Mobile apps are a huge business these days. So, if you have always dreamt of building your own mobile app, now is the time to turn your dream into reality. Here’s what mobile app statistics say.
- With over 3 billion mobile app users worldwide, the mobile app industry is thriving.
- 92 percent of time spent on mobile is spent using apps, social networking, and communication apps taking up 44 percent.
- In 2020, annual mobile app downloads reached 218 billion downloads. That’s a seven percent increase year-over-year. Now is the time for the best user acquisition.
With an exponential increase in mobile app popularity and spending, it is time for businesses to consider mobile presence.
However, with popularity comes competition. Today, the mobile app market is too competitive, and it is getting harder to stand out from the crowd.
Considering the huge time and money investment required for mobile app development, going unprepared may prove a costly mistake and not yield positive results.
Therefore, you must create a mobile app development plan to fit your business goals. Planning eliminates any chances of developing an app that nobody wants to use and other brand-damaging mistakes.
We have outlined a detailed blueprint for step-by-step app development.
Table of Contents
What is Mobile App Development?
Mobile app development is the process of building an application that runs on smartphones or tablets. These mobile applications can be downloaded from app stores or pre-installed on devices.
To develop a fully functioning and scalable app, many things need to be taken into consideration. Since the exponential rise in the usage of mobile apps, the mobile app development industry has seen significant progress. Thus, entrepreneurs, startups, and developers must understand the development process before jumping in to build apps.
Currently, there are four types of mobile app development. They are Native, Hybrid, Progressive Web Apps, and cross-platform app development.
Why Choose Native App Development?
Native app development is the process of building an application intended for use only on a specific system. E.g., WhatsApp, a popular messenger app used by over 2 billion people worldwide. WhatsApp has a native app for both IOS and Android OS.
The advantage of native app development over other development types is that native apps have access to functionalities such as camera, GPS, microphone, etc. This provides high performance and helps build a richer user experience.
Moreover, as native apps are built-in native programming languages, there are fewer chances of bugs. On the downside, you will need to develop different apps for different OS. This can sometimes cause uneven user experience and requires a large team and resources.
To learn more: Native App Development
Why Choose Progressive Web App Development?
PWAs work only in browsers. Hence, they are more suitable for applications that do not require native capabilities such as GPS, camera, microphone, etc.
Moreover, PWA needs uninterrupted network access to function as they cannot work offline. So, if your users are someone who prefers using browser apps over native applications, PWA is a good choice.
To learn more: Progressive Web App Development
Why Choose Hybrid App Development?
The difference between Hybrid and PWA app is that the hybrid approach requires additional knowledge of programming languages like Java/Kotlin for Android and Swift for iOS.Whereas PWA apps are created from websites.
To learn more: Hybrid App Development
Why Choose Cross-Platform App Development?
Cross-platform app development is a process of building a single application that can be run on all the major operating systems without the need to build different apps for different OS.
Both iOS and Android have a significant market share. Your target user can be on any platform between them. Preparing different apps for both platforms is expensive, and not everyone can afford it.
Hence, you can go for cross-platform app development if you do not have an adequate budget or team to manage separate apps simultaneously.
To learn more: Cross-Platform App Development
App Development Strategy
Mobile app development requires planning, especially when so much time and money are at stake. We can divide the mobile application development into three key steps.
- Understanding requirements
- Developing the app
- Testing the final product
Step #1: Brainstorm App Ideas
Everything begins with an idea. But you should keep in mind that almost every idea is taken. If you go through an app store, you will notice that there is an app for nearly everything.
According to Statista, there are about 3.48 million apps alone on Google Play. At the same time, the Apple App store comprises 2.2 million apps for iOS.
Most apps there are not unique. They are just the variations and combinations of old and existing apps. So, let’s brainstorm.
Here are a few techniques to brainstorm app ideas.
1. Solve your own problem
We all face problems in our everyday life. There might be something troubling for years, and you have yet to find its solution.
