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Grow Your Business Technology

What Is Mobile App Development?

image for Jelena Danilovic / Getty Images
Jelena Danilovic / Getty Images
  • Mobile app development is the creation of software intended to run on mobile devices and optimized to take advantage of those products' unique features and hardware.
  • The types of mobile apps that developers create include native apps, hybrid apps and HTML5 apps.
  • The mobile app development business is set to grow to nearly $600 billion in 2020. 

Due to the exploding popularity of smartphones and tablets, mobile application development is an increasingly popular medium of software creation. In fact, mobile apps have become an essential element of most businesses, and revenues are projected to hit nearly $600 billion in 2020. This prolific and growing industry has attracted businesses from every corner of the marketplace as consumers detach themselves from desktop computing and turn to their mobile devices. 

The creation of mobile applications has much of its roots in traditional software development. The end result, however, is software intended to utilize the unique features and hardware of mobile devices. Modern smartphones are equipped with Bluetooth, NFC, gyroscopic sensors, GPS and cameras. They can be used for virtual or augmented reality, barcode scanning, and more. Mobile apps should utilize the full range of smartphone features, which is easier said than done. 

With desktop PC software development, programmers must create an application that can operate on a minimum set of hardware. The same goes for mobile applications, though the hardware variances in this instance are much more minimal. At the same time, the hardware in smartphones and tablets doesn't quite match that in laptops and desktop computers, which means mobile apps must be designed to show optimal performance 

For example, a gaming app would be limited in its graphical elements because of the less powerful graphics processors in mobile devices. With that said, cloud computing is making it easier than ever to accomplish mobile gaming. Popular games such as Fortnite, Hearthstone and PUBG connect players across computers, phones and even consoles.

Solving the issue of performance on any given device ultimately depends on developing an app natively on that device. This means designing the code specifically for the hardware on a particular device. In the instance of iOS devices, this proves quite easy, as mobile developers only need versions of the app for the iPhone and iPad to achieve universal usability. For Android devices, however, each smartphone or tablet runs on different hardware and varying versions of the operating system. 

 

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Web-based apps, on the other hand, don't depend on the device; they run off of a web browser, making them cheaper to develop and easier to access. However, their performance doesn't compare to that of a native app. For example, with web apps, you cannot use the phone's full features or send proper notifications, and they look less professional.

Like desktop software, mobile apps are designed using a wide range of programming languages and frameworks. While the most popular operating systems, iOS and Android, have done an excellent job of standardizing the types of mobile app development available to programmers, apps can still vary. Here are some mobile app types:

These are apps created for a specific platform (iOS or Android) using the software development tools and languages supported by those operating systems. iOS uses Xcode and Objective-C, whereas Android uses Eclipse and Java. Developers often prefer native apps because of their ability to utilize a device's full potential. With smart home devices becoming more common, developers are creating unique applications that integrate things like wearables, Internet of Things sensors and smart screens for personalized experiences. Of course, development for each platform is a costly and time-consuming process that doesn't work for all businesses.

Based on the near-universal standards of web technologies – HTML5, JavaScript and CSS – this type of mobile app takes a write-once-run-anywhere approach to mobile development. Apps developed in this framework are compatible with many platforms and require only minimal changes to ensure complete functionality on each operating system. HTML5 apps can still send desktop notifications and trigger interactions through email and other avenues. Don't discount web apps' usability, but keep in mind that consumers are more likely to use a native app. A study from Oracle found that millennials spend 90% of their mobile time in apps and 10% in web browsers.

These apps entail the creation of a container developed in the native system that makes it possible to embed an HTML5 app within it. This allows apps to make use of the diverse and unique elements of each native system. Before creating your own branded app, consider utilizing existing apps for greater impact. For example, by using mobile-focused marketing on services such as Yelp, Facebook and Google Maps, you can drive traffic to both your website and brick-and-mortar location.

Mobile app development requires access to software development kits (SDKs) that provide a simulated mobile environment for programmers to design and test code. However, creating an app does not require full use of these kits. For example, developers can create mobile games using Unity and then use the Android SDK to ensure its deliverability on mobile devices. Developing apps for iOS requires a paid iOS developer license, whereas the Android SDK is freely available to users. 

iOS and Android have similar mobile market shares (47% and 52% respectively), but developing for Apple is somewhat easier in that you don't need to worry about a wide range of devices from different manufacturers. Whichever operating system you choose, however, there are barriers to entry.

Mobile app development is changing constantly. Typically, every six months or so, a new version of an operating system rolls out with unique features that mobile apps can utilize. Developing for a specific version of the operating system, or even for a native operating system, usually requires developers to try multiple solutions to find the one that suits their development needs.

Failure to keep up with development updates could cause catastrophic cybersecurity issues. Consider the costs of developing an app, which can range from $5,000 to $15,000 to start, plus the costs for continued development and maintenance. If Android or iOS releases a new OS update, you can be delisted quickly for being incompatible. 

Developing an app is only worthwhile if it's a great app. A poor user experience will drive customers away. Be mindful of the user experience and realistic about your budget.

Regardless of the type of project you want to bring to life, the app development process has six key steps. Breaking the project down into these simple steps will help you develop your app quickly and efficiently. 

  1. Idea: When brainstorming app ideas, put some research into answering a few questions about it. What problem does this app solve? Who is the target audience? Why are these features important? Do your competitors have similar apps.
  2. Design: Next you'll design a user interface (UI) and user experience (UX) to navigate the user through the app and make it easy to follow.
  3. Development: During this stage you'll write the code for your app, develop the code and start preliminary testing.
  4. Testing: By testing your app, you'll determine its quality, any malfunctions and what you can improve.
  5. Launch: Once your app is bug-free and ready to go, you can publish it on marketplaces like the Apple App Store and Google Play.
  6. Marketing: Create a marketing strategy to get users to download your app and give you feedback on how to improve user engagement.

Just a few short years ago, if you wanted to develop an app, you had to either know how to code or pay someone to develop the app for you. Fortunately, low-code and no-code apps and services have appeared over the past several years to help you bring your vision to fruition. Here are five platforms to help you build a mobile app: 

  1. Appery.io: Appery is a mobile app builder that entirely runs in the cloud, meaning there is no software to install or download. The platform offers a visual editor where you can drag and drop new components into your app and auto-generates code for these components.

  2. Mobile Roadie: For brands looking to build a very visual app, Mobile Roadie is a platform that works with various media, including RSS feeds, Twitter and Google News. The builder allows you to send out push notifications and pulls data from a variety of sources, such as XML, JSON, PHP, CSV and HTML.

  3. GoodBarber: If you want to control every aspect of your app but don't have much code-writing experience, GoodBarber is a great platform for you. You can build an app for either an iPhone or Android device and even use the app to replace your current website, as the apps can be optimized for desktop and tablets.

  4. Appy Pie: As a cloud-based DIY app builder, Appy Pie allows you to create and publish an app for any platform without any programming skills. Since the platform is based in the cloud, you can drag and drop all the elements online. Once your HTML5 app is complete, you can send it to be used on iOS, Android, Windows and even Progressive platforms.

  5. AppMachine: Another easy-to-use platform with a drag-and-drop interface, AppMachine allows you to easily build an app while adding your own unique style to it. You can choose your own fonts, pictures, colors, and paths and be in complete control of your layout. It also offers in-service app testing abilities, so you can see how it'll work on computers and mobile devices and note what changes need to be made.
Sean Peek

Sean Peek is a writer, small business owner and SEO specialist. He began his career in digital marketing as a freelance writer in 2013 and has over five years of experience in the B2B space. You can learn more at lightningmediapartners.com.