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Hours seldom pass without humans of the 21st century using a mobile app or two. They’re the fifth basic necessity, along with the internet and smartphones, and are expected to generate more than US$935 billion in revenue by 2023.
If you’re a developer, an entrepreneur, or an individual with a disruptive idea for a mobile application, now is the best time to develop an app.
If you’re new to this trade, you might be lacking proper clarity on how to start the mobile app development journey. Starting from brainstorming the app idea and requirements to publishing it on app stores, there’s a lot of processes that go in between, and this guide will cover all of them.
We’ll also show you the right places to learn app development, buy apps or templates, and even the best platforms that let you create apps without typing a single line of code. Let’s get started.
What Is Mobile App Development?
Mobile app development can be broadly defined as the process of creating mobile apps.
But it is, in fact, an umbrella term that encompasses numerous processes, including actual coding of the application, UI/UX designing, testing, publishing, and ultimately, marketing. After all, only if an app is marketed, can new individuals find and engage with it.
Since each stage of the mobile app development process has its own intricacies, we’ll start right from the beginning – the different types of mobile apps you can create.
Types of Mobile App Development
There are numerous types of apps you can develop, and they differ based on the technology used, features and functionality, and supported platforms. Based on such parameters for classification, let’s look at the types of mobile app development you can perform.
Mobile vs Web App Development: The Basics
The first and foremost classification of apps is between mobile and web apps. While mobile applications live and run on mobile devices itself, web apps are accessed via the installed browser.
This also means that web applications have numerous restrictions when accessing system resources and generally don’t work offline. While developing mobile apps (specifically native apps), developers can use a wide variety of mobile SDKs to fasten the process, whereas, in the case of web apps, there aren’t any such aids.
Don’t get confused by the term “app”. Unlike mobile apps, web apps don’t demand you to install them on your device. Instead, they’re accessed via the internet browser of the device.
Since web apps are in essence websites, the cost of developing them is relatively low as compared to mobile applications. Web apps also offer inferior user experience (UX) as compared to mobile apps, and their performance is heavily dependent on the speed of the internet connection.
In short, the majority of times you discuss apps, you’ll be talking about mobile apps and rarely (or never) about web apps.
Native App Development
Native app development refers to building apps for specific platforms using a particular programming language. For example, native Android apps are built using Java and Kotlin, and native iOS apps are created using Swift or Objective-C. This also means that apps developed for the Android operating system won’t work for iOS.
WhatsApp, Angry Birds, and Waze are some of the famous examples of native apps.
Android Mobile App Development
As the name suggests, Android app development is developing apps for the Android operating system. For that, you can use languages like Java and Kotlin and an integrated development environment (IDE) like Android Studio.
iOS Mobile App Development
iOS app development is developing apps for the iOS operating system and usually for the iPadOS as well. Languages like Objective-C and Swift are used for creating iOS apps, along with IDE like Xcode.
Hybrid Mobile App Development
Hybrid applications combine the elements of both native and web apps. Simply put, hybrid apps are web applications placed inside native containers (or shells), and as expected, they have to be downloaded from app stores just like native apps.
While native apps require you to develop separate apps for different operating systems, hybrid apps have a single code base that can work on multiple platforms. If you have got only limited time for development, then hybrid apps can be a better option than native.
Instagram, Uber, and Evernote are some of the examples of hybrid apps.
Cross-Platform Mobile App Development
Although many confuse hybrid with cross-platform apps, they aren’t the same – although code shareability is a common feature for both. With cross-platform app development, developers can write code once and reuse it across multiple platforms but doesn’t involve native containers like in the case of hybrid apps.
The cost of developing cross-platform applications are lower as compared to native apps. They’re also easier to maintain as changes have to be made only to a single codebase. However, cross-platform app development can be quite overwhelming to novice developers.
Native, hybrid and cross-platform apps are the three different kinds of mobile applications you’ll come across. However, apps can be differentiated based on their purpose as well as the programming language used to develop them. In that sense, here are four other types of mobile app development.
