How to make an App in 10 steps

ThinkMobiles Team 13/04/2017

In this article: verifying an app idea, market analysis, what is wireframing, custom backend, app design in 3 screens, benefits of Agile, tips for official release. And one fun video.

How to make an app is a milestone question for today’s tech business. The world is moving towards mobility more and more. Industries and business areas not related to mobile in some manner are scarce. Consequently, businesses and entrepreneurs are seeking new opportunities for growth. One of modern era option to increase sales and the number of customers is a mobile application. It’s in everyone’s hands.

From this, we derive the next issue – how to build an app? In this regard, to bring your app idea into the light of day is to follow the right course in the mobile app development process. In this article, we would like to share our experience to help you understand this process and make a successful application. Let’s start with this video introduction of how to make a mobile app and then elaborate in more details.

how to make an app in 10 steps

Now let’s review each crucial stage so you could know more about making an app.

Idea and goals

The very first step in creating a new application is the idea. Every mobile app starts with Eureka moment. The mobile app market is already full of all imaginable types of applications. Clearly, your app idea has to be really outstanding and awesome and breathtaking. And as much useful to users as possible. If the app concept is great, the development process and all the other parts to your app would come smooth.

Determine the idea

Do not forget that unique apps like augmented reality game Pokemon Go had very few supporters initially. Snapchat also struggled to gain traction at first, as ‘just another mobile chat’. There are plenty of such examples. So try to set and present the idea properly. Be it a simple gaming app or a VR mobile application that helps war veterans to overcome a PTSD.

how to make an app from scratch

Set the goals

A mobile application, as any business venture, should be based on problem-solving of users. It should be handy and tempt people to play with it. As an example, remember how all of us use Periscope, Instagram or Ustream at parties and social events? Here are few directions of thought for app building:

  • Why do you think people will use your app?
  • What does your app do, basically?
  • What problem would an app help to solve?

Users research

A clear understanding of who will be using your product is vital to creating a mobile app. There are two ways to identify your target audience: Who and How many. To illustrate the point, let’s see who the users of Booking and AirBnB are. These are people travelling and looking to find a better place for the night. In the case of AirBnB people are mainly tired of hotels and are looking for local sites. Or take an average virtual reality app for medical purposes – though users would be limited to people in need of treatment, monetization options are still relevant.

Mobile app development for beginners

Number of app users

Take a messaging app Viber, for instance. In several countries, people who revert to Viber are former users of Skype, as a rule. Total Viber downloads have reached over 500 million, and half of them are daily active users. For e-commerce apps measure all your current clients and add potential clients who seek alternative mobile shopping solutions. Generally, the e-commerce mobile market is forecast to reach $4 billion by 2020.

Competitor analysis and research

In order to stand out in the app market, one should really do the homework. We mean, at least know your competitors. There are numerous ways and criteria to analyze competitors. We recommend the following steps. Firstly, identify competitors. As you browse a particular sort of applications in app stores, you will see the top apps enlisted by popularity. See what they re offering and in which ways. For instance, Uber’s biggest competitors are Lyft, Gett, Curb, EasyTaxi, Grab.

Compare

Conduct a thorough investigation of your competitors, their products and their marketing practices. Check what people are saying in reviews, find areas of trouble and bugs. Any piece of information is valuable to then know how to make your own app properly. For example, Pandora and Spotify are very similar music apps. Pandora is available only in USA/Australia/New Zealand, while Spotify works in 30 countries. Pandora’s pricing plan is $5, while Spotify costs $10 per month. You can compare many more parameters of competitors and see areas to improve with your own mobile app.

how to develop a mobile app

Try to be unique

Don’t forget that your mobile application should be useful to people. It should contain engaging content, be easy to navigate and encourage users to be sort of addictive. If it is all of that, no competitor will outperform you. Such apps as Maps.me and Wifi Map gained a huge following because they serve their primary purpose for tourists. FourSquare app, in particular, has competitors like Yelp, Zagat, CitySearch, AroundMe, but any of them still can not catch up. At this stage your focus shouldn’t yet be how to design an app, rather how to verify your app concept.

UX, wireframes and back-end

Having defined an application’s objectives, target audience and features, we can proceed to actual app development. Primarily, we have to determine the functionality of an app. It means writing down the list of features, including the navigational flow all throughout an app. This is called an information architecture – a scheme reflecting all possible user actions.

How to make an app wireframe

For a better conceptual understanding of an app, a product wireframing is a widely used practice. Basically what you do is prepare the skeleton of your future mobile app. You do that to visually see how your application would look like. It is crucial to include as much detail as possible: each button, pop-up, text fields. A wireframe is a rough template which you can edit and correct at early stages.

Our design team singled out the best wireframing tools based on their own practice:

  1. Axure is mostly used for websites, especially the ones containing complicated functionality;
  2. Mockingbot is easier than Axure, fast in use, best suited for web applications;
  3. Sketchapp is a graphic editor to create highly detailed wireframes;
  4. Justinmind is a good tool to simulate a mobile app design;
  5. Balsamiq mainly for simple app wireframing.

Read more on App design trends in 2017.

Product management

As in other business areas, a skilled product manager to supervise your development process would be a good option. You may know how to build a mobile app, though an independent view outside never hurts. Especially a view from a customer point, a business owner point, a marketing point. Product manager’s responsibilities include communication between everyone involved in making a product. He or she should be able to control every stage and task with the whole end target in mind, and direct everyone accordingly.

mobile app wireframing, stage 4 in development

Define the app’s back-end

After wireframing and app architecture mapping you should choose the platforms and the set of tools. Weigh in all the options like technology stack, programming languages, services. Decide. How to develop an app is the question that in most part assumes building a backend, an app structure. There are two main ways of developing a backend:

  • Using SaaS as the backend – e.g. Firebase, AWS Mobile Hub, CloudKit, Kinvey (for basic app MVP)
  • A custom backend – a preferable option in case if you predict your mobile app to grow in new features and number of users. Adding more functions or customizing it would be easier with the own backend system.

