Jan 21, 2021 Written by David Barlev

App Development 101: Breaking Down Mobile Development

A team of workers at a table

Have you ever wondered about mobile app development and how it works? You’re not alone. More and more businesses are turning to custom apps to reach customers in new and more personalized ways. With so many varieties of mobile apps to pick from, it’s worth knowing what it takes to develop this kind of software.

Building mobile apps is expensive. The biggest companies out there spend hundreds of thousands of dollars researching what users like so they can create a program that will sell. By learning from them, you can avoid making rookie mistakes that will turn users off your app.

More than half of all web traffic occurs via smartphone these days, and the major players in that game are Apple devices and Android devices. To build a successful mobile app, it helps to know what developing for these devices entails.

Let’s break down mobile development.

Why Differences in Devices Matter

A phone on a laptopAndroid and iOS use different programming languages. Just a few years ago, this was a much bigger challenge than it is today. Software developers used to be divided based on the kinds of software they could produce. Today, that’s all changed.

Even if developers aren’t familiar with both programming languages (which they usually are), app frameworks now offer universal compatibility that can lighten the load on niche coding skills.

Thanks to responsive design and platforms like Flutter and Cookiecutter, it’s easier than ever to build an app that works for all platforms, rather than having to build them separately. If you have an idea for what you want your app to be, there’s never been a better time to breathe life into that dream.

This may not be the same for more complex apps, since they usually carry some different requirements. An app that can handle a wide variety of operations while hosting tons of user data will more likely have to be developed as a native app. While this approach can be more expensive, it’s important to do it right.

What’s Available?

Apps are built in a few different ways. Native apps are built from the ground up to work with a device’s own code, allowing for seamless usability. These kinds of apps also allow for more offline functionality by storing more information on the phone, rather than hosting it on a remote server.

The “opposite” of a native app is a web app, where all program and user data is hosted and stored online. Web apps are more commonly used by desktop computers since they require faster and better hardware than smartphones.

In between the two are hybrid apps, where users download a program that launches a web app from within the phone’s own software. These apps can lack in customization and features, but they are cost-effective. If you have a simple app idea that needs to be usable by both iOS and Android users, hybrid apps can be an easy way to get it out the door.

Recently, Google launched Flutter, which is a framework able to develop native apps compatible with most smartphone devices. More and more developers have started to use this format over the past couple of years, thanks to its ease of development and deployment. While they aren’t recommended for complex programs, Flutter apps provide an easy road to launching custom business software.

Start with a Plan

A man writing some kind of blueprintsIf you’re at the point where developing a custom mobile app is on the radar, chances are you have some general idea of how to approach your project. Still, it’s important to clearly define your expectations, such as how users will operate the program and what it’ll take to successfully market it.

Without the right planning in place beforehand, you could end up bankrupting your project before it has a chance to launch. Good planning can prevent late changes that undermine your app’s structure.

Who are you trying to build for? Will your app cater to a younger audience? Is the mobile app meant to be used by employees or consumers?

All these questions are important to ask before beginning work on mobile development. Without knowing who to target, you will end up spending lots of time and money figuring it out. The majority of failed apps go out by its developers never knowing what it needs to be.

Walk Through Use Cases

Have you ever stumbled across some great product that nobody else seemed to know about? This is what happens when businesses fail to ask basic marketing questions. When someone opens your mobile app, what will they see? Why would you tailor the product this way?

Marketing isn’t just about how to sell an app—it’s about how a product will be used. One part of this is user interface design (UI). How can you make your app as easy to use as possible?

One way is to draft some use cases, where you put yourself in the shoes of users and detail exactly what the app looks and feels like. Each operation must be planned out and coded. Nothing in an app happens by accident (at least nothing good), so make sure your use cases are thorough. This also helps your developer team better meet your expectations.

Marketing Is Launching

An app is an investment and an expensive one at that. The best way to recoup those costs is for many people to use it, and that means they have to know about it.

While marketing may seem like a tangential part of app development, it’s a critical part of your product’s rollout. The right development team can help you plan for a strong launch, so make sure you ask your candidates about their experience marketing apps.

Ask how your app improves its users’ lives. The more concise your understanding of the product, the better it will turn out in development.

Finding the Right Team for Mobile Development

A group of team mates at a software companyPlan your app, then look for a team. Why? So that you know what to look for when reviewing portfolios. If you know what you like, it’ll be easier to spot what you don’t like.

Is there an app out there that outperforms all the others in your eyes? Write down what makes it pop. If possible, look for who developed it. Even if you don’t end up hiring them, they may have a recommendation for someone else whose style matches yours.

Make a list of five design studios that seem like suitable candidates. Ask about their app building process and philosophy. Poke around to see if they have any tips for how to make your app work better. Finally, make sure there’s a concrete timeline with well-defined expectations for the project.

This is important because, without clear expectations, disagreements arise that can hinder communication and make the whole process more frustrating. Be upfront. If something seems too expensive or time-consuming, politely ask for an explanation and see what may be able to change.

Finally, trust your developer. The better your rapport with them, the more care they will take with your project. Plan, work, and be nice.

Good luck!

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