The mobile app ecosystem shows no sign of shutting down anytime soon, with revenues from app stores forecast to reach $80.6 billion by 2020, up from $44.6 billion in 2016.
With 2.2 million apps in the iOS App Store and 2.8 million apps in the Play Store, creating high quality apps coupled with solid marketing strategies is the only guarantee for success.
But with so much competition, the chances that you will be able to deliver a winner are extremely low unless you follow a documented app development process.
This process will ensure that you don’t waste valuable resources and time during the app development phase.
The five steps of this process are as follows.
While every app starts with a core idea, your initial idea probably isn’t enough to build an app which makes money or get an audience.
You need to build an app which caters to a large enough market yet is also specific enough to resonate with particular users.
Here’s what you should do during the ideation stage.
Discovery and market research
Instead of starting with the design phase, spend time on extensive market research. Doing this at the very beginning can set you on firm footing and give you, your organization, and your investors confidence that your efforts are not going to be in vain.
Some guidelines for market research at this stage include:
- Choosing the niche: You want to target a specific audience. So, instead of targeting all users your app could target male gamers.
- Target specific user types: To stack the deck in your favor, you could target one aspect of a micro niche. For instance, your app could be only targeted towards tax professionals or lawyers. When you adopt this strategy, you can easily validate your app idea.
- Solve a problem you encounter: If there is a problem, there’s an app for it. From productivity to fitness to splitting bills to everything in between, apps that solve a recurring problem often get engaged and loyal users. They key here is to approach the solution in a way that others haven’t so you can differentiate yourself from the competition.
- Use the app store for market intelligence: Google Play and iOS App Store are a market research goldmine. This article gives a fairly comprehensive overview on the process behind using app stores for market research, including tools to use and cues to look for.
- Search online: Check out the top funded projects on Kickstarter. Go on Quora and look at the most followed questions. Trawl through Angel List and ProductHunt. Check out Reddit, or go to any industry specific forum. You will get ideas with some degree of validation built in.
- Check Crunchbase: Crunchbase shows details about funding patterns of apps and startups. While investors have backed plenty of duds, understanding what gets funded can help you prioritize your decisions.
- Use keywords: Google Trends for a particular keyword can give you insights on popular topics. To evaluate the keywords used in the app store, a tool like App Annie is helpful.
In the context of market research and idea validation, check out our proprietary agile validation methodology which delivers better results than the industry standard.
Once you have an idea, use our Idea Grader to find out how your app concept stacks up against different frameworks like Unicorn Theory and Monopoly Theory.
If your app is designed for internal use, you won’t have to go through most of the validation tactics outlined above, though you will still need to work with stakeholders and potential users to understand their daily workflow.
Establish app goals and objectives
Once you have validated your idea and understood your market, you can move on to establishing the goals and objectives of your app.
Based on the data collected from the first phase, you should determine the unique hook of your app that will differentiate it from similar apps.
At this stage, it’s also useful to drill down and determine what results your users will get and the features your app will include.
Instead of bloating your app with too many features, take a lean approach and use the market insights to keep your app focused.
You should also keep app development trends trends in mind during this stage. For example, if you develop an app in 2017, you should consider app streaming, progressive web apps, or apps with AR/VR capabilities.
At the end of this process ,you should have the scope of work mapped out, and determined how much of the design process will be done in-house.
Depending on your app budget and project scope, the design phase can be completed in a single afternoon or can take a team thousands of hours.
Some of the steps in this phase include:
Wireframes and storyboarding
This is when you start working on the look and feel of your app, since you already know the features and outcomes you will seek to deliver to the user.
Start by describing how users will interact with your app in terms of different functions and screens. Also create user journeys, where you map out, in great detail, the user journeys across your app.
Ask these questions while creating user journeys:
- What is the context behind a user opening your app?
- How many taps or swipes would it take for the user to create their profile or upload a photo?
- How can a user discover new content?
Once you have this information, use pen and paper (or wireframing tools like Balsamiq) to create wireframes of how your screens will look.
Here’s what you should do in wireframing:
- Outline the layout of each screen of the app with as much detail as possible.
- Add buttons, placeholder copy, icons and other visual elements so that your designers will have something to follow.
- Follow design cues unique for each platform. However, don’t deviate from common design conventions like the size and placement of back buttons.
- Keep the primary objective of the app in mind when laying out the screens. For example, Snapchat is a photo app while Instagram is a social network, and the first screens of both these apps reflect those differences.
- Create multiple variations of the same screen by playing around with the layout of buttons, navigation and other visual elements. The more variations you have, the higher the chances that your UX can be truly original.
