By Shaurya Singh, 5/28/2020
Developing mobile applications is a process that has evolved rapidly throughout its short lifetime so far. With different technologies and design practices implemented every year, a mobile app at the beginning of this industry would likely have noticeable differences than phone apps developed currently. However, despite these constant changes in the technology world, the process of developing mobile applications has held a relatively consistent lifecycle.
The first step in the mobile app lifecycle is figuring out where to go once an idea is hatched. This step is one of the most important steps, outlining the market research and objectives behind the app. By establishing a holistic understanding of what the app is meant to accomplish, the process of transitioning into more in-depth processes becomes clearer and more efficient. A classic example of defining the mobile app objectives would be to look at possible competitors and the target audience. With those two variables researched, the conversation of differentiation in the app market will be an easier one to navigate. It’s important to note that this stage should also look into some of the limitations behind building this app; this could be budget, time to develop, and resource allocation. Finally, in order to thoroughly execute on this step, a useful tip is to think from the end-user’s perspective. During mobile app development, there is an inevitable balance between end user goals and your own goals; it’s vital to get as close to the balance as possible in order to ensure that the app is relevant, usable, and does its job correctly.
At this point in the app lifecycle, putting the pen on the paper and hashing out the specifics of the mobile app should be a much easier process. While the prior step doesn’t have too much room for change, there are a lot of viable options for the following steps: technology stack, choice of backend, and wireframing. The technology stack and the backend go hand in hand in the sense that they are both foundations from which the app will be built on. By tying in the objectives of the mobile app and the capabilities of technology stack, a clear understanding of the support the app will need through its lifetime can be found. For example, at Waker we often use a combination of React JS or React Native for the front end and Ruby or Node.js for the backend. In combination with a database and server that matches the apps technology needs, our stack’s main goal is to provide a scalable solution to guarantee smoother transitions once more users join and more features are incorporated into the mobile app. The technology stack and languages used are a “make it or break it” step, and we find that perfection in this step is the only way to guarantee a solid foundation for your mobile app to grow. However, with any foundation there needs to be a structure to scale work on top of it. This moves the mobile app development lifecycle into the wireframing stage. While the technology stack and the backend look more into the software development side of creating a mobile app, the wireframing of a mobile app requires a design driven approach with an understanding of engineering capabilities. Notice how although design is the largest aspect behind wireframing, it is still important to stay aware of the engineering process and the technology stack in use. With this in mind, you can hash out the APIs, user journey, notifications, and how data interacts through the interface. Throughout the wireframing process, it is still extremely important to think about the end user. At this point, an in-depth interface experience of the mobile app should be created. Every detail, from what happens during the tap of a button to animations when content is being refreshed, should be designed and finalized for prototyping. There might be final changes once it gets to the development stage, but the wireframes and designs should be detailed enough that these changes are few and far between. However, before the mobile app is ready to release it’s important to get a feel for what the app feels like in its native form. This is done through prototyping.
Prototyping is a very exciting part in the lifecycle; it is one of the first times you can get your app in the users hands at a larger scale. It’s important to not downplay that potential; the prototype’s main goal is to gather insights from using the app to use towards the final product. A newer use for a prototype is something called “dogfooding”. The concept is that you use your own app for a longer stretch of time in hopes that you can see some of the bugs and issues that were not as visible at first. Again, this stage is all about insight collecting and less about trying to ship the perfect mobile app right away. Take the time to watch users go through their entire experience using the app and adjust the interface and user experience accordingly. Something to note is that many people will have different opinions, but not all of these opinions should sway you to change direction! It’s important to take note of changes that are possible and changes that are not, and it is definitely okay to acknowledge someone’s desires in your app but not actually build out that request. A common trap some mobile development cases fall into is that the app’s function and usability are second nature to the creators, but would leave a common user with a difficult experience to navigate through. Thorough wireframing and user experience testing in design is vital here to assure a successfully received mobile app. Minimizing the barrier to entry in using the app is vital, because the first impression to a user can be the difference between them opening the app again or deleting it. Another common point during this process is people asking “When have I collected enough data through my prototype that I can move into the final development stage?” Many people have different answers to this question, but one of the more common approaches is to have some key performance indicators that have been created before the prototype’s release that need to be met. For example, one could be measuring the amount of time it takes new users to login, and then trying to minimize that average time until it meets the KPI that you set. Either way, it is important that your prototype is obtaining valuable information that could be put towards the final product.
The next stage is one of the more exciting, but also one of the most critical to manage correctly: development. Most time will be spent in the development stage since the engineering put into this stage needs to be accurate and well suited for the entire app. It’s important to take every detail into account. A good way to look at these details is by putting them into categories. If there is a mistake that inhibits the user from using the app to its full potential, then that would be classified as a vital error. All vital errors should be gone in the finalized mobile app since most of the time they ruin certain experiences through the user journey. Medium and smaller errors should also be minimized, but will likely be fixed over time in a roadmap for improvements as it is very rare for an app to have zero things to update. Think about your favorite apps and how many updates they go through every year. It is important to have a development team that understands that while the final product might be polished, it will not be perfect forever. There will be a guaranteed need for app changes and updates, especially if you are looking for the app to scale. At the highest level, the most important aspect to take into account during the final development phase is the timeline. The timing of certain deliverables should be figured out and can keep a team on track for meeting the app’s final release time.
Getting your app finished is the most exciting step in the entire process. At this point, the idea has turned into a viable product and is ready for the mobile user market to try out. However, that is definitely not the end of the mobile app lifecycle. You may want to go through the same process with the prototype in terms of testing, but instead of gathering insights towards creating the final product, these insights should be used to smooth out minor bugs and interactions. It’s vital to go extremely in depth because you want the app to cover most scenarios across your user base. Once all the scenarios are looked into, the app can grow forward and scale. The most key success factors towards launching the app move more into the marketing realm. SEO, branding, and websites are a few of the factors that make up the entire marketing process behind an app launch.
Executing on a mobile app launch is a large component to the overall success of the app itself, but the life of the app is still not over. As stated earlier, it is very rare for an app to be completely perfect. There will be a need for updates, and with those updates comes another requirement to continue to collect data. While you may be able to get users on your app, it may be hard to get those users to continuously use your app. It may be worth it to invest in a way to gather feedback from users who have been on the app since its release. User feedback is one of the most valuable aspects behind the future decision making of the app, and without anything set up to gather those insights it can be tough to make effective feature updates to your mobile app.
All in all, the mobile app development lifecycle is an exciting process, but it is by no means easy or linear. At Waker, every single mobile app we’ve developed has had its own processes and difficulties that need to be addressed, and it is uncommon to see major similarities between these separate processes. Although the stages behind the development of a mobile application can seem similar, the specific details behind every mobile app need its own set of attention and research. With this in mind, it’s vital to have a team that is ready to go the extra mile when it comes to personalizing your app to the end user at scale. Mobile app development is a multidimensional process. A team that understands all of these dimensions can help your app achieve the goals you are looking for.
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