By Jose Gomez
App Development
6 minutes read

If you want to test the viability of your app idea, you will be interested in the similarities and differences between proof of concept vs. prototype. Frequently, these terms will be used interchangeably in mobile app and software development contexts, even though proof of concept and prototype are two distinct ideas. 

Whether you are interested in mobile app development or the development of another type of software, your organization needs to understand how prototypes differ from a proof of concept and vice versa. Throughout the development process, it will be critical to test hypotheses and assumptions. In addition, you need to understand the best ways to validate ideas with your target audience, attract investors, and hone the core functionality of your software product. 

This post will explore the differences and similarities between proof of concept and prototype. 

Proof of Concept Vs. Prototype: Understanding the Definition of the Terms 

Before exploring how a proof of concept differs from a prototype, we must first understand each term. Once we define the terms we are discussing, we can explore the differences between them and see which is best suited for the current stage of your development project. 

What Is a Proof of Concept?

Proof of concept (POC) is used in many disciplines and sectors. For example, in software development, a proof of concept is the earliest version of a project used to test and/or verify the validity of the principal product idea. A proof of concept must be created at the beginning of the software development life cycle to be effective. A proof of concept tests to see if an idea is viable and will solve real-world problems. 

Beyond product viability, a proof of concept also ensures that an idea is technically feasible. Ensuring technical feasibility in the mobile app development sector is important. At this stage, project managers, designers, and developers will come together to ensure the tech stack chosen for the product is the correct technical solution and direction. 

Typically, a proof of concept is represented in documentation, a presentation, wireframes, or some combination of all three. A POC requires no coding or development.

What Is a Prototype?

A prototype is also an early version of a final product. As a result, it is often confused with a proof of concept. However, where a proof of concept is documentation and no code, a prototype is a visual demonstration or model of design concepts and functionality. While a prototype offers a visual model for users to experience, it is generally not linked with backend functionality. 

Developers often use low/no-code prototypes to test UI design elements and other features. The main reason developers create prototypes is to see how users interact with their products and if they have positive experiences. 

When you read about prototypes, you might think about MVPs (Minimum Viable Products). However, a prototype is not an MVP. An MVP offers enough functionality to be usable for end users. A prototype is just a visual model with little to no real functionality. 

Proof of Concept Vs. Prototype: When Do I Use Them?

After defining our terms, it should be clear that there are significant differences between a proof of concept and a prototype. So when should you create a prototype or proof of concept? Are they mutually exclusive? In many cases, you will create both a proof of concept and a prototype. However, they will be important at different development life cycle stages. 

When to Use a Proof of Concept

A proof of concept is best used to verify concepts before any actual work is done. If an idea fails at this point, it can be easily abandoned. You should consider creating a proof of concept when you are unsure of the value of your development idea. A good POC will also demonstrate the limitations of your concept and validate if the underlying idea aligns with your target audience’s needs. 

When to Use a Prototype 

A prototype is best used to test software ideas with end-users and key stakeholders. If your product has a lot of interaction with end-users, developing a prototype will help your team design an appealing User Interface and deliver a quality User Experience. Furthermore, a prototype continues the work started by a POC, but it demonstrates the value of an idea in a more tangible manner. 

Your prototype is like a rough draft of your final product. It still affords your organization time to adjust and optimize the project. Still, at this point, it will be far more costly to completely abandon the underlying concept driving your software. 

Proof of Concept Vs. Prototype: The Benefits 

There is a lot of value in idea validation. However, before beginning your project, you should understand the unique benefits of POC and prototype development. Understanding the benefits of each can help encourage your organization to utilize them in the development process.

The Benefits of a Proof of Concept 

The primary benefit of a proof of concept is that your development team can gather valuable feedback before they build anything. A POC gives your development team the chance to evaluate the technologies that will be best suited to the project and choose the tech stack most aligned with the goals and needs of the project. Furthermore, a proof of concept can be a practical demonstration for key stakeholders that the project is viable.

The Benefits of a Prototype 

The primary benefit of a prototype is that it can be used by the development team to gather valuable user feedback before building the final product. A prototype allows your team to quickly and cost-effectively test for errors, identify users’ pain points, and ensure the product is meeting project specifications. In addition, a prototype allows your target users to get their hands on and interact with an early version of your final product, which can help build interest and hype around your product release. 

Final Thoughts 

Idea validation is an important part of the product development process. Startups will find they have an easier time raising seed funding when they have a POC or prototype to show interested investors. Proof of concept and prototype are often confused with one another. This makes sense because both work towards a similar end goal, which is a great finished product. If you need help debating proof of concept vs. prototype for your business, reach out to an experienced app development partner for help.

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