Mobile App Development Phases
Users are spending 92.5% of their mobile phone time on mobile apps. It is now more crucial than ever to perfect an app to ensure users remain actively engaged and that they have motive to return.
Silverchip has provided mobile app development services since 2010, during this time we’ve developed and refined a set of best practices that has proven results delivering leading digital solutions and award-winning mobile products.
In this article, we’ve created a step-by-step guide covering the different stages involved in the mobile app development process to ensure your next mobile app project is set up for success. This process is designed to ensure product integrity, streamline development processes, decrease time-to-market and ultimately save on costs in the long run.
The very first stage of the mobile app development process is the discovery stage. During this stage, it’s important to establish the app's purpose, the user audience and what technologies will be used to create the app and how its success will be measured. The information captured will form the product strategy.
Discovery covers everything from app strategy, goals and objectives as well as extensive market research on comparable products and competitors, target audiences and user personas.
Establish the App’s Goals and Objectives
The goals and objectives will define the app's purpose. This helps set expectations for what the user should expect when engaging with your company or brand. Setting measurable goals and objectives will allow you to accurately measure the app's success.
Some examples of goals and objectives for an app can include:
- Increase sales
- Improve processes
- Grow app store rating
- Increase customer sign-ups / user engagement
Identify Target Audience and Create User Personas
Research is the backbone of any successful mobile app. It’s essential to know who will be using your product, demographics, characteristics, their motivations, lifestyle / behaviour patterns, and needs to build a product that best suits the users.
Use this information to create user personas and user stories. Understanding who will use the product will determine how design and functionality will be considered in the design stage.
Research App Competition
It’s important to research competitors and comparable apps on the market. A detailed study will help you better understand the market and competitors out there, putting your app in a much better position to stand out in a highly competitive space.
Competitor research can be more difficult for an internal app that is not consumer facing. However, researching apps in other industries with similar objectives will help overcome this.
Choosing the Technology
There are two mobile platforms - iOS and Android. Because of this, there are two ways you can develop an app. Which route you take will have implications down the line in terms of scalability, functionality, cost and time.
- Native development: This term refers to developing a mobile app exclusively for one platform, either iOS or Android. This type of app is built with programming languages specific to a platform. E.g. Kotlin and Java for Android and Objective-C and Swift for iOS.
Native development delivers a high performance application that delivers rich user experience and complex logic that can be updated with new functionality much easier in the future.
- Cross-platform development: This term refers to developing an app that works on multiple platforms. Using tools like React Native, whereby the apps can be deployed on both iOS and Android.
Cross-platform development is more cost-effective as you create one app for both platforms which saves time and money. However, with cross-platform development, you can risk sacrificing on the quality as the app requires an additional abstraction layer when running which results in lower performance. It is difficult to tailor an app that performs optimally on both platforms. It’s important to consider that it can be more difficult to customise the app beyond what is allowed in the framework.
Another important consideration during this phase is to understand if your mobile app will require integrations with third-party services e.g. Google Maps, PayPal, Stripe etc. either for launch or if there is scope in future to add any third-party integrations.
The process of requirements analysis is an important one that ensures end users’ needs are met, and they're able to use their system effectively. Requirements are classified from high-level to detailed, corresponding to business requirements, user requirements, and system requirements that are the most important. The last is what the system does, how well it performs, and whether it suits user goals and user point of view. This allows you to know all there's about your project before starting development.
Build A Product Roadmap
Once you have completed the above steps, the information gathered will be used to shape a project roadmap. Working with your stakeholders, forming a roadmap will act as a plan of action that directs the vision, priorities, key dates and ongoing progress of the app.
The design process is establishing the UI (user interface) and UX (user experience) of your app. The information gathered identifying the target audience and user personas will be used to create user journeys, this will help you wireframe the app.
Wireframing is a UX-based look at the mobile apps architecture, navigation and how the app will function, capturing the journey between screens. They are extremely useful for viewing the organisation of each screen and how many taps it may take to get from one screen to another within the app through conversion funnels.
