An app developer creating an app
Users visit 25% of applications only once after download

This guide will give you all the steps you need to take including planning, development and design to create a successful application.

In fact, professional mobile app development companies use these same steps to get their clients' apps from ideas to live products in the marketplace.

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Mobile App Development Guide & Process Overview

Global app downloads reached 33.6 billion in the first quarter of 2020 which is an all-time high with an increase of 20.3% YoY.

However, as the number of app installs significantly increases, 25% of applications are visited only once after download.

This highlights the fact that while many brands are trying to take advantage of the mobile app development trend, not all of them manage to build successful applications that retain and engage visitors.

And considering the huge investment, going unprepared for this process may not yield the desired outcome.

An effective mobile app development process comes down to four key steps:

  • Laying the groundwork: This step includes validating your app idea and developing a strategy that will ensure you create a product that is successful. From market research to deciding on the right platform and the best features and functionalities, we will cover all the key tactics that will make this process effective.
  • Designing the app: This step incorporates the actual design of the app or developing the frontend. Some key components that will be discussed are creating wireframes, designing with user experience in mind and building an interface that aligns with your brand and app strategy.
  • Developing the app: This step includes coding and developing the backend of the app. Some key tactics here include choosing mobile app development software and performing compatibility testing.
  • Deploying the app: The final step involves launching the app and submitting it to the marketplace.

How To Develop An App: Laying The Groundwork

From validating your app idea to defining your app’s key features based on strategic insights, these are the basic steps that you need to take before the actual mobile app development starts:

Step #1: Validate Your App Idea

According to research conducted by CB Insights, some of the most common reasons why startups fail are:

  • No market need (42%)
  • Get outcompeted (19%)
  • Have user-friendly product (17%)
  • Build a product without a business model (17%)
  • Ignore customers (14%)

All factors highlight the fact that having an app idea is not enough. And one of the biggest mistakes businesses make when launching their ideas is that they believe the audience will find them attractive.

mobile app development: the reasons why startups fail
[Source: CB Insights]

However, you can not achieve success based on assumptions.

Assumptions can be the reason why your app might slip through the cracks and go unnoticed.

And that’s mostly because without proper research you may:

  • Deliver a product that doesn’t solve any problems and issues and is totally unnecessary on the market
  • Limit the potential audience or the people who might be interested in your offering
  • Fail to deliver an intuitive user experience
  • Include too many features or fewer features than necessary
  • And more

The best way to ensure your app fits your future goals and that it is worth your time, money and effort is to validate it.

An app idea validation is about making sure you create something that people will want to see and use.

The process incorporates the following steps:

  • Discover the size of your potential market: You may have a great app idea that solves significant issues. However, if there are not enough people who might be interested in using it, then it is possible that it won’t be successful. This is why you need to find out how many searches there are for the specific keywords that describe your app. A few great tools like SEMRush, Adwords Google Keyword Planner Tool and Ahrefs can be quite handy here. Make sure you pay attention to:
    • Volume: That is the average number of monthly searches for given phrases - the bigger the volume is, the higher chance you get that your app will be popular.
    • Difficulty: This metric shows how difficult it is to compete with other apps on the market. The higher the percentage is, the harder it would be to make your app superior to other similar apps available in the app stores.
  • Define your target audience: For people to download and interact with your app, you need to understand who your target audience is. Every new visitor is a potential chance to secure a conversion which is why you should attract only those people who will be interested in the type of app you will build. To do so, you need to understand the current demographics, analyze their needs, discover their pain points and learn about the kind of issues they are facing by:
    • Developing a buyer persona and describing your ideal customer
    • Checking on competition
    • Reading threads on social media and forums
    • Interviewing current customers
    • Going through reviews and comments of similar existing apps
  • Find out what’s trending: While this step won’t give you info on what kind of apps your users resonate with, it will show you what most people are interested in. For instance, according to Sensor Tower, the most popular App Store categories in 2020 were games, photo & video, entertainment, utilities and social networking. Google Play Store’s most popular categories, on the other hand, were games, tools, entertainment, social and communication.
mobile app development: most popular App store categories
[Source: SensorTower]
mobile app development: most popular Google Play store categories
[Source: SensorTower]

Read our article 25+ Original App Ideas For 2021 for more info on how to come up with an app idea.

Step #2: Develop A Strategy For Your App

Developing a strategy for your application plays a major role in getting the desired results and delivering a successful product.

This step involves several key tactics including:

Think About Monetization

App monetization is the process of converting your app users into paying customers.

It incorporates various methods through which you can use your application to make money and generate ROI.

According to SensorTower, in the first half of 2020, the App Store made $32.8 billion and Google Play Store generated $17.3 billion from in-app purchases, subscriptions and premium purchases.

mobile app development: global consumer spending in mobile apps and games for first-half 2020
[Source: SensorTower]

Before we dive into the most popular app monetization models, let’s see how you can choose the right model for your app:

  • Consider your app: Depending on what your app does or what kind of problem it solves, some models will work better than others for specific types of apps. For instance, if you are in the retail sector, in-app purchases can be the best alternative. However, if you have an app that focuses on content heavily, then subscription models may work better for you.
  • Look at competition: Search for similar applications in app stores to determine potential monetization strategies. Find out what are competitors’ tactics, how well they work and think if you can spot a gap that presents an opportunity.
  • Think about your audience: Get to know your target market and their buying habits. Find out who they are, what they want and if they are willing to spend money on your application.

Some of the most popular monetization strategies include:

  • In-app purchases: This type of monetization model has become increasingly popular for free apps since it lets users make easy and quick purchases within the apps themselves. They can buy both physical and virtual items like gated features including extra lives in games.
  • Pay-per-download: This strategy includes paying a one-time-fee for app download. That way users will have full access to the application’s features and functionalities.
  • In-app advertising: Another way businesses can make money is by displaying advertisements in their apps. They can take advantage of various targeting options so that they can reach a specific audience. They are easy and quick to implement and app owners can generate three types of ad revenue: Cost per Click (CPC), Cost per Thousand Impressions (CPM) and Cost per Action (CPA). Some of the most popular in-app advertising formats are:
    • Native ads
    • Banner ads
    • Interstitial ads
    • Video ads
    • Reward ads
    • Affiliate Ads
  • Freemium: The freemium model means that users can download the app for free. However, they need to pay for additional premium features. The biggest advantage of this strategy is that users can experience the app first without spending any money on it. This makes it easier to entice them to pay for extra items.
  • Sponsorships: Also known as partnerships or influencer marketing, it is a model that involves partnering with another business with a large user base similar to yours which you can connect with. This type of collaboration can be a great way for higher brand exposure that might result in a higher number of visitors, downloads and revenue.
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Choose The Right Platform To Develop For

Before the mobile app development process starts, you need to decide which platform to develop your app for.

There are two approaches to mobile app development: native and cross platform.

Native mobile app development is the process of creating applications exclusively for a specific platform.

Developers use the languages compatible with the platform. For example, when building native apps for iOS devices, they use Objective C and Swift. When developing Android native apps, on the other hand, they use Java.

Let’s have a look at the pros and cons of native mobile app development.

Pros:

  • Better compliance with store guidelines
  • High and fast app performance
  • Maximum app lifetime
  • Flexible and scalable apps
  • Fewer restrictions in architecture and function
  • Outstanding user experience
  • Accessibility to new features
  • Consistent look and feel

Cons:

  • Higher development and maintenance cost
  • More time-consuming process

Cross platform mobile app development is the process of building mobile apps that are compatible with various operating systems and platforms.

Developers build cross platform apps through a shared operating environment like Xamarin.

Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of cross platform mobile app development:

Pros:

  • Faster development speed
  • Fewer professionals are required
  • Code reusability is available

Cons:

  • Performance Challenges
  • Limited user experience
  • Long wait time for new features support
  • Poor customization and native features integration

While native apps seem to be the winner when it comes to performance and experience, the choice of the right development method should depend on the type of your app.

For instance, simple applications like games are often developed using the cross-platform approach.

Businesses that need an app that incorporates many features and needs to be updated and improved continuously, typically invest in native mobile app development.

If you decide that a native app would be a better option for you, then you need to make another decision on whether you should develop it for iOS or Android devices.