Enterprise Mobile App Development
Enterprise mobile apps aren’t exactly a different kind of apps like cross-platform or hybrid apps. Instead, as the name suggests, they’re applications developed and deployed to solve the problems of an organisation.
Enterprise applications generally have a complex nature and are a lot different from the consumer apps we see in app stores. Automated billing system apps and customer relationship management (CRM) apps are some examples.
Since enterprise apps are predominantly aimed at improving efficiency and productivity, Trello, Google Drive, and Slack could be considered as their examples. With enterprise apps, organisations don’t have to invest in specialised devices as they work on their employees’ devices – thereby promoting the Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) concept.
Python Mobile App Development
Python app development isn’t something mobile app developers frequently talk about – especially in comparison with Java or Swift. Although Python can be used for front-end development, it’s rarely used for that purpose and instead, it’s used for backend development.
Python is an interpreted language – meaning, there’s no need for compiling the entire code before execution. Also, it’s a modular and flexible language with numerous libraries and frameworks.
Instagram, Spotify, Uber, and YouTube are some of the apps that use Python in their backend.
If you’re curious to know more about Python as a mobile app development language, the types of apps you can develop with it, and the top Python Frameworks you can use, check out our comprehensive article on Python app development.
Mobile Game Development
Mobile games account for 43% of smartphone usage and is currently a US$76.7 billion market. Games are also the most popular category in both app stores, and 23% of all apps are games. Although mobile game development is a bit complex as compared to other applications, there are numerous game development platforms and tools available to make things easier.
There are even numerous tools that let you create mobile games without coding. Since a game’s success heavily depends on the in-game design and physics, we recommend you to read our killer guide on the game design process.
Augmented Reality App Development
Although augmented reality (AR) apps have been around for quite some time, it rose to popularity with the AR game Pokémon GO. Augmented reality apps are extensively used in education, healthcare, and manufacturing sectors and are great tools to enhance perception and visualisation of objects.
A fun fact – nearly half of Americans use AR without realising what exactly it is. There are numerous types of augmented reality apps, including, marker-based AR, marker-less AR, projection-based AR, and superimposition-based AR apps.
AR apps might gain more popularity in the coming years as smartphones are becoming faster and cheaper, so is the internet. We might also see a shift from touch screens to AR – just like how we leapt from keypads to touch screens a decade ago.
The Mobile App Development Process
As you’re now familiar with the different types of mobile app development, let’s dig deeper into the processes of developing a mobile application from scratch till it reaches the end-user. In short, there are seven critical steps of the mobile app development process and let’s take a quick look at each.
Have a Solid Idea
The research phase starts with creating a solid app idea. For that, you could ask yourself the following three questions.
- What are the problems the app solves for users? (Objective)
- What are its key features? (Unique selling point)
- How can you entice users to give it a try?
If you have a solid answer for the above questions, your app is more likely to be successful and will enable you to generate revenue from it.
Know Your Target Audience
Your app’s target audience refers to the potential users for whom the app is primarily developed for. TikTok and Snapchat primarily target teens and young adults, whereas Airbnb and Google Translate are aimed at travellers. Knowing your target audience will help you better craft the UI/UX design.
Know Your Competitors
Knowing your competitors will help in not repeating their same mistakes, finding the app features users hate and love, and also to find features the competitors currently lack. You can start with competitor analysis by a process called review mining.
You can also check out how your competitors’ deal with monetization and marketing (discussed later) and use those working formulas on your app.
Choose a Name That Sticks
Always refrain from using long names as users will have a hard time remembering them. You can also try including app-related keywords for App SEO advantage. You can even utilise an app name generator for witty titles.
Define Your App Development Budget
The application’s development cost is dependent on several factors, including its nature, user interface (UI), features, and supported platforms. We’ll discuss app development costs, in detail, in a while.
Choose Your App’s Monetization Strategy
The app monetization strategy defines how you’ll be making revenue from your app. There are numerous monetization methods you can incorporate into your application, including,
- Premium model – Users must pay to download the app.
- Freemium model – Users can download the app for free and access limited features. They will have to upgrade to the premium version to access all features.
