Mobile app development is more in demand every year, and for a good reason. Mobile apps bring business owners revenue, increase customer engagement with a brand, and provide users with quality services. But all of that is true only if the app performs flawlessly, which is what businesses expect when they hire mobile developers.
For some steps in developing an app, the business’s timely involvement is critical for a highly functional, user-friendly app. This article covers how apps are made, describes how businesses participate in the development process, and explains the timeline for mobile app development. We also review app development trends to follow if you want to future-proof your mobile solution. Let’s move on to what you need to know.
Mobile app development trends
Mobile app development is booming worldwide thanks to the benefits it brings businesses, such as
- Increased revenue
- More marketing opportunities
- Deeper insights about their buyers
- Improved communication with customers
Many once-disruptive technologies are becoming increasingly adopted by various businesses while raising the bar of customer demands. Blockchain, ML, AI, augmented and virtual realities (AR and VR), IoT, and cloud computing are surging, and experts consider them the future of mobile app development.
As customer expectations of app functionality, accessibility, and security intensify, and regulations governing data processing become more stringent, businesses must pay extra attention to the quality of their mobile apps. This is where a tech-savvy development team steps in.
Partnering with a reliable vendor improves your odds of developing a product that will enhance your customers’ experience and business outcomes. To select the best partner and reach the goal line faster, you need to know what mobile app development looks like and what’s needed from your side to get the expected results faster.
So, how are apps made?
The Mobile App Development Process
Whether you opt for a native or cross-platform approach, the mobile application development process will include the following steps:
- Challenge investigation
- Proof of concept (POC) creation
- UX and business domain research
- Team set-up
- Design and development
- Mobile app release
- Post-launch support and maintenance
Each app development stage has its specifics depending on the type of development (native or cross-platform). Below, we’ll discuss them in more detail, starting with the most crucial stage.
Mobile app development basics involve knowing what you need the app for and the functionality it needs for its initial release. We call this a challenge investigation because the business researches and defines the challenges they’re trying to solve with the app, and the functionality they envision will make them competitive in the market. At this point, the partner’s input is invaluable for a development company. Here’s why:
- It gives the app development company a better understanding of the scope of work.
- It lets the development team give you more precise time and cost estimates.
- It prevents costly mistakes associated with poor estimation.
During this first phase of mobile app development, the dev team gathers the following data:
- Business goals of the app. This answers the question, “What does a business need this app for?” You may need it to improve customer conversion, establish another sales channel, add value to the core product, or improve customer experience, and it’s important to define the app’s core goal.
- Functionality. This should describe how the app will function to achieve the business goal. For example, does it need to support in-app purchases (e-commerce apps), show real-time information (a stock exchange monitoring app), or provide a mobile version of your core services (Adobe mobile apps for photo editing)?
- Competition. Provide whatever market research you have on your competition or if you have none, ask the development company to research for you. This information will help you and your tech partner assess what’s required for a minimum viable product (MVP), what your customers will expect from the app, and the drawbacks of existing apps that yours should improve upon.
- Future business strategy. Predicting the trajectory of your business is hard, but having a plan in mind helps you assess whether you’re on the right track. Technology-wise, having a plan helps you choose solutions that will allow smooth scaling, flexible module integration, and other improvements while investing less time and money.
- Budget. Knowing how much you can invest in mobile app development informs choices about the tech stack and the functionality of your app to make it competitive in the market.
All of this information helps assess your needs, the approximate product development duration, the time to market of the app’s first version, and the cost of the mobile app development process. After completing a challenge investigation, the development team formulates a hypothesis and tests whether the business idea is worthy of investment.
A challenge investigation is vital whether you’re developing your product in-house, outsourcing to a tech vendor, or redirecting it to another mobile app development vendor. And we have a case study to show you why.
Our partner needed a mobile social network app for sports fans to communicate, play fantasy sports, review stats, place odds, and exchange their digital collectibles. The partner already had this product in process with another tech company, but because of poor time and cost estimates, the previous development team missed the delivery deadline and faced design and architecture challenges that started to affect the budget.
The Techstack team started a challenge investigation with the partner, and we quickly realized that the previous developers chose a fragmented server-based architecture, which wasn’t the best solution for the scope of tasks the app needed to perform. We updated the code to infrastructure-as-a-service, creating a solid basis for future scaling and decreasing the chance of a single point of failure (SPOF). In this way, we created a multifaceted universe within the app that brought a revolutionary experience to sports fans.
Proof-of-Concept (POC) creation
Proof of concept (POC) is a process that helps product stakeholders assess the likelihood of producing the product, its profitability, and whether it can bring a business the expected results. Like the challenge investigation, this is one of the crucial steps for developing an app. Here’s why.
- Proof-of-concept assesses the product’s viability before investing in its development.
- It identifies weaknesses and potential production, user acceptance, and marketing obstacles.
- It keeps the development team, stakeholders, and product managers on the same page regarding the app’s business goals.