Whether utilizing noSQL (like MongoDB) or SQL database (like Postgre) it is worth paying attention to such programming languages as Ruby on Rails and NodeJS. FYI: brands like Washington Post, Bosch, Urban Outfitters, City of Chicago have used MongoDB for the back-end. While giants like LinkedIn and Netflix implemented their back-end on Node.js.

Read more on best Node.js app examples.

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Visual design

Based on app wireframes and related data, proceed to mobile app design stage. A design brief is what almost all, and particularly our designers, require before going into work. You have to give full answers to all questions in a brief. For instance, here’s our design brief at ThinkMobiles.

Designers need such brief to catch the real essence of your mobile app. Then they can produce several versions of design for you to choose. Typically, a designer produces 3 screens, i.e. three versions of the application visual concept. All other screens further on are then based on the visual concept of your choice. A logotype is important as well. Remember apple icon on Apple products? Simple and instantly recognizable at the same time. The app’s color matters too. Most major apps are made in a blue-green range of colors (Skype, Twitter, WhatsApp, Shazam).

Prepare separate designs for each mobile platform you are going to develop an app for. Each platform, iOS or Android or Symbian, implies a specific set of elements, each has its system-specific material design. Also, follow the design trends to get to How to build an app 2.0 level. This could help you gain more users too. Constantly check design resources like Dribbble and Behance to find inspiration and see what is trending. As example, take a look at the sample of our design for Estimation app project.

App design sample by ThinkMobiles

Pre-development

The quest of how to make an app also comes to a strangely sounding thing called pre-development. This is a stage in making a mobile app preceding the actual development to manage certain operational issues. Like selecting organizational methodology, in particular. At ThinkMobiles we prefer Agile development. What is it exactly, you ask. Agile is a flexible methodology for software development management, which enables gradual iterations in the process. Work cycles and feedback, in other words.

This is an alternative to Waterfall and conventional ways of app development. It’s benefits are:

  • development in short iterations (1 to 3 weeks);
  • at the end of each iteration customer gets a working mobile application (or part of it);
  • development team stays closely in touch throughout the course of work;
  • painless and quick amendments to a project.

how to build an app

Few more aspects for a development team and their technical tasks, for you to have more expertise in how to make an app matter:

  • a development plan, with a backlog and sprints;
  • accounts on Github or Gitlab;
  • accounts on the Play Market and the App Store;
  • SDKs for payments, video, chats, etc.

Managing your development process well also effects your final result. Consider this – a half of all business ventures related to mobile apps achieve 70-90% of their goals. Even worse, about 20 in 100 projects are only 50-60% reaching the set targets.

Development (coding the app)

There are two main ways you can choose from when you’re planning to make an app of your own. Learn coding (or die trying….just kidding) and create the app yourself or hire a skilled developer/development company. Up to you, of course, it depends on the goals your app would accomplish. There is an abundance of app making agencies that will be glad to do the job for you.

This is the most crucial stage when your developer team sits down and writes the code. Under a strict guidance of a project manager (software companies practice) developers complete the tasks. Afterwards, quality assurance engineers test it out. Software testing plays a considerable role in mobile app development, improving and cleaning the final product. All the bugs should be squashed.

how to outsource app development

Check few mobile projects we’ve helped bring to life.

Testing

To be sure your application works well, with no drawbacks and bugs, and it will be fine in use, you cannot miss out on beta testing. This way you ensure that a mobile app is complete and fully operational, ready for release. This way you get a true feedback from a certain type of users to understand the usability flow or possible issues with it. Beta testing involves external user testing, meaning that a beta version of an app is given out to the limited audience. 2000 users for 1 month, for example.

Advantages of beta testing:

  • the ability to test your app with real users, and correct the issues before going public;
  • a valuable feedback, especially  in case of deficiencies, bugs or poor UX;
  • less issues and complaints after a final release to the market.

stages of app development

For beta testing we recommend such services as Testflight by Apple, Crashlytics, Applivery, TestFairy, BuddyBuild

Improvements

How obvious or ridiculous it may sound, error detection and last minute testing are still a thing at this stage. Before the official app release to the app store double-checking, or even triple-checking would not hurt. Anything can happen. A certain iOS feature or an Android icon works correctly, though the beta testing could discover that this detail breaks the whole user flow in an app.

Say, a user has to pass through the following steps: My profile -> My posts -> New Post on Instagram just to upload a new photo. No one would really like to do that. Therefore, the user experience (UX/UI) is the cornerstone for any mobile application.

how to make an app in 10 steps

And after the beta testing, after all corrections, a Quality Assurance (QA) department usually tests an app for the last time. Our experience tells that it is highly adequate to check the entire functionality after even a small change in the app.

Releasing the app

So we have come to the final stage to answer “How do you make a mobile app” question. The app is created and ready for the market launch. Now you should also be aware of particular policies of the app stores and marketplaces for accepting and verifying mobile apps. For qualitative app release we recommend the following steps:

  1. Compile the .apk file (for Android) and/or .ipa file (for iOS)
  2. Prepare a short official description of your app in all languages it is designed for
  3. Assemble logo, app images, screenshots, video presentation, etc.
  4. Set up the appropriate age restriction, as the app stores require
  5. Complete an obligatory questionnaire, as the admission basis to upload an app.

hire someone to make an app

Note, that a properly and fully prepared mobile application accelerates its release date. Finally, below you can find all the aforementioned information on how to make an app collected in one infographic image.

Read more on How free apps make money.

Have more questions regarding app making?

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how to make an app - step by step

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