So, chances are if you have this problem, there will be other people facing it too. By finding a solution to the said problem, you are helping other people too.
So, if you can solve the problem by making an app, it’s a good reason to create one.
2. Mix two or more ideas together
Every day, we see new apps coming out with new features that other apps do not have.
The dating niche is one of the best examples of apps. Companies roll out new dating with some features changed. For example, dating apps are geared towards people over 50. Bumble is another example. It is a dating and socializing geared toward women.
3. Improving an existing app
Have you at any time thought, ”this app would be so much better if it had X feature?” If yes, then you might not be the only one.
No app is perfect, and there is always room for improvement. If the original app creator is not constantly developing and updating the app, you have the opportunity to create an even better and up-to-date app.
One way to determine if the app is not keeping up with time is to see the user’s reviews. What are they complaining about? What features does the current app lack? Is the app creator listening to the feedback?
An app that is not updated on time will slowly die because technology is constantly changing.
Step #2: Perform Extensive Market Research
Market research is a critical part of product development. The primary aim of market research is to know whether the solution for the problem you want to solve already exists or not.
If you already see existing apps solving the same problem as yours, don’t get disheartened. Remember, even though Amazon exists, apps like eBay, Walmart are thriving. Every existing app will have room for an environment that you can exploit for your benefit.
Here are some things to look for while doing competitive market research. You might want to create a spreadsheet where you can record all this research data.
› App Name
For identification purposes.
› App features
- What are the core features of the existing app?
- How is it unique from other apps in the market?
- What features are missing?
› Pricing Model
Is the app free? Or does it charge users one-time payment?
› App publishers
Is the app published by a single person or a large organization?
The point here is that if the app (e.g. Netflix, Robinhood) is managed by large organizations, they will have a massive team of people to handle everything.
Moreover, they have a large budget for marketing and development.
› Last updated
When was the app last updated? This is to know whether the app is well maintained.
› Ratings and Review
Of course, ratings and reviews matter. What are users saying about the app? Are majority responses positive or negative?
How many downloads does the app have to date? On Google Play Store, you can see the number of times the app was downloaded. However, the App Store does not show it. But, there is an alternative to it. Websites like Sensetower show how many times the particular app was downloaded on App Store.
Before you start your mobile app development process, here are some questions you can ask yourself:
- Who is your target audience? Women under 30, teens, parents, etc
- How will they learn about your app?
- How is your mobile app unique from other apps in the same industry?
- What language, technologies and framework will your app use?
- What is the monetization model?
- How much is your budget?
- How long will it take to develop the app?
To learn more: App Development Market Research
Step #3: Define Minimum Viable Product
Minimum Viable Product, also known as MVP, is a simple version of your mobile application with enough features to put it in front of your early users.
Developing MVP will help you gain feedback from real users and improve the application along with the development. This will help you sell your idea without sinking all your resources in an untested app.
Key elements of minimum viable product:
- Usability: Your MVP should be intuitive and easy to use.
- Reliability: The MVP should be reliable and should not crash repeatedly or harm to the user in any way.
- Functionality: The app should offer clear value to users. E.g. Netflix offers the best collection of movies at a single place at just $9.99/month.
- Design: Simple but highest quality design will attract users.
But why should you build an MVP?
Here are some reasons why building MVP is a must.
- MVP consists only of core functionalities that the app is supposed to offer.
- This saves resources at the initial launch.
- MVP will help you test whether there is a demand for your product with minimum resources.
- MVP will help you pitch your idea to investors.
- Most apps fail because they are built on hypothetical data. Thus, making an
- MVP will take out tons of guesswork from the app. And when an app is built upon actual data and experience, chances of success are more.
- MVP will help save engineering hours. Human resources such as developers,
- UI/UX designers, QA testers are expensive. Thus, building an MVP will ensure that you use minimal human resources.
- Get the product in front of users as early as possible.
