The Process of Mobile App Development: 6 Stages of Building Your App
According to the current estimation, the worldwide mobile app revenue in 2020 was as high as $581.9 billion and is expected to increase by $100+ billion every year. More and more companies are joining the mobile world not only because it’s convenient for their customers (although it surely is) but also because such an approach pays off. However, once you dive into the matter there appear dozens of tough questions you want to get answers to. Let’s start with the basics — how to develop a mobile app?
Opinions may vary, but we single out 6 mobile app development process steps:
- Creating a strategic plan.
- App (UI/UX) design.
- App development.
- App launch.
- App support.
Stage 1: Creating an app development plan
In fact, this statement is not entirely true as the very first step doesn’t come from the app development company — it comes from the client. The client formulates the idea that is going to be implemented and promoted with the help of your future app and brings the idea to the app developers who’re going to work on it. Sometimes, app developers can help you revise the idea to make it more effective or more specific. For example, this is how the mobile app development company Surf works — we discuss the client’s concept and, in the process of our cooperation, our clients adapt it or make it more specific. Now, it’s the company’s turn to engage in the matter.
Although this step is not directly connected to the enterprise mobile app development process, that’s what big and reliable companies like Surf do. Starting with a competitor analysis is essential because app development companies (as the majority of all companies, in fact) want their clients to cooperate with them again and again.
To ensure this, companies first perform a thorough market analysis and check which similar mobile apps already exist. If there are some (or many) of them, the company examines their major faults and advantages to avoid the former and strengthen the latter in the app they’re creating for you.
If your case is unusual or complicated, some companies (Surf included) add the Customer Development stage to prove in real terms that you’re moving in the right direction.
Preparing a product roadmap/Customer journey map
As the whole process of getting a mobile app developed is long (on average, it takes about 4 to 6 months) and complicated, the creation of a so-called “map” is vital for this procedure. It can be called differently, for example, in Surf we call it CJM — a Customer Journey Map. Companies need it to comprehend the problems of their clients, to ensure the expected growth, and to have the edge over the competitors.
During this stage, the team also works on the product backlog — a list of matters, elements, insights, and ideas that have been generated while working on the product. It would be a mistake to say that the backlog creation belongs to one stage, as it’s a lengthy process that never stops.
Questions you have to consider
As the app development company works closely with its clients during the first stage, there are many questions you should study in-depth together. What are the objectives of your project? What is your target audience? What investments are required? What’s the forecasted timeframe for developing your app? Which type of app support will you receive when the app is launched?
This list is not exhaustive, of course, as all projects differ. But it at least provides insight into what important issues you have to keep in mind when establishing communication with your app builders.
Stage 2: App (UI/UX) design
When you want a mobile app for your product, you want your users to effortlessly interact with it and be sure it performs its functions without any flaws. Any app is first and foremost a user-oriented product, and the more user-friendly it is, the higher the chances of a download are. To guarantee seamless interaction with the app, developers give a lot of attention to the user interface (UI) and user experience (UX) design.
UI design is responsible for the visual medium that determines the way users see the app. UX design is about the way users interact with your app. Both factors are extremely important as, speaking about a user, the first impressions are most lasting. We can’t afford to make mistakes at this stage as this is the way an app “sells” itself to your potential customers.
Information architecture and workflows
Information architecture is a design model, in which we specify all the information about the app, its functions, and interface. In an ideal scenario, the technology architecture should be completed before we pass to the matters of design. In some cases, for example, it’s not only about the app itself but also about the way this app interacts with the platform.
Imagine that your app is aimed at helping users manage their work schedule. In this case, it can interact with the system clock, and this feature will also be dictated by the information architecture of the app. As for the workflows, they show how the users interact with the app in a step-by-step mode.
To create an app, mobile app designers should first build its “general picture”. It is similar to creating sketches on paper; their digital forms are called wireframes. As your future app has its functional requirements, wireframes are needed to realize how these requirements will be implemented in it.
When working with wireframes, the designer concentrates on the user experience and the general aesthetics, not colors and styles. Wireframes usually depict the most important UI elements like buttons, sliders, lists, icons, progress bars, etc. They show the size of the elements and their placements in the app layouts. They show no wireframe-to-wireframe interaction.
