How Apps Are Made: A Guide to Mobile App Development

What makes mobile app development so big? For the past year, the number of mobile users has grown by 100 million, topping 5.3 billion worldwide. That makes 68% of the population mobile device owners. As close to the natural ceiling of 70-80% mobile users, it really becomes more about the quality of usage than growth.

The quality of the mobile industry depends on the quality of devices and applications.

Device manufacturing is skyrocketing with new grounds being broken every six months. The historic landmark of a $1.000 mass-produced phone has been reached by Apple. The Android market came back with rethought affordability of top-notch smartphones. The hardware mobile industry is doing well overall. As for the mobile apps, they’ve come into common use years ago and are growing.

A modern app has to be modern in all senses. When it comes to mobile, user impatience puts extra pressure on production teams but is rewarding in return. 

To be in the hardware business, you’ll need facilities and supply chains. To be in the mobile app business, all it takes is a technical team, a design team, ideas and the knowledge we are about to share.

Mobile apps and mobile app development

A mobile app is a piece of software specially designed for mobile gadgets like phones, tablets or smartwatches. The purpose of this software can be very diverse: shopping, entertainment, assistance and more.

A responsive website is a must for any business, but it has one particular drawback: a comparatively low level of engagement and interaction. Even with good traffic, it may not convert a lot of leads. Whereas a mobile application’s functionality and design are “tailored” to the capabilities of mobile platforms. And considering that a person nowadays is 9 times likelier to spend time using mobile apps, rather than browsers, the engagement rate of apps is much higher.

Mobile app development is any kind of software development for any kind of mobile device. 

There are several main types of mobile development:

  • native development: it means using the original programming languages ​​and tools of the particular mobile OS: iOS or Android 
  • cross-platform development: it specializes in creating applications that work in several mobile operating systems at once.

Both approaches require certain sets of tools, ways to design an interface and debugging procedures. Both of them have their advantages and disadvantages for users and developers.

Development of mobile apps

Mobile Data Analysis Apps Illustration by Septiana Budyastuti

Mobiliteam

A mobile app development project is no different from any other development project. You get a project manager to coordinate the work of the team, a mobile designer skilled in iOS, Android, cross-platform, or hybrid application design, a mobile developer, and a QA engineer

Sometimes we introduce a UX writer at the design stage, a back-end developer if the app has complex server-side functionality. 

There are three main F-principles a mobile application development team has to follow:

  • Firm management. To bridge the possible gaps between the departments and the client, to make sure the next two principles are strongly abided by.
  • Fixed deadlines. Timeframes are super important for apps. Such a thing as seasonal demand for an app is real. That’s why a fixed deadline attached to a fixed product specification is important and unshiftable unless something dramatic happens.
  • Flexible process. This one might seem to contradict the second principle but bear with us. Flexibility does not mean digression, in fact, it allows us to streamline the high-level development process by interchanging tasks and priorities.      

For us as a web and mobile development agency, it’s extremely important to maintain the same production pace and efficiency throughout all our projects. In that sense, the development of a mobile app is an indicator of the entire company’s performance. We’ve tripled the speed and the quality of our apps as compared to five years ago. Partially this has to do with technological advancements but mostly, it’s about the people we’ve managed to find and the processes we’ve set.

When we speak of a mobile team, it really is a team. We are committed to making cross-platform developers and designers with a deep understanding of all major mobile platforms.

A skilled mobile development team is capable of shipping an app in a matter of weeks. To do that, the team has to function like a well-oiled machine. A typical mobile development team is a guru, a designer, a developer, and a QA engineer.

Guru is a project manager, or design director, business strategist, sometimes the client themselves. This is the focal point of all project team responsibilities. Because everybody on the team contributes to one goal – the perfect app, the guru is the one to control that motion.