To learn more: Minimum Viable Product (MVP)
Step#4 : Plan the features
Basic App features (Must Have):
1. User login: Most apps want you to log in to their interface before using them. Though customers can find it frustrating to log in, there is a reason it is one of the most critical features of the mobile app.
Login helps you customize the app experience according to the user’s details. And today, the single-click logins with social media accounts and email have made it effortless to log in to the app.
2. Search: The search function helps users find what they need quickly within the app. Moreover, even the basic search function will depend entirely on the algorithm tailored to retrieve the results for specific queries.
3. Chat: Today, communication has the utmost priority. Chat or in-app messaging has become one of the integral parts of the apps today. Chat features include file transfer, auto-deleting or saving messages, history, offline mode, notifications, emojis, etc.
4. Push Notifications: Today, push notifications are must-haves in the app to interact with users. At a time, users can have nearly 30 apps installed on their smartphones. So, to attract their attention, you can send them real-time updates.
Advanced App Features:
1. Payment Processing: Connectivity with the device: If your users are making in-app purchases, payment processing is necessary. Today, many in-app payments options are available, such as Google pay, Apple Pay, PayPal, credit cards, and more, that can be integrated with the apps using APIs.
2. Data Encryption: Every app demands top-notch security to protect the user’s data and eliminate unauthorized access. Hence, data encryption is among the critical app feature today.
3. Streaming audio and videos: If your app allows users to stream audio or video (e.g. Netflix, YouTube, Twitch, Hulu, etc.), you will need the streaming feature. This feature is quite complex to implement as it requires many things such as file format, server setup, processing, etc.
To learn more: Mobile App Features
Step #5: Designing User Interface
How your mobile app looks and feels can have a great deal of impact on the user’s mind. It doesn’t matter whether your app is an MVP or a full-fledged app; you need to make sure the design is high quality and easy to use.
When thinking about mobile app design, you will encounter two important concepts of design. They are User Experience(UX) and User Interface(UI)
What is User Experience(UX)?
User experience design is a process in which the design team creates a meaningful experience for users. User experience involves everything from designing to the entire process of acquiring and integrating the product, including usability, design, function, and branding.
What is User Interface Design?
User Interface Design is a process in which the design team builds a user interface for mobile and web applications. The primary focus of user interface design is on looks and style. UI designers aim to create interfaces that users find easy to use and pleasurable.
Many times, User Interface is used interchangeably with UX. However, UI is a subset of UX. UX focuses on the overall experience of the users, while UI concentrates only on looks or style aspects.
Mobile design process:
- Designing User flow diagram of each screen
- Creating wireframes
- Choosing design patterns and color palettes
- Designing mockups
- Animated app mockup for testing
› User Flow
First, figure out what features you need in your app. Once you have your features list ready, design a user flow diagram. A user flow diagram is a high-level diagram that defines the user’s journey through the app.
The user flow diagram is beneficial as it gives an idea of how your app will function.
Now that you have your user flow ready, it’s time to create wireframes. Wireframes, in simple words, are low-fidelity representations of how your app will look. A wireframe comprises a rough sketch of where the buttons, icons, the text will be placed on the screen.
› Style Guide
The style guide is a set of instructions where an app’s design standards, from your branding rules down to navigation icons, are documented.
Style guide includes
- The font family to be used
- Color Palette
Having a style guide early on during the development will help developers stay productive. Moreover, following the style guide will make the design look consistent.
Mockup, as compared to wireframes, is the high-fidelity representation of your mobile app. It looks realistic. Some of the popular tools used by designers to create mockups are Adobe XD, Figma, Sketch, and Photoshop.
Mockups display only the static design of your app. These static designs can be converted into clickable prototypes with the help of prototyping apps like InVision, Figma, or Sketch.
Prototyping can be time-consuming but very worth it. This is because prototyping is very helpful in simulating users’ responses and app workflows. It will also help you know if your app needs modifications so that you can modify the design before starting the development process.
If you want to pitch your app to investors, prototyping is essential. Some companies use InVision, while others use XCode to code apps into development environments directly.