If you want to keep things as realistic as possible, you can also download sample screens for mobile and tablet platforms.
This article gives a very detailed look at the entire process of wireframing and storyboarding.
Image Source Slideshare
The wireframes and the storyboards will give you insights into the backend needed to support your app functionality.
Based on the features you want, your primary and the secondary objectives will be to narrow down the APIs, push notification services, analytics tools, user engagement platforms, and database types your app will need.
You’ll also get clarity on whether your app can be hosted on an off the shelf mobile backend or whether it should be built from ground up.
At this stage, you might have to modify the wireframes or the storyboards if you encounter technical limitations.
Prototype design and testing
Once you have finalized the wireframe, it will be time to build an interactive and high fidelity prototype.The prototype will give different stakeholders the first look at your app, and will help you validate the information you’ve gathered.
You should get the prototype tested by potential users and fix any flaws or address UI/UX concerns raised by them at this stage.
Done right, the prototype will be the base developers use to start building the actual app.
Your developers can either use an app development platform like GoodBarber, Shopgate, and Buildfire, or set up the storage, databases, APIs, and servers as they start building the backend of your prototype.
As the development progresses, the app will go through a number of phases.
- In the alpha phase, the core functionality is present but not tested. The app is still extremely buggy, and non core functionality doesn’t exist.
- In the beta phase, most of the proposed functionality is incorporated. The app has also gone through light testing and bug fixing, though some issues might be present. At this stage, the app can be released to a select group of external users for more testing.
- After the bugs in the beta phase are fixed, the app will move to the release candidate phase where it’s ready for release.
By this point, you should have set up developer accounts for the app stores where you plan to publish your app.
During this stage, it’s imperative that you consider multiple factors like multitasking, form factor, device, and OS fragmentation. It’s pointless to incorporate features and functions into your app if they aren’t compatible with the vast majority of smartphones.
Developers must keep in mind the resource limitations on mobile and write code so that the app doesn’t put too much burden on the processor or memory.
We use Agile development methodologies during this process of the app development life cycle.
With mobile app development, it’s a good idea to test as early and often.
Doing this will keep final costs low. The farther in you go into the development cycle the costlier it becomes to fix bugs.
You should always refer to the original design and planning documents while building out the various test cases.
Also, retest previously cleared features in every version of the app. Just because a feature works in the beta version doesn’t mean it will work during the release candidate testing process.
The different types of testing during this phase include:
- Usability testing
- Compatibility testing
- Interface testing
- Services testing
- Low level resource testing
- Performance testing
- Operational testing
- Security testing.
Check out this detailed mobile app testing guide for more information.
Apart from manually testing your app on as many devices as possible, you can also use a number of tools like Testflight, Appium, and Bugsee for testing and crash analytics.
The launch phase of the app development life cycle is critical to the success of your app. Botch this phase, and all the hard work and money you have invested will go down the drain.
The objective of the launch phase is to get your app in the hands of as many users as possible.
This phase should include:
- App Store Optimization: With 65% of users relying on app stores to search for new apps, improving the ranking of your app in the app store is critical. This post has a list of 24 tips you should follow to improve your app’s position in the iOS App Store. Follow this post for ranking higher in the Play Store.
- SEO: You will also need to rank for the keywords which describe your app. Guest blogging, building backlinks, and optimizing your website are an important part of the launch process. You should also add Firebase to your Android app code to get your in-app content properly indexed by the Google App Indexing API.
- Website or Landing Page: Even if you have a website, it’s important to create a website or a landing page specific to your app. You will need to link to it from your app store description. This website should have videos, text content, FAQs, icons, screenshots, badges of stores, QR codes, links to social media pages, user reviews (post launch, press kit etc.
- Mailing list: Many apps have built anticipation before their launch and gotten high initial downloads by building a pre launch email list. You should start off by building a beta list where you can invite users to be beta testers before the app is formally released. Keep your subscribers engaged with regular emails and high quality content so that when the app finally launches, its initial download velocity will be high, increasing the chances of it trending on the app stores.
- Paid ads: You may consider using Google, Facebook, Twitter and other platforms to run ads. Depending on your budget and target market, paid promotions can bring an influx of early visitors.
- Public relations: PR and influencer marketing is also going to drive app downloads during the launch phase. You should build relationships with media and influencers even before you start coding or designing your app. Use your app’s unique hook to get conversations started and create a buzz as the app launch date approaches.
This post has some more details on mobile app launch strategy.
App development doesn’t really end at launch. As your app gets in the hands of of users, feedback will pour in and you will need to incorporate that feedback in future versions of the app.
If you are a first time developer, it might take some time to get used to the process but as you repeat the steps your app development will become more predictable.