Mobile App Development Process
Mobile App Development Process: Step-by-Step Guide
While many companies are trying to take advantage of this trend, many do not know how to create an app successfully. Success within the competitive landscape of these growth projections can become a reality for your company—but only if supported by a precisely cultivated mobile app development process.
An effective app development process flow spans over six key phases. In this article, we’ll take a closer look at each one in-depth.
Regardless of the size and scope of your project, following this development process will make your enterprise mobile app development initiative a success.
The first phase of the mobile app development process is defining the strategy for evolving your idea into a successful app. You may include a more significant part of this in your overall enterprise mobility strategy. As one app’s objectives may differ from another, there is still an app-specific impact to the mobility strategy to address during the development process.
In this phase, you will:
- Identify the app users
- Research the competition
- Establish the app’s goals and objectives
- Select a mobile platform for your app
On average mobile apps cost $150,000 – $200,000 and can take anywhere from four to six months to develop. Your strategy helps focus your vision on a clear picture of your app idea. With this in mind, you can go deeper into the next phase of the mobile application development process.
2. Analysis and Planning
At this stage, your app idea starts taking shape and turns into an actual project. Analysis and planning begin with defining use cases and capturing detailed functional requirements.
After you have identified the requirements for your app, prepare a product roadmap. This includes prioritizing the mobile app requirements and grouping them into delivery milestones. If time, resources or costs are a concern, then define your minimum-viable-product (MVP) and prioritize this for the initial launch.
Part of the planning phase includes identifying the skills needed for your app development initiative. For example, iOS and Android mobile platforms use different development technology stacks. If your goals are to build a mobile app for both iOS and Android mobile platforms then, your mobile development team should include iOS developers and Android developers.
Have you selected the name of your app yet? Mobile app names are like domain names and have to be unique within each app store. Research each app store ensuring your app’s name isn’t already in use!
3. UI / UX Design
The purpose of an app’s design is to deliver seamless and effortless user experiences with a polished look.
The success of a mobile app is determined based on how well users are adopting and benefiting from all its features. The goal for mobile app UI / UX design is creating excellent user experiences making your app interactive, intuitive, and user-friendly. While polished UI designs will help with early adoption, your app must have intuitive user experiences to keep app users’ engaged.
Information Architecture & Workflows
The first step of your mobile app design process is to determine the data your mobile app will display to the users, the data it will collect, user interactions with the finished product, and the user journeys within the app.
For companies, enterprise mobile solutions have users with different roles and privileges, and it is essential to incorporate these rules as part of your app’s information architecture. Workflow diagrams help identify every possible interaction a user has with the app and the app’s navigation structure.
Mobile app designers often start app design with sketches on paper. Wireframes are the digital form of sketches. Wireframes are conceptual layouts, also referred to as low-fidelity mockups—they give visual structure to your app’s functional requirements.
With wireframes, the focus is more on aesthetics and user experience, not on color schemes and styles. Creating wireframes is a quick and cost-effective approach for designing app layouts and iterating through them in the design review process. While creating wireframes you should consider device specific design. So whether your app is used on iPhone, iPad, or Android phone and tablets; it provides intuitive and device specific user experiences.
Style guides are “living documents” where an app’s design standards from your company’s branding rules down to the navigation icons, are documented.
Style guides include:
- What font family will your app’s text use?
- What will the color scheme be?
- How will your company brand be reflected in the app design?
Style guides contribute to an app’s design strategy. Establishing a style guide early on as part of your mobile app development process improves the productivity of your mobile app developers. At the same time, following a style guide will help keep your app’s look and feel consistent. As part of your app design, you should consider app design guidelines from Apple for iOS app and from Google for Android apps.
Mockups, or high-fidelity designs, are the final renderings of your app’s visual design. Mockups are created by applying your style guide on to the app wireframes. As your app’s design begins to finalize, expect further modifications to its information architecture, workflow, and aesthetics. Adobe Photoshop is the most popular tool for creating high-fidelity mockups.
While mockups display your mobile app’s functionality using static designs, these can turn into click-thru prototypes with tools like Invision and Figma. Prototypes are highly useful for simulating the user experience and the app’s workflows expected from the finished product. While prototype development can be time-consuming, the efforts are well worth it, as they offer early-stage testing of your app’s design and functionality. Often, prototypes help identify modifications to the app’s proposed functionality.
Some companies prefer even doing prototypes at a wireframing stage, especially when an app’s functional requirements are not well thought out. Or, there is a need to review the app’s proposed functionality with a focus group.
4. App Development
Planning remains an integral part of this phase in the mobile app development process. Before actual development/programming efforts start, you will have to:
- define the technical architecture,
- pick a technology stack, and
- define the development milestones.
A typical mobile app project is made up of three integral parts: back-end/server technology, API(s) and the mobile app front-end.
This part includes database and server-side objects necessary for supporting functions of your mobile app. If you are using an existing back-end platform, then modifications may be needed for supporting the desired mobile functionality.
An Application Programming Interface (API) is a method of communication between the app and a back-end server/database.
Mobile App Front-End
The front-end is the native mobile app an end-user will use. In most cases, mobile apps consist of interactive user experiences that use an API and a back-end for managing data. In some cases, when an app needs to allow users to work without internet access, the app may utilize local data storage.
You can utilize almost any web programming language and databases for the back-end. For native mobile apps, you have to choose a technology stack required by each mobile OS platform. iOS apps can be developed using Objective-C or Swift programming language. Android apps are primarily built using Java or Kotlin.