To learn more: Mobile App User Interface
Step #6: Starting Development
Let’s say after spending thousands of dollars on social media and influencer marketing, and you are successful in bringing 100,000+ potential customers. However, your system will crash if your app does not have the architecture to handle these many users, and all your efforts will go in vain.
And that’s why the architecture and tech stack used in creating the mobile app is so important.
Even a simple-looking app has complex technology that works together to keep up with the demand.
Many things go into developing an app. Mobile app development consists of three important aspects. They are
- Technical Architecture
- Technology Stack
- Development Milestones
Let’s understand the basic structure of a mobile app.
- The front end
- Mobile back-end server technologies
- Application Programming Interfaces (APIs)
Mobile App Front End Development
What users see while using the app is called Front End. We can use almost all the programming languages for front-end development.
But when building native applications, developers prefer programming languages like Swift, Objective C, Flutter, React Native for iOS apps. Whereas, for Android, most prefer Java, Kotlin Flutter, or React Native.
Each programming language has its own advantages and disadvantages. Thus, it’s necessary to take your app requirements into consideration while choosing the programming language for front-end development.
Mobile App Back End Development
The development that happens behind the scenes on the server-side is called backend development. Backend stores secure, and process data while the users are using the app.
Backend development is focused on storing the information in the database, scripting to add logic to activity, and creating an architecture that makes it easy to find and filter through the information.
Now, not all apps will have a backend. For example, apps like camera, notes app, calculator, voice recorder, etc. do not need a backend to function. However, apps like Amazon, Netflix, Instagram will need a backend.
Popular Backend for Android App
If your mobile app has a login or authentication feature, you will need a backend. Now, creating a backend from scratch is complex and time-consuming. Nowadays, many developers prefer to forgo this step and use a pre-existing MBaaS (Mobile Backend as a Service) solution.
There are many popular MBaaS in the market. They are:
› Amazon Web Services (Mobile): Amazon’s AWS is the most popular backend service for mobile. High-end apps like Netflix, Twitch, and LinkedIn use it. Features include high scalability, user authentication, push notification, cloud storage, etc. It is easy to use and has a low cost.
› Firebase: Owned by Google, Firebase is another popular backend service for mobile. Features include real-time database, crash reporting, authentication, cloud storage, and hosting, etc.
› Parse: It is an open-source backend service provider. Parse provides software development kits to help developers develop custom apps.
Popular Back End for iOS app
› Firebase: Many iOS apps use Firebase. It provides many excellent and advanced features, as discussed above.
› Rest API: Rest API is a stateless platform that also offers mobile backend services. Stateless means you need to repeat data each time. As compared to others, REST API is highly scalable and supports JSON and XML.
› GraphQL: Facebook introduced GraphQL to reduce the limitation offered by REST APIs. Popular features include reduced network usage, faster and flexible, and accurate data presentation, etc.
Application Programming Interfaces (APIs)
Since past the few years, mobile apps have advanced to a stage where they constantly communicate with the servers. Today, you will find very few apps that operate without connectivity(APIs or web services for the back end).
Majority of APIs today are developed with RestAPIs. This is because they are one of the simplest choices while building the mobile app.
There are two ways to implement APIs. Either you can build them yourself or buy the pre-built ones.
Buying a pre-built API is one of the easiest and time saving ways to implement an API in your mobile apps. This is because you won’t need to find another developer to understand and implement API integration for you.
On the other hand, if you want more freedom or custom features, you can build APIs from scratch. If you decide to create your own custom API, it is best to go with a common architecture. This is because it provides general guidelines to developers who are already used to developing.
There are four common architectures for API development which include pragmatic REST, web services, event-driven, and hypermedia. However, for mobile development most common architecture is pragmatic REST and event-driven.
To learn more: Mobile App Development Guide
No mobile application is complete without extensive testing. Testing is a crucial activity. Thorough Quality Assurance testing will ensure that the end product is secure, usable, and bug-free.