- Subscription model – Users can try the app for a limited time (trial period), after which they have to buy a subscription.
- In-app purchases – Users can purchase in-app goods like coins, unlock new features and access new content.
- In-app advertising – Ads are placed on the app without harming the user experience. When users view or click them, the app owner gets rewarded.
- Lead capture forms – Lead capture forms allow app creators to collect information from users and sell it to third parties.
- Sponsorships – With sponsorship, you can assign a section of your app that would creatively introduce your sponsors’ products or services.
- Partnerships – You can include an app section that takes users to a peer’s app and vice versa. This will help you gain more users.
- Licensing – You can license your app’s user-generated data to other businesses so that they can serve location-based ads on your app.
The app monetization strategy can be set based on your app’s nature and target audience. In that sense, in-game advertising can be your go-to if you’re planning to develop mobile game apps since 71% of gamers prefer apps with in-app ads over premium apps.
Decide Between Native, Hybrid or Cross-Platform
As previously mentioned, apps can be categorized into three types (four if you count web apps). Your decision at the stage can significantly affect the app development cost as well as timeline. The cost and time of developing native apps are generally the highest, while web apps cost the least.
Android, iOS, or Both?
Again, choosing the platforms depends on your target audience. Since Android and iPhone users behave differently, there will be notable differences in the UI design of the app for each mobile OS.
In most cases, mobile app developers tend to release apps for both iOS and Android operating systems as users tend to migrate between both and target audiences are usually spread across both platforms.
Build an MVP
One of the top reasons why mobile apps fail is because the market doesn’t need it. Since a lot of time, effort and resources go into the making of an app, creating a minimum viable product (MVP) app is recommended before you make a full-fledged application.
An MVP app has just the basic, yet essential features. The time, effort and cost associated with an MVP are incredibly lower as compared to a full-fledged application. Along with gaining market validation, MVP is also useful to attract investors.
The importance of app UI design can’t be stressed enough, since the end-user will be interacting only with the front-end of the application. Knowing how to design an app is incredibly critical, and if you do it right, you can delight and engage users with ease.
Fortunately, there are numerous app design templates you can use. Since your app will be accessed from different devices having different screen resolutions and sizes, following a mobile-first design approach will enhance the user experience.
A mobile app’s design process can be divided into – User Experience Design (UXD) and User Interface Design (UI Design). Let’s take a look at their sub-components.
User Experience Design (UXD)
- Information Architecture (IA) and Workflows – They are diagrams that show how data will be ingested and displayed on the app.
- Wireframes – They are digital sketches of an app’s functionality.
User Interface Design (UI Design)
- Style Guide – They hold branding information regarding fonts, colour scheme, navigation icons, and app icon design.
- Mockups – They are the final visual representation of app design.
- Prototypes – They represent an application’s functionality with the help of static designs.
If you’re curious to know the latest crazes in the mobile app design realm, check out our article on the top 20 mobile app design trends of 2020.
As a rule of thumb, you must always check out the app development guidelines of both the App Store and Play Store to reduce the chances of rejection. That said, the app development process can be divided into three stages.
- Alpha Phase – Only the core functionality of the application is developed but isn’t tested.
- Beta Phase – The application will now include all the essential features and would have undergone a light round of testing.
- Release Phase – The app has undergone numerous rounds of testing and is ready to be released.
The application must undergo several rounds of testing to become virtually flawless and free of bugs. We will take a more in-depth look at the mobile testing strategies you can adopt in a while.
For launching or releasing the app, you need to enrol for respective app store’s developer programs. For Google Play, it’s called Google Play Console, whereas, for Apple App Store, it’s called Apple Developer Program.
Acquiring users is an app creator’s biggest challenge. Luckily, there are numerous app user acquisition strategies you can use to gain high-quality users with high lifetime value. Here are some of them.
- Run paid app install ads.
- Perform App store optimization and App SEO to the core.
- Cross-promote on other apps.
- Apply for app awards on websites like Best Mobile App Awards and The Webby Awards to gain more exposure.
