Understanding the Mobile App Development Cycle

February 21, 2020
Vlad Averin

In this guide, we’ll explain exactly what the mobile app development cycle is, what your business may get out of a mobile app, and the precise steps involved in having one developed.

If you’re one of the 3.5 billion people in the world who own a smartphone, you’ll know that mobile apps are a pretty big deal.

Such a big deal, in fact, that there are over 2 million of them available on the App Store alone.  

The reach and accessibility of mobile apps has led to countless small and medium-sized businesses to invest in mobile apps of their own — but this can be quite the epic venture.

Lack of budget, know-how and creative vision can all be blockers to app development. Sure, you may know you want to build an app for your business, but what exactly should that app do, and how do you make that a reality?

In this guide, we’ll explain exactly what the mobile app development cycle is, what your business may get out of a mobile app, and the precise steps involved in having one developed.

By the end, not only will you understand the steps required to creating an app for your business, but you’ll also know how to tell a great app idea from a not-so-great one.

Ready to dive in? Then let’s start at the beginning.

What is the mobile app development cycle?

If you’ve already gained a base-level knowledge of mobile app development, you can feel free to skip to the next section. But for those who are a little newer to the concept: what exactly is the mobile app development cycle anyway?

It might sound a bit like jargon, but in reality, the term simply refers to the end-to-end process of developing a mobile application — from its initial conception, all the way to the moment the end-user taps ‘open’ for the first time (and even beyond that, too).

From wireframing to testing, developing to deploying, the to-do list for a mobile app is far longer than many people realize.

But it doesn’t need to be complicated.

In fact, we’ll explain the whole development cycle in just 7 steps — so stay tuned.

The ‘why’ of mobile app development

Now that you’ve got the fundamentals locked down, let’s get a little more philosophical with this: why should you consider developing a mobile app?

As a business, your decision-making naturally needs to be focused on what will help you grow and boost your bottom line — and a mobile app can definitely help you do that.

Why?

  • Reach. With half the world’s population having a smartphone in their pocket, the potential reach of your mobile app is enormous.
  • Engagement. People are more connected to their smartphones than ever before, making mobile apps one of the most natural forms of engagement. In 2019 alone, 204 billion apps were downloaded across the world.
  • Usage. Did you know that mobile browsing now actually exceeds desktop browsing? It’s true: since mid-2019, the percentage share for mobile browsers has been above 50%.

There’s no doubt that the future is mobile. But even with so many reasons to jump into app development, it’s still a big decision.

Having confidence in the idea of your mobile app is essential to your success, and for that, it helps to understand the development process in detail.

So, let’s get a bit more granular.

5 questions to ask before you develop a mobile app

Before we get into the practical steps you’ll need to take to release an app, we should pause for a moment to consider what value your app idea will deliver — both internally, for the business, but for customers too.

After all, whilst the average person uses 25 apps a month, 96% of their time is dedicated to just 10. If you want to be in a user’s everyday app repertoire, you need to break through a lot of other digital noise.

There’s a lot to think about, so we’ve condensed the process into 5 key questions.

Answer these and you’ll be ready to jump into your mobile app development, prepped for success.

1. What is the business goal of your mobile app?

It’s no use to simply develop an app and hope your customers will use it — you need to align its development to a business goal. Will your app drive revenue or brand awareness? Can users make purchases directly in the app, or use it to explore your product or service?

Working with a goal-based strategy like this will keep your app development tightly focused.  

2. Who is your target audience and how will you reach them?

Just like when starting a business, it’s essential to know your audience. By carrying out extensive research into who they are, how often they use their smartphones, whether they frequently spend via mobile apps, and so on, you can inform your app development strategy and stay on track.  

3. How are your competitors using mobile apps (and how can you do it better)?

Sometimes the very best market research you can do is to look at your competition and see what they’re doing right.

The same applies for mobile apps — and it’s an excellent opportunity to not only see what works, but also what doesn’t. Why would customers use your app versus someone else’s? What value do you deliver?

If your app can improve on what competitors are currently offering, you’ll be ahead of the pack right out of the gates.

4. What is your budget and timeline for mobile app development?

As with any business project, the budget is all-important — and aligns closely to timeline, too.

The longer your app takes to develop, the more it will cost to complete the project. For this reason, it’s a good idea to set your budget and development timeline before you begin.

5. How will you promote your app once it’s live?

True: the millions of apps in the App Store provide a great opportunity to find an audience. But this volume will also make it harder to stand out.

Before you begin development, be sure to consider the marketing strategy for your mobile app. There are plenty of options, including sponsored results and other paid channels, but — sadly — “build it and they will come” doesn’t usually apply here.

The development cycle (in 7 easy steps)

Now that all of the theory is out of the way, let’s zero in on the fun part: the mobile app development cycle.