An example of this is if your app has a login screen, that will then have to branch out to include a sign up registration screen, a forgotten password screen and a login option. The wireframe will create a visual mock-up of how the screens connect and all the available options you can select next from each screen.
Once the wireframe has been agreed, the next stage is to agree on the visual design of the app's main screens. Combining the target audience information and brand and/or style guide (colours, fonts etc), a designer will create mockups of how the app will look, incorporating styles, animations and transitions to ensure the app has smooth user experience and easy-to-use navigation.
Once the app's visual aesthetic has been agreed, a working prototype will then be created. A prototype will provide a first look at how the app will look, feel and function. This can be a sketch that will develop into an interactive test prototype that will resemble the final product.
The agreed prototype will then be given to a select group of users to test the app and to collect feedback. The final amendments will be made before moving onto the development stage.
Once you have a solid prototype and mapped out the user flow, it’s time to begin building the app.
Prior to development, it’s important to understand what tasks need to be done and how long each task is expected to take. These estimations will help form a schedule of priorities which will assist with the project management of the app build.
At Silverchip, we use an Agile methodology - breaking the development phases into sprints of two weeks, each focused on specific functionality. This helps with planning, efficient development, early deployment and ongoing enhancements. At the end of each sprint, a build is released for review and quality assurance testing. A QA (quality assurance) tester has specific acceptance criteria which will be reviewed and checked to ensure the functionality works correctly.
Important considerations for the development stage:
Choose an app architecture depending on the function requirements.
- Make sure that the backend can support the app's functionality requirements.
- Pick your desired framework, library and third-party solutions used in the app.
- APIs - Either for the system or with third-party plug ins / systems
- Design the database and create diagrams to assist with the database models
- Set up repositories, configure CI/CD in GitHub.
The development team collaborates with UI/UX designers and quality assurance engineers throughout this process. They meet regularly to discuss their progress, challenges faced while working on the project together, and suggestions for improvement or changes that could be made based on user feedback they receive throughout the process.
Maintaining effective communication between these core groups is essential, so everyone knows what's going on, including reporting back daily or weekly.
The testing stage is a necessary part of the development process. It is important to continually test the app in the early stages and to test often. This will prevent delays and unexpected bugs in the later stages.
Testing can be broken down into three stages;
Performance testing is the most essential part of ensuring your app works as it should. It determines how quickly an interface responds to user input, verifies that system integrity remains intact, and metrics resource consumption, so developers know when something needs optimising or upgrading before launch day.
Usability testing is essential for any app that wants to be successful. It allows the team developing it, or anyone else who might use your product in its final form once complete (e.g. customers), time to test their creations against realistic scenarios before releasing them onto an awaiting world full of potential errors and inconveniences - all without compromising quality.
Security testing is the best way to ensure your app remains secure. Any vulnerabilities can lead hackers to gain access not only personal user data but also sensitive data such as passwords or credit card numbers stored on mobile devices that would otherwise remain protected by encryption algorithms if implemented correctly at the development stage.
To ensure the quality of the app, it is best practice to perform beta testing. It involves external user tests- only those invited by the developer beta test their app, providing real feedback so they can understand any usability issues and recognise how enjoyable using said software might feel. Once beta testing is complete and no bugs remain, it is ready for deployment.
Now your app is ready to be submitted to the relevant app stores. It’s crucial to know that app stores have set policies for accepting and verifying apps. Apps submitted to the app stores go through a review process that can take anything from a few days up to months depending on the quality of the app and how closely it adheres to the guidelines. After submission, it is important to keep track of the performance and watch out for any trends.
The support stage is an ongoing process for any app updates, outages or support issues which need fixing. The support phase is also based on updates including new features and functions, user feedback recommendations or general enhancements and app updates. It’s important to time the product updates carefully as a well-timed app update can be a great way to re-engage your audience.
If you rush into development without thorough preparation and planning, your app is likely to fail. By following this step-by-step app development guide, you will be well on your way to launching a successful mobile app that users will love.