- Get featured in the app stores.
- Get featured in mobile app review sites like Wired and TechCrunch.
- Promote the app with influencer marketing.
Since retaining existing users (in most cases) is cost-effective than acquiring new ones, here are some things you can do to boost engagement and retention.
- Craft a unique and memorable app onboarding process.
- Send only meaningful and valuable push notifications.
- Thoughtfully run mobile marketing campaigns.
- Use social media and email marketing.
- Incorporate a loyalty program.
- Listen to users’ feedback and implement them if feasible.
- Frequently roll out updates.
7. Monitoring and Maintenance
Even if your app is virtually flawless and bug-free while publishing, it must be continually monitored to see what features can be improved. Technically known as application performance monitoring (APM), it’s the process of monitoring the key performance indicators (KPIs) of the app such as load speed, CPU usage, and app crashes.
There are numerous APM tools you can use for this purpose. These tools will also help you identify the issues that might be harming the user experience of your application.
Apart from APM tools, there are numerous other tools that let you monitor user behaviour and even how well the marketing campaigns are performing. For that, check out our comprehensive guide on app analytics.
How to Become a Mobile App Developer
Becoming a mobile app developer is a highly lucrative career, and there are excess opportunities than the current inflow of talents could possibly fill. Although mobile developers are generally defined as professionals who develop apps, your responsibilities will change based on the organisation you work for and its size.
To give you an idea, here are some of the duties and responsibilities a mobile app developer will have to perform:
- Talking with clients or managers about app specifications.
- Creating mockups.
- Coding the app.
- Beta testing the application.
- Fixing bugs.
- Updating app features.
- Documenting the app development process.
Mobile developers can be differentiated based on the types of apps they develop. In that sense, mobile app developers are of three types:
- Native app developers
- Mobile web developers
- Hybrid app developers
More precisely, mobile developers can be differentiated based on their roles in the development process as follows.
Before getting started with the steps to become a mobile app developer, do note that there isn’t just one way to become a successful developer. There are numerous teens around the world who became developers in unconventional ways just because they were curious to learn the trade.
Here are a couple of the things you need to consider to become a mobile developer.
- Decide to code or not code (but no-code app builders have numerous limitations.)
- Have a mentor
- Choose a platform – iOS or Android
- Learn to code (we’ll discuss the best places to do it in a bit)
- Test your skills by building MVP apps or by attending hackathons.
How and Where to Learn App Development?
To learn app development, there are numerous mobile app development courses available on the internet. You can even search for the same on YouTube and find classes from multiple industry experts. To get you started, here are some free app development courses to learn iOS and Android app development.
- Android Basics in Kotlin
- Fundamentals of Google Android Development
- Become an Android Developer from Scratch
- Android Kotlin Fundamentals
- Advanced Android App Development
- Learn Swift Programming Syntax
- Start Developing iOS Apps (Swift)
- Swift for Beginners
- Beginning iOS 13 Programming with Swift
- Swift for Developers
Top Mobile App Development Tools
Mobile app development tools make the app development process more streamlined and reduce the burden of coding each and every element of the application into existence. Here are some of the app development tools you can leverage.
Mobile App Development Cost
App development cost can be calculated using the formula:
App Cost = Development Time x Hourly Rate
You can also tweak the formula as:
App Cost = [Features x Time] x Hourly Rate
App development cost varies depending on the scope of your project, its features and the region where you plan to develop your application. To give you a basic idea, here are some charts that show the average cost of developing apps as well as specific features.
1. Industry Estimates of App Development Cost
2. Cost By App Features
3. Cost By Team Members
4. Cost By App Development Stages
How to Buy Apps From Developers
If you’re in a hurry, then buying apps from developers will be the best thing to kick start your app development journey. Doing so can also reduce the total cost of investment and reduce the time to market.
Here are a few marketplaces that allow you to buy apps from developers.
How to Outsource App Development
If you lack a team to build an app that can “wow” people, then outsourcing app development is an excellent choice. Doing so will also help you reduce the cost and time of development. You can also avail skilled developers from anywhere in the world, and in most cases, they’ll be available 24/7 (depending on their country of residence).
