Smartphones have revolutionized the way we do business at a faster rate than we anticipated. Be it booking a travel ticket or arranging accommodation, ordering food or buying groceries and paying bills, mobile applications help us do the task conveniently and efficiently. Subsequently, the popularity of mobile apps is increasing at a swift pace.
With the number of smartphone users expected to reach 2.5 billion by 2019, the usage of mobile apps is sure to skyrocket in the coming years too. As per a market research study, the app economy will be worth 6.3 trillion by 2021.
On the other hand, having a mobile app has become more or less a necessity for businesses these days. It facilitates brand building, increases awareness, improves customer engagement, promotes revenue growth, just to name a few of its benefits.
To put in a nutshell, having an app opens up new opportunities for business growth. However, most of us lack awareness above the efforts that are needed to convert an app concept into pixels on a screen.
The mobile app development process is not a walk in the park. It requires a thoughtful and step-by-step approach in order to reap the desired benefits.
If you are contemplating building a mobile app, here is a comprehensive guide on the topic. To make it easier for you to understand, we have broken down the entire app development process into six key steps backed by rich visuals and an app development infographic.
6 Key Stages of Mobile App Development Process
Be it any mobile app development project, dividing the work into steps makes the process less complicated and easier to execute. Moreover, the work can be planned in specific time frames and thereby avoid unnecessary delays in the completion of the project.
The key phases that are involved in any mobile app development project are listed below.
- Idea Generation & Validation
- Designing the App
- Developing the App
- Testing the App
- Launching the App
- Marketing & Maintaining the App
Mobile App Development Process Infographic
Please note that each of the stages mentioned above overlaps with the subsequent stage during the mobile app development process. For example, the testing stage may include some development work to iron out any bugs. The mobile app development project should be planned strategically while allocating sufficient time for each of the stages.
Here’s a detailed explanation of all the six key steps in a mobile app development process.
Discovery and Market Research
Once an app idea/concept is generated, it is important to put in the efforts to do a proper market study and find out the viability of the project. Sometimes, market research will result in the discovery of new ideas. The research stage is not only meant to discover new ideas but also to come up with the list of requirements needed to fix the scope of your app project.
Having clear answers to the following questions upfront will go a long way in ensuring the success of your app development project.
- App Objective
What is the aim of your mobile app? Where does it fit in the overall mobility/ digital transformation roadmap for your business? What problem (or problems) will your app solve for your users?
- Target Audience
Who is the target audience? Who are the prospective users?
- App USP
What features are important? What features would help the app to stand out in the market? What is your app’s core appeal? How will you differentiate?
- Target Platforms
What Mobile OS platforms will you build the app for? Will you choose Native or Cross-platform or Hybrid?
- Competitor Analysis
Do the competitors have a similar app? If yes, what features do they offer?
- App Investment
What is the overall app development allocation in terms of time, effort and money?
- Development Timeframe
By when do you want to launch your app?
- App Marketing
How are you going to promote your app?
- App Maintenance
How are you going to keep your app up-to-date? Who will update the bugs once the app is launched?
App Design (UX/UI)
The user interface (UI) and experience design (UX) are two crucial factors that determine the success of any mobile application. While UI design provides the visual medium that manifests the app to the user, UX design speaks about multiple aspects of human interaction with the app. Not to mention, the design should be interactive and engaging.
The design stage includes multiple aspects which are discussed below.
- Information Architecture & Workflows
Information architecture is the design framework in which the data, interface, and functionality of the app are specified and detailed. Ideally, the technology architecture and the technology stack must be finalized before establishing the design details.
Often, this includes details about the platform and also how the app fits within the platform. For example, a new app that helps the user to maintain a work schedule may depend on the system clock. Workflow or process flow is useful in depicting how the app is used in a step-by-step process.
User interface design in the app development process is termed as a wireframe. It is a pictorial depiction that provides key elements of the UI (fields, buttons, icons, layout, etc.). It provides a visual indication of the app and depicts the salient details like the size of the elements and placement of them. Wireframes are chiefly focused on aesthetics, layout details, and user experience. It does not say anything about color schemes, styles or wireframe to wireframe interactions.
- Style Guide
Style guides are all about standards, usability, and consistency. It is an essential part of the design stage. Standardization of UI elements, UI frames and end-to-end experience, consistency in use of intuitive & pleasing UI elements, usability driven process flow and uniformity/uniqueness of the app are some of the factors that are contributed and achieved by style guides. A style guide provides the details of various app functions, without which developing a high-quality app can be less efficient.
A rendering of the app’s visual design is termed as a mockup or a high-fidelity design. The wireframes combine with your style guide design standards and provide the interconnection between various elements of visual design, thus establishing the flow of the app. Your mockup may lack the logic and intelligence of your app but will almost demonstrate how the app functions. As your app’s design begins to get finalized, you can expect further modifications to its information architecture, workflow, and aesthetics. Adobe Photoshop and Sketch are two of the popular tools for creating high-fidelity mockups.