Bugs are evil for an application, be it mobile applications, games ,or websites. Bugs are errors in the code that causes the app to malfunction. Removing these bugs is critical for development.
But to remove them, you need to find them. And that’s what testing does. To get the most out of your testing efforts, make sure you test your app as early as possible during the development phase.
Types of testing that can be incorporated during the development phase are:
A. Functional Automated Testing
Functional testing is an integral part of mobile app development. It is a process of testing whether the app is functioning as specified. It is important because each user’s behavior is unique. Thus, one needs to make sure that the app functions as desired for all the test cases.
Functional testing covers:
- Initializing and installing applications on all the distribution channels
- Testing possible interruptions
- Testing necessary device resources
B. Performance Stress Test
The primary goal of the performance stress test is to see how the app functions across different platforms. Many parameters need to be taken into consideration during performance testing, such as:
- How fast is the app loading?
- How is your app responding to a user’s request?
- Is the size of the app larger than intended?
- Is your app consuming too much memory on the user’s device?
- Are there any memory leaks or battery draining?
C. User Interface Test
The primary goal of user interface testing is to check whether the final implementation matches the proposed design. User Interface testing comprises:
- Testing user flows and ease of navigation
- Ensuring that design guidelines are followed strictly
- Checking the consistency of design across the application.
D. Security Testing
Security is a major concern for most high-level apps. A single bug can expose sensitive information.
Most top companies hire outside firms to perform security testing. Your application should end the user session when the user is idle for an extended period (for example, 15 minutes).
Moreover, all the user logins should be recorded by both device and the backend to avoid unauthorized logins.
If your app stores user credentials to make it convenient to re-login, make sure you are using a trusted service. For example, the development platform for iOS apps provides a feature called a keychain that stores credentials securely on the device.
E. Platform Testing
Every day new devices hit the market, and each contains different hardware and software specifications. Thus, platform testing becomes inevitable.
- Testing compatibility of the app with different operating systems and client-side browsers
- Testing compatibility with different mobile devices
- Checking cross-browser compatibility of mobile app
F. Configuration Testing
Consistency across all the devices and platforms is a major concern for most mobile app developers. The same mobile app can perform differently on different devices, such as iOS smartphones, Android phones, and tablets.
Hence, to avoid such issues, configuration testing is essential. Configuration testing involves:
- Testing devices configuration on all the devices
- Testing Network connectivity
- Ensuring secure database connection
G. Beta Testing
Once an application has passed all the tests, you can allow real users to beta test your mobile app. Beta testing involves testing the overall performance of the app, including functionality, reliability, and compatibility. Beta testing also includes:
- Testing apps over a large demographic to find the loopholes.
- Testing for any misbehavior within the app.
- Checking response time for different users with different platforms.
H. Testing Phase
The testing Phase is divided into three different parts: scope, planning, and execution.
› Scope of testing: Before the testing of the app starts, you will need to define the scope. Scope includes what parameters, functionalities, or features you are going to test first.
You will also need to know whether you want to test only specific features or the entire application. Once you know the scope, you can then determine the test methods to be deployed.
› Planning: Once the scope is determined, it is time to plan further. Planning includes the determination of testing methods. Creating test cases for testing tailored for your mobile app. Deciding whether testing would be done manually or automated using software.
› Executing the plan: Execution can only be carried out if the scope and planning are done correctly.
Few things to consider during execution are:
- Identify the areas that need improvement and reset testing goals.
- Assess test results periodically and make changes as soon as possible.
- Test continuously from development phase to deployment phase.
To learn more: Mobile App Testing
Step #7: Deployment
Deployment is also called app launching. Here is a short checklist of things to do for the smooth launching of your mobile application.
- Make sure your app passes all the deployment tests.
- If you own a server, use Continuous Integration(CI) tools like Jerkins, Bitrise, Bitbucket Pipelines.
- Perform static code analysis using tools like pmd, Lint, FauxPas OCLint, Swift Format, etc.