Here’s a table that shows the average cost to outsource development of iOS and Android apps in different countries.
If you want to know more about the advantages of outsourcing, the things you should consider, and the average rates to develop certain app features, then check out our article on outsourcing app development.
Mobile App Developer Salary
How much you’ll earn as a developer will depend on several factors, including the country you reside in, your experience, and the type of developer you are. Here’s a list of mobile app developer salary estimates based on different critical factors.
- The average salary of an iOS app developer in the United States is US$86,772 per year.
- The average salary of an Android app developer in the United States is US$86,607 per year.
- The average salary of a cross-platform developer in the United States is between US$91,548 to US$127,170 per year.
On average, an Indonesian iOS developer earns around US$10 per hour, whereas an American iOS developer earns US$150 per hour. Similarly, an Indian Android developer makes around US$26 per hour, whereas their American counterparts earn US$168 per hour.
- In the United States, an entry-level iOS developer earns around US$77,000 per year, whereas their Android counterparts earn an average salary of US$76,000 per year.
- In the United States, a junior-level Android developer earns around US$98,000 per year, whereas their iOS counterparts earn an average salary of US$103,000 per year.
- In the United States, a mid-level iOS developer earns around US$117,000 per year, whereas their Android counterparts earn an average salary of US$114,000 per year.
- In the United States, a senior-level Android developer earns around US$130,000 per year, whereas their iOS counterparts earn an average salary of US$125,000 per year.
If you’re thinking about the figures freelance app developers earn, here’s a graph that shows the hourly rate of freelance developers with respect to their area of residence and expertise.
Things to Consider While Developing an App
Due to scarcity of original app ideas, many might try to steal your app’s concept, and so, it’s highly integral you try to protect it by all means. For that, you need to know three critical terms – Patent, Copyright, and Trademark. And here’s a quick look at how they differ.
A patent is an exclusive right, granted by the government to the inventors of a process or product. This right gives the inventors the ability to legally sue anyone who uses, makes, copies, or sells their invention, without their permission, for a limited period of years. Generally, a new technical solution to a problem or a novel way of doing something is patentable.
A trademark is a word, symbol, phrase, or design that identifies or distinguishes the source of services or products of one entity from those of others. This means trademarks will help in assuring customers that a particular product or service can only come from you and nobody else.
Copyright, denoted by the symbol ©, protects original literary and artistic works such as images, books, music, software and movies. So, if you create ads as part of your app marketing strategy, you can copyright them and limit anybody else from using it.
How to Test Mobile Apps
Mobile testing is a top priority process of mobile app development, and its effectiveness can directly affect how well the users experience the app. As you might have guessed, mobile testing refers to the process of testing apps for their functionality, usability, consistency, and compatibility.
You can either manually test an app or with the help of automation. Here are some of the types of mobile testing.
- Usability testing
- User acceptance testing
- UI testing
- Functional testing
- Compatibility testing
- Performance testing
- Installation testing
- Security testing
- Localization testing
- Memory leakage testing
- Interrupt testing
- Recovery testing
To test a mobile app, you need a fool-proof strategy that takes into account your budget, nature and scope of the application, and time in hand. To know more about mobile testing strategy and the best ways to test an app for perfection and performance, check out our comprehensive guide that discusses all aspects of mobile testing.
There are numerous tools like Apium, TestComplete, and Kobiton you can use for testing. We have listed the top 25 tools you can use for both iOS and Android in our mobile testing tools article. Do note that testing is a continuous process – each modification you make or feature you add must be thoroughly tested.
Although the term “mobile app development” may seem to be just about developing apps, there’s so much more to it. It’s about brainstorming and validating ideas, knowing more about your target market, crafting a remarkable user experience, continually monitoring and perfecting your app.
It’s an ongoing process and will require you to tweak it regularly. We hope you have one less excuse to not translate your ideas into apps. Start developing right now, and although the number of processes may seem too many, a well-performing app published on reputable app stores is worth the hassle and profitable as well.