The following factors can help you make a smarter choice:

  • Audience: Android is the leading operating system (OS) on the market with a share of 71.18%. iOS is the second most popular platform that holds a portion of 28.19%. However, while you may believe that Android is the best choice based on these numbers, you should also consider the audience location. As StatCounter states, Android is the preferred OS among people based in the UK, the US and Japan whereas iOS users are mostly located in Western Europe, India, Nigeria and China.
  • Spending habits: According to Statista, in the third quarter of 2020, Google Play Store generated $10.3 billion. App Store’s revenue amounted to $19 billion, which is almost half more when compared to Google Play Store’s revenue. These numbers indicate that iOS users spend more than Android users from which we can assume that they are also more loyal. Therefore, if your business goal is to increase brand loyalty, then developing for iPhone audiences can be the best choice.
  • Revenue generation: Depending on your app monetization strategy, one platform can be a better option than the other. But, before you decide, consider the fact that, in 2020, 7.7% of all iOS applications and only 3.5% of all Android apps were paid. From this, we can conclude that iOS users are more likely to download paid apps than Android users.
  • Development possibilities: Unlike Android, iOS is a closed platform. This comes with certain limitations like personalization and the choice of features and functionalities when building an app.
  • Project timeline: While there are thousands of Android devices, there are currently only 130 unique iOS devices. It means that when building an app for Android users, you need to adapt it to a huge number of different screens and sizes. So, if you are on a thigh timeline and need your app to be launched fast, then iOS can be the best pick.
  • Development cost: The cost of your app is an important factor that mainly depends on the lines of code and hours of work. Typically, Android applications are more costly than iOS applications because:
    • The platform powers a higher number of devices, which is why
    • It takes longer to build and test them
leading operating systems on the market
[Source: StatCounter]

Optimize The App User Journey

Having an active user base is the key to long-term application success. However, to keep your users around and engaged, you need to find out what their challenges, expectations and motivations are.

In other words, you should understand what makes users complete a purchase, take the desired action or what pushes them away.

By mapping the user journey, you can collect meaningful insights on how to optimize the user experience. This is a key step that will allow you to eliminate pain points and any problems that your potential customers may have on the path to conversion.

To map the mobile app user journey, take the following steps:

  • Create a list of interaction points and channels: Identity all the points at which your users get in touch with your mobile application like websites, social media, push notifications, other apps and more. You can also conduct surveys with your audience and perform competitive analysis to get a more detailed picture.
  • Develop user personas based on user interaction: Understand the different types of user behavior based on how various visitors interact with your app with the help of data analytics and create different personas for each of them. This step will help you find out what visitors want from your app as well as what type of features and functionalities to add in order to optimize their experience.
  • Identify obstacles and remove them: Look at your list of critical points and the reasons that prevent users from moving from one conversion stage to another. Then, make sure you remove them and implement new solutions and features to enhance the user journey.
  • Test new features and functionalities: Once you optimize the user journey, make sure you conduct A/B testing to see how the new features and functionalities you add perform. Then, make any further changes if necessary.

We recommend continually optimizing your mobile app using fresh data for getting better results.

Consider The Mobile Marketing Funnel

The mobile marketing funnel, also known as conversion or sales funnel, refers to the sales process or the stages the users go through from the moment they get in touch with your app to the moment they make a purchase and beyond.

They include:

  • Awareness stage: During this stage, your audience becomes aware of your app’s existence and your brand. However, there are different ways people can discover your app. Whether it is app store search, web search or social media advertisement, you need to take the different methods into account to make sure your application reaches your target group. There are a variety of strategies you can implement to ensure greater exposure:
    • Organic strategies:
      • App store optimization
      • Social media marketing
      • Social bookmarking
      • Web forums
      • Content marketing
    • Paid strategies:
      • App advertising
      • Affiliate marketing
      • Retargeting
  • Consideration: The consideration stage includes making efforts to build trust among the audience. Here businesses can build a dedicated app page where they can provide users with trusted content to guide their decisions. They can implement different strategies like showcasing their app ratings and reviews to highlight achievements and customer satisfaction.
  • Conversion: In this stage, your audience takes action and downloads your mobile application. Though, for different businesses conversion may refer to different goals like in-app purchases or subscriptions. Whatever your specific goal is, a key strategy to incorporate here is to make the process as seamless as possible. It means that you should ensure a smooth onboarding and an intuitive user interface.
  • Customer relationships: To build meaningful customer relationships, you should continuously provide your app users with some kind of value. Some key strategies you can take advantage of are asking for feedback, personalizing in-app messaging, sending push notifications, offering discounts and more.
  • Retention: The last stage of the mobile marketing funnel focuses on delivering an outstanding customer experience with the aim to keep the current user base and get more returning clients. To master this stage and drive brand loyalty, update your in-app content regularly, ask for feedback, offer reward programs, give discounts and more.