- It allows the team to decide on the initial architecture to enable the app’s immediate functioning and future scaling.
In other words, a POC helps stakeholders understand whether the idea is worth pursuing and how they can improve its viability.
After the POC is approved, we move to the next stage of developing an app.
UX and business domain research
These are essential to ensure the app’s design and functionality suit the target audience's needs. Plus, this stage helps the team power the app with the necessary functionality to meet the business’s objectives. Here, we should do the following:
- Create a user persona. To develop a tool to solve your customers’ needs and fulfill their expectations, you must understand the user persona. For this, we do user research. Answering questions like “Who will use the app?”, “What will they use it for?”, “What is their user story?” and “What pain points should the app resolve?” will help paint a picture of your customer.
- Define business goals and how an app will help achieve them. Knowing the app’s purpose helps ensure it will have the technical capability to reach your goals. For example, if the goal is to increase sales, the app needs to offer customers multiple ways to pay, which means integrating various payment systems.
- Analyze the competition. Chances are, app stores already have apps similar to the app your business needs. Research them, test them, see what you like about them, and what you would improve. Your app needs to be better than the competition.
- Research legal requirements that can influence development. To build a compliant app, developers need to know about data processing regulations and industry standards. The priority here is to keep customer data safe and prevent the business from running afoul of the law.
- Research future trends in your industry. This is essential to develop an app that solves today’s problems and can be easily adapted for the future.
Customer and business needs dictate who will make up the team for creating an app your users will love.
Setting up a team
We assemble a team for end-to-end development, and the team's composition depends on app requirements. At this stage of mobile app development, we assess what skills we’ll need to build a minimum viable product (MVP), when we need to bring in specialists, and which tasks to assign to each development team member.
Here’s our standard team composition for developing a simple mobile app.
- Frontend developer. Designs the user interface as the user will see it
- Backend developer. Writes server-side scripts, designs a database and operational logic, integrates components, and fixes errors in the backend
- Quality assurance (QA) specialist. Ensures that all app development steps follow quality standards and legal requirements.
- Scrum master. Serves as the project manager (PM) to administer the process, communicates with partners and developers, maintains the schedule, and reports on the product’s development progress to partners.
The team might also include a DevOps specialist if the product will have automated updates and use cloud solutions. Sometimes, the backend developer assumes DevOps responsibilities.
You may also need a developer with special expertise for more complex apps with IoT, AR, VR, and other integrations. Plus, if the app requires complex cloud architecture, you’ll need a cloud architect to set it up.
Every product at Techstack also involves an account manager, who joins the team as soon as the company starts working on the new product. An account manager makes sure the designers and developers maintain focus and keep up with deadlines, that all stakeholders receive the expected reports and results, and that the team addresses any issues that arise in a timely manner. This is the inner role Techstack created to ensure product quality, and it doesn’t influence the price of product development for the partner.
Once we assemble the team and assign tasks, we’re ready to move to the next stage of developing an app.
Design and development
Now that we know what we’re building and who will build it, it's time to design and develop the product. Let’s see what this entails.
Design is a critical step in the app development process: we create the user interface, which provides the backend developer with a visual representation of how the backend should look for the user. Here’s what the design process at Techstack looks like:
Let’s see what happens during each stage.
- Briefing. The development team conducts detailed sessions with the partner’s representative and stakeholders to understand what they want to build and ensure that the team has the resources it needs.
- Design. Using user and market research findings, the design team creates user stories, customer journeys as user flows, wireframes, the UI design (i.e., the product interface as the user will see it), and mockups.
- Prototype creation. A prototype is a simplified version of the product that helps address design issues and solve them before full-scale development. There are five practical reasons to prototype, and every team will include this in the process of app development to avoid usability issues.
- Usability testing. The design will undergo thorough usability testing that simulates the interaction of real users with the app. This helps to address functionality issues, evaluate the design's success, identify weaknesses, and correct mistakes.
Note that native iOS and Android mobile app design and development strategies differ somewhat from cross-platform development (we’ll pinpoint some differences later in the article).
Once the dev team receives the design, tech specifications, acceptance criteria, and usability insights, the team starts full-fledged product development.
The development process depends on the app’s intended functionality, but it always includes the following steps.
- We create an entry for the app in App Store and Google Play, keeping the same name and address.
- We create development and production certificates, which will differ when developing mobile apps for Android vs. iOS.
- We request access to device features from each platform (e.g., camera, microphone, geolocation, WiFi, mobile data, and so on) and provide a detailed explanation of how the app will use them.
After this, we decide whether to assemble the app manually or follow a more automated CI/CD approach that streamlines development. This choice influences the development plan and processes.
Typically, we make solutions from scratch and then integrate ready-made tools (packages) from online repositories to reduce cost and speed up the mobile app development process. To avoid spending time patching, we choose integrations based on their quality, community adoption rates, and support—the more community support a package has, the less likely it is to have bugs.