There is more than one programming language and technology stack for building mobile apps —the key is picking a technology stack that is best suited for your mobile app.
Mobile technologies advance much faster with new versions of mobile platforms. Furthermore, new mobile devices are released every few months. With platforms and devices rapidly changing, agility is essential for building mobile apps within timelines and budgets. If time-to-market is a priority, use an agile development approach. This approach supports frequent software releases with completed functionality. Defining development milestones as part of the agile development plan supports developing your mobile application in iteration.
As each development milestone completes, it is passed on to the app testing team for validation.
Performing thorough quality assurance (QA) testing during the mobile app development process makes applications stable, usable, and secure. To ensure comprehensive QA testing of your app, you first need to prepare test cases that address all aspects of app testing.
Similar to how use cases drive the process of mobile app development, test cases drive mobile app testing. Test cases are for performing test steps, recording testing results for software quality evaluation, and tracking fixes for retesting. A best practice approach is involving your QA team in the Analysis and Design stages. The familiarity with your app’s functional requirements and objectives will help produce accurate test cases.
Your app should undergo the following testing methods, to deliver a quality mobility solution.
User Experience Testing
The accuracy of your mobile app functionality is critical to its success. It’s difficult to predict every end user’s behavior and usage scenario.
The functionality of your app should be tested by as many users to cover as many potential testing conditions as possible. You might be surprised to catch bugs when two different users test the same feature but get varied outcomes. For example, both users can fill out the same form, but they both might enter different data—which could lead to discovering a defect.
The purpose of functional testing is to ensure that users can use your app’s features and functionality without any issues. It can be broken down further into system testing (the app working as a whole), and unit testing (individual functions of the app operating correctly).
If you are building an app for iOS and Android mobile platforms, then your functional testing should include a feature comparison between both versions of your mobile app.
There are many quantitative criteria to use for measuring the performance of your app.
- How well is your app responding to the user requests?
- How fast are the app’s screens loading?
- Is your app draining the phone battery or causing memory leaks?
- Does your app leverage network bandwidth efficiently?
- Is the size of your app bigger than what it should be?
Even when your app passes basic performance criteria, test the app, API, and backend for load by simulating the maximum number of concurrent users. Your app should be able to handle the load and perform well even when usage spikes.
Security is of utmost concern for enterprise mobile apps. Any potential vulnerability can lead to a hack. Many companies hire outside agencies to perform thorough security testing on their applications. Your QA and development teams can take a few simple measures to make your app secured.
If your app requires users to log in, these log in sessions should be tracked on the device and the backend. User sessions should be terminated by the system when a user has remained idle for an extended time (typically ten mins or less on a mobile app). If your app stores user credentials on the device to make it convenient for them to re-login, then you must ensure using a trusted service. For example, the development platform for iOS apps provide the Keychain feature that can be used for storing a user’s account details for a specific app.
Data entry forms within your mobile app should be tested to ensure there is no data leakage.
Device and Platform Testing
On average, new mobile devices enter the market every 12 months with new hardware, firmware, and design. Mobile operating systems are updated every few months.
Multiple mobile device manufacturers like Samsung, LG, HTC, Motorola use the Android platform, but they customize the platform for their mobile devices (since Android is open source). The devices come in different sizes and shapes.
Compare that to Apple, which has a lot more controlled environment, since they control both hardware and the OS. However, there are multiple iPhone & iPad (Apple iOS) devices out on the market.
This is where testing during the mobile app development process differs significantly from web app testing. You can get away by testing your web app just on the Chrome browser in a Windows environment. But your mobile app has to be tested on multiple mobile devices or device simulators to ensure smooth working of your app for all users.
The complexity of mobile app testing on all mobile devices, ongoing support costs, and headaches of mobile device management are primary reasons why companies tend to build their enterprise mobile apps for a single mobile platform (and often provide mobile devices to their users). In our experience, most companies tend to develop their enterprise mobile app first with Apple’s iOS mobile platform; only where needed they build an app for the Android platform.
Testing is imperative to an app’s future success; it encompasses a substantial section of our overall mobile app development process. Having a comprehensive mobile testing strategy is a must for delivering a quality mobile app.
During the testing phase, there are many ways for distributing your app development builds to the testers. The most common approach with iOS apps is using the Testflight and for Android apps via email or Over The Air (OTA) installs.
6. Deployment & Support
Releasing a native mobile app requires submitting your app to the app stores, Apple App Store for iOS apps and Google Play for Android apps. However, you will need a developer account with Apple App Store and Google Play Store before launching your mobile app.
An app’s release in the app store requires preparing metadata including:
- Your app’s title
- Launch icon
- App store screenshots
Once submitted in the Apple App Store, iOS apps go through a review process which may take from a few days to several weeks depending on the quality of your app and how closely it follows Apple’s iOS development guidelines. If your app requires users to log in, then you will need to provide Apple with a test user account as part of the release process.
There isn’t any review process with Android apps, and they become available in the app store within a few hours of submission.
After your app becomes available in the app stores, monitor its usage through mobile analytics platforms and track Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) for measuring your app’s success. Frequently check crash reports, or other user reported issues.
Encourage users to provide your company with feedback and suggestions for your app. Prompt support for end-users and frequently patching the app with improvements will be vital to keeping users engaged. Unlike web apps where patch releases can be available to app users instantly, mobile app updates will have to go through the same submission and review process as the initial submission. Moreover, with native mobile apps, you have to continually stay on top of technology advancements and routinely update your app for new mobile devices and OS platforms.