Think About Who Will Execute Your Mobile App Development Process

Do you have an in-house team that can develop an app from scratch?

Or do you lack the expertise and you need to hire a professional mobile app development company?

If you are searching for a skilled app developer, then browse DesignRush directory of carefully vetted agencies to choose a partner with confidence.

They have been ranked based on thorough selection criteria including the following qualifications:

  • Portfolios and case studies
  • Industry reputation and thought leadership
  • Business leaders and team expertise
  • Clients and reviews

Here are some quick links to make your search easier:

DesignRush agency selection criteria

Evaluate Your Platform Guidelines

App development project managers should first review the guidelines for the app’s platform, before executing the project.

Android and iOS platforms have different guidelines for the apps in their stores. It is very important for the developer to adhere to these guidelines. Not doing so can result in application rejection.

Project managers should know about these guidelines in advance in order to avoid having to make revisions. These revisions can incur additional costs for the mobile app development project.

Create App Requirements Document

Your app requirements should exist in the form of written output. Creating the app requirements document helps all parties, sectors and teams to be on the same page as the development project advances.

This formal document should contain all your requirements regarding the application, such as functionalities, features and interface elements.

This will help with task management during the execution phase. Additionally, communicating this via a document instead verbally will reduce confusion in the process.

Step #3: Define The Key Features Based On Strategic Insights

Defining, evaluating and prioritizing features plays a major role in the mobile app development process.

Features are distinctive attributes that provide value to your visitors and enhance their experience with the app.

They can refer to:

  • UI design
  • Capabilities
  • Performance
  • Components

When deciding on what features to implement, picture your product’s end user and pay attention to the following factors:

  • Goal: What problems will they solve? What is their purpose?
  • Description: How will they serve users? What action will they make them take?
  • Benefit: What value they will bring to the users?
  • Initiative: How will they align with the app’s theme?
  • UX: What is the desired user experience for this feature?
  • Competition: Has your competition used something similar? How can you make these better?

Mapping buyer personas will make certain that all the features you choose to use deliver value to your audience and match your business objectives.

Some of the key features that can make an app successful are:

  • Simple navigation: Intuitive navigation is a key factor that improves the experience and makes users stick longer in the app. Simple navigation means a minimum number of clicks and actions, less scrolling, clear menu, fast speed and intuitive design which are major players in user retention.
  • Push notifications: These are gentle reminders that make users revisit the app and take some sort of action. They can appear in the form of daily updates, discounts and promotions and are a great way to stimulate interest and enhance brand consistency.
  • Ratings and reviews: They provide users with valuable info on the reputation of the app and what it offers, give a sneak peek into its products and show if they are worth the users’ time and money.
  • Seamless checkout: Seamless checkouts are the key to more successful purchases. Make them as easy as possible by eliminating unnecessary fields or too much information that irritates and confuses the users.
  • Search option: This is a key feature that allows visitors to find what they need quickly. This improves user experience, builds brand loyalty and contributes to more returning clients.
  • Secure payments: Secure and multiple payment methods increase credibility and improve brand loyalty. They make shopping safer and make users feel at ease giving their personal data away.
  • Chat service: An in-app chat is a cost-effective alternative to call support. It allows users to get immediate responses to their questions which ultimately improves user satisfaction.

Another key feature that seeks special attention is a call to action (CTA). It is a marketing term in the form of an image or a line of text that prompts the users to take a specific action.

Different applications will use different CTAs depending on their unique objectives. And they should be designed with the aim to serve the target market and the business goal.