It can quickly become a complex topic, so we’ve broken it down into the 7 essential steps you’ll need to take to go from idea to app store.

Let’s get developing!

Step 1: Visualize your app with wireframes and storyboards

At the heart of any mobile app is user experience, and it’s here where your development journey begins.

By building out detailed wireframes of individual screens, you can get a solid idea of that user experience before a single line of code is written. You can use storyboarding to explore the flow of the app, ensuring that it’s a seamless experience from end to end.

Step 2: Define your app’s core front and back-end features

Now it’s time for the technical bit: how your mobile app will actually function.

Will it need geo-location services, to pull relevant data for the user e.g. local weather forecasts? Do you want to send push notifications, accept payments secured with face recognition, or perhaps offer users such exotic features as virtual reality?

Take the time to think hard: there is a long list of what mobile platforms offer these days.

Depending on what your app needs to do for users, there are a number of back-end components for you to consider: APIs, push notification services, data servers, third-party integrations, and more. Each of these elements will add a little extra time and effort into your app builds, so we’d definitely recommend you scope out an estimation well before you start to code.

If this all sounds like Greek to you, don’t worry — you have a number of options available to you.

For one, if you’d prefer not to manually develop each element, you can always use a Backend-as-a-Service (BaaS) platform to take care of it all for you. Or, you can partner with a mobile app development agency, who’ll take the weight of the nitty-gritty off your shoulders.

What’s more, your app may not even need a back-end at all. Or, if it does, it’s possible you can utilize an existing infrastructure, like your website’s web server, to power your app.

Just ask your developing partners, they’ll be able to let you know.

Step 3: Finalize wireframes and build a prototype

With both the front and back-end realized, you should now have a pretty good idea of what your app is going to look like. It’s here that things start to get real, because it’s time to develop a prototype.

This is essentially an unpolished version of your final app designed to showcase the core features and user flow. It’s a good idea to take your prototype out into early testing, ideally with end-users, but other people in your organization can step in too. Here, you want to provide the tester with the prototype in as realistic a setting as possible, avoid any leading or bias interview questions as you’re asking for their feedback, and note any hiccups they encounter in the overall experience.

Even with the perfect wireframe, there may still be issues which don’t present themselves until you go hands-on, so this step is essential.

Step 4: Let’s get developing!

For most SMEs, the development stage will be pretty hands-off. After all, it’ll be your team of mobile app developers (like the folks here at Orbitum) who take care of the hard work for you.

At Orbitum, we employ Agile thinking to our development process — working in one or two week iterations. This makes things a whole lot better, for a number of reasons.

One: it means your app can adapt quickly to changing needs. Decided you want to add, remove or adjust a feature? No stress, we can handle it.

Two: the Agile method makes it much easier to notice weak-points or potential bugs, before they turn into real issues — saving you a lot of money, and hassle, in the long-run.

Lastly, you’ll be amazed at how much can be achieved in just 5 working days. Seeing your mobile app idea become a reality is super rewarding, and inspires your team to dream up even greater things!

While you wait for the magic to happen, it’s a good idea to ensure you have developer accounts set up for the relevant outlets: Apple’s App Store and Google Play, for example.

Step 5: Test, test, and test again

After all the planning, strategy, and storyboarding meetings — it’s finally here! Delivery of the first version of your mobile app can be an exciting time (and, yes, can occasionally be nerve-racking too).

In reality, this is the perfect opportunity for you to test your mobile app to destruction, and we really mean that.

Even if you think you’ve tested every possible use-case for your app, it’s a good idea to do it again anyway. You’ll be amazed how quickly end-users can find bugs you never knew existed — and it’s far better to resolve them all before going live.

Step 6: Ready for launch!

After all that hard work, the moment has finally arrived. It’s time for launch!

The app store submission process is surprisingly straightforward, but there’s a lot more to think about than just that. As you prep for the launch of your app, you’ll also want to consider any marketing campaigns to coincide with launch, deploy any paid search campaigns, and ensure you have a dedicated website or landing page to showcase your app’s greatness.

Step 7: The ongoing process of improvement

You might think that the launch of your app represents the end of the mobile app development lifecycle, but there’s a bit more to it than that.

In fact, in some ways, the development process never really ends. The reason? Well, even post-launch, you’ll still want to offer support for your app in the form of app updates (for those pesky bugs you couldn’t squash) as well as ensuring it’s still marketed properly to guarantee a flow of new and loyal users.

In this way, your mobile app will become a genuine marketing (or sales) channel for your business — and that’s worth its weight in gold.

We hope this article has given you the details you need to make an informed decision about mobile app development. Feeling like the time is right to dip your toe into the world of mobile apps? If so, we’d love to hear from you.

Get in touch with the Orbitum team today and we’ll help turn your app vision into a reality.