The developers and businesses need to analyze how users interact with the app. This is where business analytics (BA) comes in. The developers integrate BA tools to collect data about the user interactions with the app to identify its most and least popular functions and any usability issues. The team can then tweak the design, understand conversion rates, remove unnecessary functions, introduce new features, and improve the overall user experience.
Also, we find it useful to implement error management practices during the development stage. Based on our experience, integrating an error tracking service helps detect issues and fix them quickly, so the app can provide users with an uninterrupted experience. We recommend adopting error management practices during the first release version, as this period is critical for user acceptance.
After the code and integrations are ready, the development team starts the testing process.
Regardless of the type of development we undertake (manual or CI/CD pipeline), testing is always an integral and indispensable component of every stage of the mobile application development process. The QA specialist usually joins the team during the second week of development, when they get the first results from the developers.
Each platform calls for a different approach to testing and has different testing requirements.
- iOS provides the developers with the test suite we use during the development and before sending the product to the store.
- Android doesn’t provide the testing tools, though it requires the developers to provide the testing results (we usually send the results of early and open testing).
We run tests after completing each development sprint, but we also schedule testing as separate steps:
- Early testing. We test apps early in the development lifecycle to catch bugs and prevent them from becoming more complex.
- Open testing. We have real users test the app before launch.
Continuous testing allows us to not only maintain code quality and make sure the final app meets or exceeds expectations; it also ensures compliance with security standards and regulations.
After we test the app’s UX, functionality, security, and compliance, and the results meet the acceptance criteria, we’re ready to release the app.
The release is one of the trickiest mobile app development steps, as it requires a different approach for each OS. Why? Because Apple’s App Store and Google Play have different practices and requirements regarding initial app release.
App Store verifies the release version quite thoroughly before approving the app, whereas Google Play has a quicker initial verification and approval process and starts an in-depth examination only after the app gains some traction and has a certain number of users. The difference in approval speed isn’t a problem for native apps because we upload separate code to each store. However, it can be problematic for cross-platform apps because we’ll get push notifications asynchronously, and it will take more time to fix the issues on both platforms.
Also, the more complex the app, the longer the release process takes. For example, for an e-commerce app, we need to provide the OS platform’s team with the merchant documentation and update the app every time new functionality is approved. To save time and keep the apps functional, we use DevOps tools (e.g., GitHub Actions) that help us automatically change code and release a new version after each push.
Another thing to keep in mind during the release stage is that each OS platform requires we provide a visual (i.e., graphical) demonstration of the app’s functionality. Our designers create these visuals, following each store’s format, size, and specifications requirements. Without them, the platforms reject the app.
After successfully releasing the app, it’s time to provide proper post-launch support and maintenance.
Post-launch support and maintenance
You can add these services separately from the other stages of development, or they can be a part of the development service package—it all depends on your needs.
What’s included in post-launch support and maintenance?
- Creating risk management strategies
- Updating the app (either manually or automatically)
- Addressing issues detected by the app store’s tech team after the release
- Fixing and patching third-party integrations
- Resolving security issues
These post-launch practices are important to provide users with a continuously smooth experience, prevent crashes, data breaches, unauthorized code alteration, and other costly intrusions, and overall, keep the mobile app performing at top quality.
Now that you know how an app is made, let’s see how long development takes.
How Long Does It Take to Develop an App?
The overall duration of mobile app development depends on many factors, such as product complexity, technologies used, budget, and so on. Here’s a ballpark time estimate:
- Preparation stage (challenge investigation, app store listing, receiving access certificates). From two days for simple apps to two weeks for complex apps like e-commerce, assuming that the partner provides all necessary documents proving legal commerce activity in a timely manner.
- Project setup (selecting tools, assembling the team, setting up the environment, API, and backend integration). About two weeks—faster for native apps and more time-consuming for cross-platform apps.
- Development—depends wholly on desired functionality.
- Release. About two weeks—the Android platform usually approves the first version within one business day, while Apple’s takes three to eight business days.
In total, it takes about four to five weeks to release the first version of a mobile app to the app stores, without the development stage, which is highly variable. However, more complex apps that require lots of integrations will take longer.
How much time will your mobile app development take? Contact our team and schedule a free consultation!
Mobile apps can increase your business’s revenue, harness customer data, enhance marketing campaigns, and provide a better customer experience. The app’s success depends on the quality of every stage of the mobile app development process.
To develop a high-performance app that tackles a business’s challenges and helps reach its goals, the business has to understand the app’s purpose and viability, design the app according to users’ needs, ensure it’s developed according to the business’s and regulatory requirements, and have a successful launch. Each of these steps requires deep tech expertise for the optimal outcome.
Since the app development process differs for every product, it’s best to discuss your product with a reliable tech partner. The Techstack team can help you avoid unnecessary expenses, choose scalable solutions, and set up a process to secure your product’s success. Contact us, and let’s talk about your mobile app!