For instance, the ultimate goal of a shopping app would be to increase the number of sales. So, common CTAs here will include:

  • Buy now
  • Free trial
  • Discover
  • Try
  • Limited

To define the right CTAs for your app, make sure you determine your app’s:

  • Macro conversions or the primary goals of your application
  • Micro conversions or the steps that can help you reach the end goal

Stickiness also plays a major role in user retention and contributes to more returning clients.

Again, depending on your business goals, some key features that will keep your visitors coming back include:

  • Efficient onboarding
  • Push notifications like discounts, updates, sales
  • Personalization
  • Email marketing
  • In-app messages
  • Reward programs

In addition, businesses should pay attention to including mobile app marketing strategy features that will expand their app’s reach.

Some of these may be:

  • Optimize your application for app stores
  • Publish press releases
  • Create highly shareable content
  • Include social sharing buttons
  • Consider location-based offers
  • Distribute your application as a widget on websites
  • Translate your app into multiple languages
  • Create a referral program
  • Promote your app on social media and websites

Read our article How To Market Your App + 5 App Marketing Platforms To Use for more info on the best ways to promote your application.

How To Create A Mobile App: Defining The UX & UI

This stage incorporates developing the visual look or the app’s frontend and the main goal is to create seamless user experiences with a polished look.

Here several steps follow:

Step #4: Design User Experience Strategically

The purpose of an app design is to ensure an intuitive user experience. And to make sure your users are delighted to interact with your product, you need to design the UX strategically.

Here are a few actionable tips and best practices that you should follow to make your mobile application more engaging:

  • Keep CTAs front and center
  • Keep menus short
  • Don't use full screen promotions that cover content
  • Include a search button and if applicable implement filters to allows users to narrow results
  • Avoid clutter
  • Have a clear visual hierarchy
  • Make product images expandable
  • Keep content consistent between screens
  • Make text legible
  • Allow users to explore before they commit
  • Make it possible for visitors to purchase as guests
  • Make payments quick and easy
  • Streamline information entry
  • Have a visual calendar for date selection
  • Offer several payment options

When it comes to optimizing the user experience the list is never-ending.

The point is to ensure that every feature you incorporate on your app has a purpose and provides users with value, allowing them to navigate easily around and boosting engagement.

Step #5: Design Wireframes To Visually Map Out Your Content

During the mobile app development process, it is important to document and wireframe your future app in order to get a better overview of its functionalities.

Before the actual wireframing takes place, it helps to sketch your vision of the app product, in detail.

This can help you discover certain usability issues and trace your steps in the development process. It is also a very powerful tool of collaboration between teams.

Wireframing the sketched idea will refine it and arrange the components of the design in a way that can help you overcome technical limitations in the development process.

Besides wireframing the app, you can also come up with a roadmap during this stage, to help define the relationship between each of the app’s screens and pinpoint how the users will navigate through them.

Don’t forget to focus on user experience and remember to incorporate your brand visual elements on these pages.

This stage should result in a better understanding of how your app’s features come together to form a functional app.

Step #6: Design The Interface In Keeping With Both Your Brand & App Strategy

Coding the design of your app usually consists of two basic elements:

  • The user experience (UX), for which the UX designer creates the interaction between elements
  • The user interface (UI), for which the UI designer builds the feel and the look of the app

This stage of the mobile app development process may contain multiple steps in itself and should result in blueprints and a visual direction that will inform the app developers and engineers of the final product’s appearance.

It should also inform developers about the way the app will feel and flow.

Depending on the scope of the project, as well as your app budget, the design stage could take hours or days.

Your designers should create different screen variations by playing around with a navigation layout and other visual elements that will be aligned with your brand.

The UX will be more original if your app design varies more than the others on the market.

How To Develop Your Mobile App: Bringing It To Life

It’s coding time!

Here, your app developers will use various programming languages to create your application’s backend and deliver a fully functional product.

The next steps are:

Step #7: Choose The Mobile App Development Software/Tech Stack

Before the actual development starts, you need to decide on the best mobile app development software or tech stack.

A tech stack refers to a set of programming languages, software products, libraries, tools, frameworks and UX solutions that your developers will employ to execute the mobile app development process.