When dealing with wireframes, the app designers shouldn’t forget about the devices the app will later be installed on. No matter if your user will work with the app on iPhone, iPad, or an Android device; it should, in any case, be intuitively easy to use.
Style guides are first and foremost about standards and consistency. They are the guidelines that include all the information necessary for the design strategy of your app. They include the info about font families, color schemes, and the way your company brand will be reflected in the app design. The sooner your style guide is chosen and approved, the better. In this case, it will not only increase the productivity of app developers but also help your app look consistent. There are other things to keep in mind, too — for example, Surf app designers always remember to take the guidelines for iOS from Apple and those for Android from Google into account.
Mockups are the final implementations of your app’s design. They are a combination of the wireframes and the style guide of your app. Now, you can already see your app in the way its future users will see it. The most popular tools for working on mockups are Figma, Sketch, and Adobe Photoshop. In Surf, we create them in Figma.
Mockups are used to display static designs; prototypes, in their turn, show us the design “in motion.” They can be called (and even serve as) demo versions of your app and are very useful for simulating the real user experience. Prototypes are time-consuming projects, but they’re essential when it comes to testing.
Some app development companies prefer to create prototypes at the stage of wireframing when the requirements for the functions of the future app are not yet thoroughly formulated. The most widely-used tools for prototyping are Figma, Balsamiq, and InVision.
Surf employs Figma to work on both mockups and prototypes. Although we still sometimes use InVision to create interactive prototypes, Figma appears to us to be the most convenient tool as it provides all the features we require.
Stage 3: App development
Here it is — the actual development stage. It’s not simple and includes developing parts of the code, testing, and building an app that can be further installed. The whole process consists of three parts: back-end/server technology, APIs, and the mobile front-end.
The first part includes server-side objects, as well as the database necessary for supporting the functions of your app. If app developers use the existing backend platform, some changes can be required to ensure the needed functionality of the app. The server-side objects created during this process should be adapted and then tested together with the other app components.
API is an Application Programming Interface. These are software pieces that are aimed at connecting both the app and the back-end server as well as the app and all the other components of the operational system.
The front-end is what your users will interact with. In the majority of cases, mobile apps include interactive user experiences that employ the back-end APIs for managing data. In some cases, for example, when users need offline maps or other offline services, the app can make use of internal data storage.
When choosing the programming language for the app, different app development companies are guided by different reasons. The major requirement here is that the language should be supported by server technology.
The matter becomes a bit more complicated when it comes to native mobile apps as app developers should pick one of the recommended technology stacks, e.g. Kotlin for Android apps and Swift for iOS. There is normally more than one language and technology stack suitable for your app; the task of the app developers is to pick the most suitable one.
In Surf, the languages that we choose depend on the type of the app developed. For native apps, we use Kotlin when building an app for Android and Swift when it’s built for iOS. If a cross-platform app is needed, we work with Flutter as we consider it the most convenient software development kit.
Agile development approach
Mobile technology is developing extremely fast nowadays with new versions of mobile OS platforms released every couple of months. Besides, new mobile devices come to the market regularly, too. All these factors make agility an indispensable approach employed by the majority of app development companies. Surf is no exception in using the agile development approach.
The essence of the agile mobile app development process is working with the whole development process in cycles. After the team has analyzed the workload, the whole process is divided into sprints. In Surf, each sprint lasts for 2 to 4 weeks. We try to make sure each iteration results in a new app configuration that includes new features. The Surf team is always adaptable to the requirements and requests and aims at creating a high-quality product.
Stage 4: Testing
Testing your mobile app is as important as developing it. It can even be more important — let’s see why.
Quality Assurance (QA)
Using quality assurance testing in the app development process ensures the stability, usability, and security of your app. To perform this testing, the developers should first prepare test cases that touch upon all the development aspects.
They first perform test cases recording the results for future evaluation and then mark all the required fixes aiming at retesting them. To reach the best results, the most reliable app development companies aim at involving their teams in all the previously mentioned stages.
As Surf is very serious about the services it provides, its QA team consists of 13 people who use a wide range of gadgetry to test every single feature manually. Besides, the team can boast of vast experience in test automation.