To make that happen, a person in charge has to possess deep and diverse experience and knowledge in the business the mobile project is targeting, design, and development methodologies and specifics. Constantly updated UX knowledge is also important. In other words, here’s the outline of a mobile project guru:

  • Technical knowledge
  • Business knowledge
  • Design knowledge
  • Leadership skills
  • Multitasking 

A designer is not a decorator. Before it even comes to the actual decoration, a designer lays out the way the app will work, feel, and look. It all starts with maps and information architecture. Before the first screen is even made, there’s a ton of research of similar apps, experiences, needs, and wants people have in the product. Visual design, colors, fonts, graphics, and illustrations are the final piece. So first of all, a designer is:

  • Usability expert
  • UX researcher
  • Navigation strategist
  • Artwork designer
  • Sometimes copywriter

The entire project after the design has been confirmed aims at the implementation of that design. All the changes must be made as to the result of users’ feedback, not technical limitations.

A developer is a key figure in the mobile team. As opposed to the web dev team where you typically have a back-end and a front-end team, a mobile project is done by a single dev team. Sometimes the app may require a back-end CMS or something and this is where some cross-functioning may happen.

As of recent years, mobile developers have moved towards diversity, Android developers got into iOS and vise versa. That’s because the hybrid mobile development approach has proven to be effective and the boundaries of native app development have stretched.

Mobile development is different from web development in a lot of ways but the main difference is in the attachment to the hardware part, specifically screen sizes and capabilities of the phone.

A QA engineer (test engineer) is a specialist in software quality assurance. The tester is a lot like an investigator. He follows after the programmer in search of bugs, using various deductive methods and hidden tricks. Without testing, it’s impossible to get a high-quality software product. This is why QA-specialists are in great demand in the IT business.

Mobile platforms

Operating system developers have played around with different implications of the platforms for various devices. While this was never a serious endeavor, it became clear that a mobile device OS is not a mini-me of a desktop OS. It required a paradigm shift in both the way information is structured and presented. 

With desktop OS, what you see is what you get. A mobile OS is when you see what’s important at the moment. The biggest challenge was defining what’s important, learning to predict behavior, and understand the user.

Mobile platforms exposed the core of UX – ease of use and pleasure, not the necessity.

Because before 2007, the entire mobile experience was a workaround, a stopgap and it was either deal with it or stay disconnected. Everybody chose being connected but neglected. That was the year the first iPhone dropped. It appealed to everyone because it was exuding an unprecedentedly loveable design.

Some only saw the visual part, tried to copy it but Apple was far ahead with an iPhone being different on so many levels, it made no sense. What Steve Ballmer has famously laughed at, a $500 price tag, became a new staple for a premium smartphone, ultimately booting out everybody else out of the business except for one company – Google with its Android.

iOS

Since it was invented in 2007, iOS hasn’t lost any of its significance. The reason why it came to fruition is that Apple believed the product was so good, they could not afford to mess it up with third-party software.

Apple transformed the idea of mobile experience and is partly responsible for making it the primary way of accessing digital information. iOS is an exclusive system that is only viable in the context of a restricted array of products: iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch with slight deviations into Apple Watch and Apple TV.

Android

The history of Android OS began in 2003. In 2005, Google acquired the company for $130 million, and as time has shown, the deal turned out to be an extremely profitable investment. 2008 was the year the first smartphone appeared working on the open-code Android operating system. A new convenient open-source system allowed anyone to make an app, so their mass appearance soon followed. 

Thus, the Android platform has provided flexible and simple features for personalizing any smartphone for a specific user. At the moment, the Android system is evolving, with the company periodically releasing current updates.

Mobile app platforms

Icon App iOS by Sutaryo

Mobile app development languages

To create a mobile application, you need to use a suitable programming language. There are many options that can affect the choice of a language and framework while developing an app, mainly the platform and application features.

In general, an Android developer is proficient in:

  • Java
  • Kotlin
  • Xamarin
  • React Native

iOS developer:

  • Objective-C
  • C
  • Swift

Cross-platform developer:

  • JavaScript
  • HTML, CSS
  • Cordova
  • C#
  • React Native
App development and design

Data visualization concept smartphone. Technology, High-tech by Yulia Boyko

How apps are created — app development process

To make an app that would really shine among the thousands of other top mobile applications on App Store and Google Play, it’s important to understand the main steps of the custom app development process, affecting the mobile app development cost.

Research and planning

Before design and development, there’s a stage of research where you make a study of every detail that might make a difference: from the market and competitors analysis to the more closely related details like monetization methods. All these aspects should be considered in advance to avoid as many possible mistakes as you can and make the process smooth.

You need to answer the following questions:

  • What is your target audience?
  • What pain points are you addressing with your app and what problems will it solve?
  • Who are your competitors? Why do people love their apps?
  • What features are absolutely necessary for your app? What makes it unique?
  • What platform(s) will you use?
  • What languages and frameworks will you use?
  • How will you monetize and promote your app? How much will it cost?
  • What’s the timeline going to be?

UX and UI design

After you formed the main idea and objectives, next comes the stage of user experience and use interface design. This is when you decide how your app is going to look like and exactly how it will be used, depending on the features you’ve picked during the previous step. Your aim is to create an interactive prototype to use during the development stage. 

You’ll need to create:

    • Information architecture. This is where you specify and detail the data, interface, and functionality of the app.
    • Wireframes. They provide a visual representation of how an app looks, what sizes are the elements and how they are arranged in accordance with each other, that is, the layout.
    • Style guides. A style guide provides the details of various app functions, ensuring that the design is consistent.
    • Mockups. They show the flow of an app and are the sort of combination of wireframes and style guides. It’s a high-fidelity version of a design.
    • Prototype. While mockups can provide a static view on how an app looks and functions, a prototype can show how it really works. It’s a demo version of the app, providing the understanding of visual interface, user experience and flow of the end product.

At this stage, it might be a good idea to engage somebody outside of your team or even a studio to check the app before passing the design to developers so as to reduce the number of possible mistakes before the coding stage of a mobile app development lifecycle begins.

Mobile app development process

Design Sprint – Illustration by Pawel Olek

App development

This stage involves the actual coding of an app, as well as a number of additional activities like checking on the stores’ guidelines, for example, so as an app does not get rejected.

After defining every point and getting a high-resolution version of every single screen, developers start with the coding process.

Developing an app is a stage that consists of several large parts:

  • Back-end/Server side. This is primarily about databases and other server-side elements like storage solutions. 
  • API. API is a way for an app to connect with its back-end server as well as with tools and systems that you already use in your business.
  • Front-end. Front-end is an interactive UX, that is, what an app’s users interact with. It connects with the back-end via API. 

The development of mobile apps is a process involving a lot of iterations and fine-tuning to reach the expected result.

Testing and launch

When you have a fully-functional app, the QA specialists meticulously examine and check an app in a variety of scenarios to minimize the chance of error occurrence during real-life usage. They go back to the initial documentation and ensure that every planned feature is existing in the final version of the product and works exactly as it should. QA engineers make an app stable, usable and secure.

When every specification is met, and the product is OKed by project managers, designers, developers, and testers, comes the long-awaited stage of launch.

Support and maintenance

The story doesn’t end with launching an app. If there are bugs detected during real-world usage, they get fixed. If the first few months show that an application has further opportunities for development, a client can choose to make an arrangement for maintenance or start a new development cycle.

Good app maintenance services are very effective, they help keep an app healthy, up-to-date and in the best condition.

What is mobile app development

A Quick Security Checklist for Remote Workers by Yin Weihung

* * *

So this is the basics of how mobile app development works.

Why develop mobile apps? By 2023, the global mobile application revenue is expected to reach $935 billion via paid downloads and in-app ads. This makes mobile app development one of the most profitable and fastest-growing segments of the IT market. 

This, however, brings certain limitations like urgency. The mobile market is extremely sensitive to trends and actuality of design and performance. What is the future of mobile app development? Chatbots, wearables, the further development of IoT and cloud-based solutions, AR and VR, on-demand apps — these are just some of the trends that are forming the mobile app market of today and the near future. Because of the COVID‑19 pandemic, people are spending more and more time on their mobile phones, deprived for the time being of some of their favorite activities. There is a trend for creating the digital counterparts of such activities will only grow. If you want to learn what app categories are in the mainstream today, read this article.

Web & Mobile UI/UX Design
Not a programmer design. Pretty, efficient, and fully implementable
Written by Moses Kim and Kate Shokurova
April 04, 2020

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