Making the right choice comes down to several factors:

  • The platforms the software powers
  • The available features and functionalities of multi-channel and multi-platform options
  • The possibilities of integration of core mobile backend services
  • The ease of integration with APIs and backend systems
  • The diversity of payment gateways
  • The option for compatibility testing
  • The availability of debugging features

Some of the top-rated software platforms on the market are:

  • Appery (Android, iOS, Windows)
  • AppyPie (Android, iOS)
  • Swing2App (Android, iOS)
  • Xamarin (Android, iOS, Windows)
  • Appcelerator (Android, iOS, Windows,browser-based HTML5 applications )
We’ve put together a hybrid app development guide.
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Step #8: Develop The Backend

After creating the app design and designing UX elements, developers put everything into action or do the actual realization and coding of your app.

As the app idea matures, your development team should create a working prototype to validate the functionality of the app and provide an insight into the scope of the project.

The app will go through a set of different stages as the development advances. In the beginning development phases, the core functionality may not be tested yet and the non-core functionalities do not exist yet.

In the stage that follows, many functionalities are incorporated - the app has, presumably, gone through testing and bug fixing. At this stage, the app can be released to a group of external users that would test it.

After the bugs have been fixed in this second stage, the app will move forward to the deployment phase.

The mobile app development process can benefit from the agile development methodology which is helpful with flexibility and changes of plans, progressive development, early deployment and constant improvements.

Step #9: Device And Platform Testing

Testing your app should happen often and, if possible, during every stage of the development process.

Frequent testing increases the chances of catching a severe error or a bug that can help with keeping final costs low.

It is a common mistake to think that the app should be tested only once it’s finished. The deeper you are in the development process, the more vital it is to fix the bugs which you can only detect if you test what you have at each stage.

Your company team, as well as the development agency team that actually builds the app, should test all the important facets of your app, such as:

  • Usability
  • Security
  • Platform compatibility
  • Interface
  • Stress
  • Performance

User acceptance testing, which consists of giving the app to select people in your target audience and asking them relevant questions about it, will help you discover whether your mobile app works for its intended users.

Through the enrollment of identified user groups or participant solicitation, make your app available for a beta test. Beta users can provide feedback about the app’s functions and how they operate in real life.

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With The Mobile App Development Process Completed, It’s Deployment Time!

Finally, after your application is being tested and fully developed, the next step is launching it.

Step #10: Submitting To The Marketplace

At the launch stage, choose your release date carefully and try to find a date that won’t coincide with the release of a similar app by a more well-known brand, because this may reduce the visibility of your app release.

Different app stores have different launch policies so be sure you are familiar with your store’s terms and conditions.

To submit your app to an app store, you need to have a developer account.

In addition, you should also prepare key components like:

  • The app’s title
  • The app description
  • The app category
  • The keywords describing the app
  • The launch icon
  • The product screenshots and videos

Once submitted, it will take a few days for the app store to review it and approve it.

With the release, the mobile app development process doesn’t truly end: the development cycle begins again!

As the app is launched, first user reviews will start to pour in. So, you should keep an eye out for negative reviews regarding the UI, UX or general functionalities. This will allow you to incorporate this feedback into future versions of the app and improve it.

What’s more, make sure you monitor its usage through mobile analytics platforms continuously and track important KPIs.

This is a key step that will help you track engagement, spot issues, fix bugs and make further improvements.

Takeaways On Mobile App Development

From the basic steps to app store launch this mobile app development master guide helps businesses and developers take their app from an idea to the marketplace.

The steps on how to create a mobile app include:

  • Validate your app idea
  • Develop a strategy for your application
    • Think about monetization
    • Choose the right platform to develop for
    • Optimize the app user journey
    • Consider the mobile marketing funnel
    • Think about who will execute your mobile app development process
    • Evaluate your platform guidelines
    • Create app requirements document
  • Define the key features based on strategic insights
  • Design user experience strategically
  • Design wireframes to visually map out your content
  • Design the interface in keeping with both your brand & app strategy
  • Choose the app development software/tech stack
  • Develop the backend
  • Test the app
  • Submit the app to the marketplace
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