- Use crash reporting tools like Instabug or Fabric to report app crashes
Now, to get your app in front of millions of users, you will need to submit your app to the app stores. Themost popular app stores are Apple App Store for iOS and Google Play for Android. For that, you will need a developer account in both stores.
Follow the steps below to get your app on the app store:
1. Make sure your app follows the community guideline: Both Google Play and App store have their respective guidelines that developers need to follow. In case your app does not follow the guidelines, it will be removed from the store.
2. Create your own app page: You can create your app page where you can display the app images and information to let users know how your app works.
3. Hit submit and wait: Now everything is said and done, wait for a reply from the team. That’s right !. On the Apple App store, your app will be manually reviewed. They will check whether your app follows community guidelines or if it provides negative experiences etc. Your app will be approved or rejected within 2 or 3 days.
In case your app gets rejected, don’t worry. Many times, there can be small things that could get your app rejected. Review them and resubmit. On the other hand, You will see your app within minutes of submitting it on the Google Play Store.
To learn more: Mobile App Deployment
Step #8: Marketing
Once your app hits the Play Store, it’s time to market. Each app store has millions of apps, and hence, discovering apps in the app store is not as straightforward as typing into Google.
Unless your app is ‘featured,’ chances of discovering it through an app store search are minimal.
Hence, implementing a marketing strategy will help your target audience discover the app.
Here are some ways you can promote your app:
Website is a great asset to promote your app. Websites have a lot more space to provide information about your app. Moreover, you can also ask users to join your mailing lists for further updates.
Once your target audience is aware of your app, it’s time to get downloads for your app. You can partner with influencers to expand your audience and build trust.
To learn more: Mobile App Marketing
Step #9: Maintenance
Technology is constantly changing. So, the software applications need to be updated frequently. Every software needs bugs removal and updates.
Just like Windows have been getting newer versions over the years, each version being more advanced than the previous one.
After rolling out your app’s first version, you will receive tons of feedback on your app. Use this feedbackto roll out new updates on time. These updates include bug fixes, the addition of new features, security patches, etc.
However, unlike web applications, where patch releases are available to users instantly, mobile app updates will have to go through the same submission process as the initial submission.
To learn more: Mobile App Maintenance
1. How much does mobile app development cost?
Mobile app development costs can vary according to the complexity of the app. It can range anywhere between $20,000 for basic apps to $ 2,500,000 for advanced apps.
Nothing is set in stone. The cost of mobile app development depends on many factors, such as
- Seller’s location
- Sort of seller (specialists, IT organization)
- Number of stages
- Type of app (e-commerce, gaming, services, etc.)
- Highlighting features
- Support and maintenance
2. How long does it take to develop an app?
The time required to develop an app will vary from app to app. However, an average app takes anywhere from 3 months to 6 months to complete.
- The development time depends on several things, such as the
- The number of features required: More features mean more time is needed for development.
- App’s complexity: Complex apps require more time to develop and test.
- Budget: Bigger budget may help fasten the development process.
- Development team: How many developers are working at a time on the project?
- And so much more.
3. How to develop a mobile app if you don’t know coding?
If you don’t know coding but want to develop a mobile app, there are two ways:
1. Hire a freelance developer: If you have money but no time to build an app yourself, then hiring a freelance mobile app developer can help you. You can expect to pay the hourly rate for development. In general, US developers charge $100-175 per hour. You can find mobile app developers on sites such as Upwork, Toptal, Fiverr, and more.
2. Outsource to mobile app development service: If you don’t want to go through the hassle of hiring developers or building the app yourself, then outsourcing the design and development project to a mobile app development service is a valid option. They will handle most of the work.
Both hiring a freelance developer and outsourcing to mobile app development companies is a good choice. In the end, the right direction depends solely on your needs.
Mobile application development is a continuous process. Even after launching the app as you receive user feedback and add more functionalities. There will be updates, bug fixes, security patches that you need to take care of after launching the app.