While mockups provide a display of your mobile app’s functionality using static designs, prototypes can provide a glimpse into the working of the apps.
A prototype is a rapid version of the originally intended app. Prototypes are specifically required if the technology is new, concepts are untested or there is uncertainty about the app development. While mockups are dummy runs of the app, prototypes provide the “real feeling” or “demo” version of the app. It can be even used as a demo of the app.
Prototypes can be handy for understanding the visual interface, user experience and the app’s flow of work that is expected from the finished product. Prototype development can be time-consuming but it offers short testing of your app’s design and functionality which can come very handy in the later stages.
This stage covers the actual realization and coding of your app. The development stage includes multiple activities such as establishing the development environment (that includes ways to do simple testing), developing various parts of the code, preliminary testing and creating the app that can be installed and tested.
A typical mobile app development app project requires developing code and configuring the environment for three parts- back-end/server technology, APIs and the mobile app front-end.
- Back-End/Server Technology
Database and server-side objects become imperative for supporting functions of your mobile app by connecting to a network. Configurations and changes could be needed to support the desired mobile app functionality if you are using an existing backend platform. The server-side objects developed during this stage must be configured and tested with the other components of the app.
Application Programming Interface (API) constitutes pieces of software developed that help interconnecting not only the app and the back-end server/database but also interconnecting app with the OS components and existing software tools/systems in use by your business.
- Mobile App Front-End
The front-end is what your end-users interact with. Mobile apps often consist of interactive user experiences that make use of the connection with the back-end for managing data via APIs. When an app needs to let users work without network (like in offline mode), the app may require suitable APIs to download and store data locally.
Almost any web programming language and database for the back-end can be used for app development as long as the server technology supports it. For native mobile apps, you can choose a technology stack required by the targeted mobile platform – Android or iOS. Objective-C or Swift programming languages are used for developing iOS apps, while Java and Kotlin are popular for Android app development.
There are quite a few programming languages that are used for developing mobile apps – the key is to pick one that is suited for everything that your app needs to achieve. This depends on the mobile app technology that is chosen and the associated backend technology along with the choices made in the previous stages. The best-suited ones can be arrived at with a step elimination by choice.
Mobile technology evolves fast with new versions of mobile OS platforms being launched every year. Mobile devices are getting better and agility is essential. For mobile apps, this transforms to adhering to timelines and budgets and managing the time-to-market.
Adoption of agile development requires planning the complete development stage in terms of cycles. Then Mobile app development process starts with pre-stage, continues with multiple iterations and ends at the post stage. Every iteration cycle is a potential app that can be launched.
As the development team completes each milestone, it could pass on the app to testing team for quality check and fixing bugs.
App Testing & QA
Testing is another important stage in the mobile app development lifecycle. Testing lets you know the quality of the app and gives an idea about how good or bad the app is. The testing phase may overlap with the development stage in many ways and this depends on the way the development is planned and executed. For example, in case of agile methodology, every sprint or iteration could have a testing phase.
Testing is done to understand the defects in the app and to resolve them. If unresolved, it may cause the app to malfunction or create other technical issues. It is done by a separate team (other than the development team), has criteria, documentation to plan and execute the process. The testing phases are often accompanied by the associated development which is aimed at resolving the bugs.
App testing comprises of various types. For example, functionality testing is done to ascertain if the functional requirements that are listed in the discovery phase are met. Similarly, performance testing will establish performance capabilities such as touch response, average connection time and other metrics.
The testing phase is completed when all problems and bugs are resolved and the app is approved for launch by the client/project manager.
Launch stage marks the beginning of the market phase of the app. This could require the deployment of the backend before the app can be published in the app stores for downloads. You can do a soft-launch with a selected group of people/ internal team or publish in the app stores as a beta version for early user feedback.
Submitting the App in the App Stores
To launch the app, you need to publish it in a public app store like Google Play / Apple App Store or an enterprise app store if your app is intended for enterprise use only. Listing the app requires meeting the specific guidelines of the respective app store.
App Support & Marketing
Keeping Your App Healthy
Once users start downloading and using the app, issues may pop up related to the app functioning or you would want to incrementally add new features to keep your users engaged. For this, a good app maintenance services team can be very effective.
Promoting Your App
The success of a mobile app is greatly dependent on the app marketing strategy you implement. Most of the successful apps follow a robust promotional plan from the get-go.
Build an execute an app marketing plan to drive app discovery, increase organic installs and improve user engagement, preferably by working with an app marketing services agency to reduce cost overheads.
The mobile app development process can be quite overwhelming and tedious. However, it can become an extremely rewarding process if done in the right manner. The steps discussed above are built upon our years of experience in developing mobile apps for both enterprises and startup clients.
Nitin Lahoti is the Co-Founder and Director at Mobisoft Infotech. He has 14 years of experience in Design, Business Development and Startups. His expertise is in Product Ideation, UX/UI design, Startup consulting and mentoring. He prefers business readings and loves traveling. Follow him @nitinlahoti