User experience testing
This step aims at making sure that the way your app looks at the final stage coincides with the user experience originally produced by the app designers. Before we pass to the functionality of the app, its creators should be sure that it has the right style and font families, a clear and attractive icon design, and easy navigation.
Remember that the visual part of the app is the thing your users will notice first. You have only one chance to make a great first impression!
In the interaction with your mobile app, its functionality is crucial. To test it, app development companies try to employ as many users as possible. The thing is, different people react in totally different ways to the same circumstances. For example, two users can fill in the same form but enter different information; luckily, such testing can help notice it and prevent all the possible bugs.
Some questions should be asked during the performance testing of your app. For example:
- Does the app respond to the users’ requests quickly?
- What is the size of your app? Is it bigger than it’s supposed to be?
- Does your app drain the battery of the device too quickly?
- How fast do the screens of the app load?
Even if the app meets all the basic criteria, the team should test APIs and the backend simulating a very big number of people using it at simultaneously. They have to make sure the app performs well under such extreme conditions, too.
When creating a quality mobile app, its security is always a matter of concern for app development companies. One potential mistake is enough for a hack or a data leakage. That’s why companies either hire outsource agencies to perform the testing of the new app or make sure their QA team takes all the necessary measures to avoid such consequences.
First, the log-in sessions are tracked both on the device and the backend. Second, if the user remains idle for some time (normally about 10 minutes or less) the session is immediately terminated. The data entry forms within the mobile app are also tested to make sure no data leakages are possible. Most payment apps add extra security features like two-factor authentication.
Device and platform testing
New mobile devices enter the market all the time; versions of mobile OS are also updated regularly, normally every several months. Big mobile manufacturers like Samsung or LG customize Android for their mobile devices of different shapes and sizes. In the case of Apple and iOS, the situation is more stable, but there are still numerous iPhone and iPad devices represented in the market at the same time.
This information makes the app testing on all the existing mobile devices a complicated task. That’s why some companies produce their apps for iOS first, and only after this, if needed, they adapt it to the Android platform. However, the testing stage is vital despite all the challenges caused by it and can’t be dealt without under any circumstances.
As Surf is a major app development company with 10+ years of experience, we have enough specialists to work in the way needed for the development of a particular app. When creating native apps, two teams work simultaneously; one of the teams can get ahead, of course, but in any case, the gap between them won’t go beyond a couple of weeks.
Stage 5: App launch
The Day X of every app development is its release. Now, it’s not only you and your app development team who will assess the new app. First, your app is submitted to Apple App Store and Google Play Store. As for the App Store, things are more complicated, and you may have to wait for a couple of days to several weeks until your app is approved. The waiting period depends on the quality of the created app and on the facts if it meets the requirements of the iOS development guidelines.
When it comes to Play Store, the process is much easier. Android apps require no review process, so your app will be available for download a few hours after it’s submitted.
Before the app development team submits your app, it should check such important factors as the app’s
- App Store screenshots.
Stage 6: App support and maintenance services
The release of the app is only the beginning of a long way of working with it. Now, your app will require constant support from you and your team. You will have to examine the way it’s operating after the release and make sure your app remains healthy. Another important factor here is tracking the KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) of your app and making sure they meet your expectations.
In the case with mobile apps, the feedback from your users is one of the crucial points you have to pay attention to. Ask the app users to tell you what they think of the app, what bugs they notice, and what, in their opinion, should be done to make the app more comfortable to work with and more user-friendly. Don’t forget that your app should be constantly updated, too, to meet the latest demands and requirements of mobile platforms and operational systems.
Some big app development companies may offer you their service in maintaining the app after its release and even promoting it, if necessary. In Surf, we help our clients to develop their apps. Here’s what we do:
- set up the analytics of users
- with the help of user analytics, gather ideas for the subsequent app development
- help to fill up the backlog
- help with the A/B testing of new features.
The process of mobile app development: conclusions
As you can see, the process of development of any app, from the simplest one to the most complicated project, follows strict rules and contains 6 big and indispensable stages. Let us enumerate them again:
- Formulating the idea and creating a plan.
- Creating the app (UI/UX) design.
- App development.
- App launch.
- App support.
In Surf, we support our clients at every part of every app development stage, providing a high-quality app development service. To get more information about the development of your app, ask us here: