The Mobile App Development Process In 6 Steps (2023)

Developers will tell you it takes months to build a mobile app. While it might sound hard to believe with the plethora of no-code tools and hackathon stories out there, the mobile app development process does take a long time to get right. It’s not just about coding―you need to align the interests of different stakeholders together, take into account competitors, and create a sustainable software architecture that can withstand the test of time until the next update.

As a web development company, we often have a hard time explaining to decision makers how our time is allocated, so we set out to write an article covering the whole mobile app development lifecycle: from deliverables to key metrics to consider, we lay it all down. Let’s get into it!

Mobile App Dev Vs Web Dev

Until not so long ago, mobile app development and web development used different tools, programming languages, and processes. Mobile apps run on Swift for iOS or Java for Android, while web apps are accessed through web browsers using languages like HTML, CSS, and JavaScript.

But with the emergence of frameworks like Flutter and React Native, the line between mobile app development and web development is blurred: you can build mobile, web, and desktop apps with a single codebase. These frameworks enable developers to write once and deploy on both iOS and Android, thus reducing development time and effort while offering native-like performance and access to device features, making the apps look and feel similar to native applications.

When it comes to the process itself, both have always been similar. The steps are the same with equivalent deliverables, but the target platform differs and introduces changes in how the app is designed and deployed to appeal to the corresponding audience. Let’s have a look.

1. Research

The research phase sets the foundation of a successful project: investing time in it saves significant resources during the development process and maximizes your return-on-investment by making sure you focus on a minimum viable product first.

Typical deliverables of the Research phase includes:

  • 1-2 user personas - A user persona represents a target audience―their demographics, behaviors, and motivations. By understanding the needs of target users, user personas guide design and development decisions to improve user satisfaction and engagement. A mobile app designed for too many people cannot work, so stick to 1-2 maximum at first before targeting new market segments.
  • Market analysis report - This report includes a competitor analysis, identification of market trends, and potential marketing gaps, opportunities or challenges to provide insights on how to position the app effectively to gain a competitive advantage.
  • Requirement specifications - A comprehensive document detailing functional and non-functional requirements―features, but also key quality metrics like maximum loading delays or number of concurrent users. This document defines a realistic scope that will serve as a roadmap for the development team and ensures a common understanding among stakeholders throughout the duration of the project.

The quality of the research phase can be measured by the breadth, depth, and accuracy of its deliverables: they should give you a clear idea of where the app is positioned in the competitor landscape and how the development process is going to add value while staying on-time and on-budget with a realistic scope.

2. Design

The design phase translates the insights gathered from user research and market analysis into a visually appealing and user-centric design to create an engaging experience. Humans are visual animals: getting the design right takes time, but it’s necessary to attract the right users and retain them.

Nowadays, design teams most work with Figma files, so you can expect deliverables like:

  • Wireframes - Basic skeletal representations of the app's layout, illustrating the placement of content, navigation, and interactive elements of the different views.
  • General UI components - The visual elements of the app like color schemes, typography, icons, and buttons. It focuses on creating a visually consistent and aesthetically pleasing interface that reflects the app's branding.
  • Flow diagrams - Figma animations can be used as Interactive prototypes to simulate a user navigating through screens. The design phase establishes the app's information architecture, including the creation of a logical and intuitive flow to easily access features and content while identifying usability issues to improve the overall user experience.

A great design reflects a deep understanding of the target audience’s needs, using a familiar, consistent visual language throughout the entire app without compromising on accessibility, inclusivity, and the brand identity’s originality.

3. Development

The development phase turns the design concepts into a functional app: the programmers create a CI/CD pipeline and implement the design and requirements in an iterative way with frequent feedback sessions.

The Development phase typically leads to two deliverables:

  • A functional app - The primary deliverable is a fully functional mobile app that meets the defined requirements, including frontend (user interface) and backend (data processing and storage) development.
  • A Git repository - A well-structured, modular, and maintainable codebase is crucial for the future development of the app. Clean and organized code allows for easier bug fixing, future enhancements, and collaboration among developers. For this, working with Git repositories is the norm.

While clean, readable code and **adherence to coding best practices **are indicators of code quality, focusing on iterative development practices is more important to ensure long-term success: the app should be accessible by relevant stakeholders from day 1 for continuous feedback via version control systems connected to a staging environment, and a minimum viable product (MVP) development approach should be preferred for increased productivity and faster product-market fit.

4. Testing

The testing phase ensures the delivered app is conformed to the functional and non-functional requirements defined in the Research phase. It identifies bugs, usability issues, or inconsistent behaviors before the app is released to the end-users.

While there is no such thing as an error-free app, testing drastically decreases risks that could sabotage the launch and turn away prospects. It isn’t uncommon for modern dev teams to use methodologies inspired from test-driven development, so the testing and development phases can be combined in a single one.

The Testing phase typically produces:

  • Unit and functional tests - Detailed unit and functional tests outline different user scenarios, expected outcomes, and steps to reproduce specific features. The testing phase includes security testing to identify vulnerabilities, data leaks, or potential security breaches. The more tests you write, the less likely you are to run into problems later.
  • Unsolved bug reports - If for some reason bugs remain unsolved in the given project timeline, bug reports including reproduction steps become precious to identify and fix issues later on.
  • Performance reports - These reports highlight the app's performance in different devices and network conditions, as well as suggestions to optimize it.

A solid testing phase implies a good balance between test coverage and appropriate resource usage: the most critical parts of the app should be tested first, including usability and security. In-depth performance reports with a few key metrics like loading speed and offline connectivity according to non-functional requirements with a list of future improvement opportunities also shows the testing phase has been taken seriously.

5. Launch & Deployment

The launch and deployment phase is when the app is prepared for release to the target audience. A smooth deployment pipeline is important to maximize user adoption and retention.

Expected deliverables include:

  • App store submission - The app submission process includes preparing assets like app icons, screenshots and meta descriptions as required by app stores. The app is submitted for review and approval before official release. Developers must also ensure that the app complies with the guidelines and policies of the desired app stores.
  • CI/CD pipeline - A continuous integration / continuous delivery pipeline is important to support app distribution and updates without introducing bugs. It should also include deployment documentation with instructions and guidelines like details on configuring servers, setting up databases, dependencies, and managing the app's release on various platforms.

A significant quality indicator for the deployment phase is how fast you can get a successful app store approval: an experienced mobile app developer knows the guidelines of app stores and how to pass them without issues.

A smooth deployment process is also important, with good documentation making the due diligence process fast and easy, and automated pipelines with minimum downtime.

6. Maintenance

The maintenance phase is a continuous process involving ongoing support, monitoring, and updates to ensure the app works as expected. It plays a crucial role in maximizing user satisfaction by addressing user feedback and keeping the app relevant in an ever-evolving digital landscape.

The Maintenance phase can lead to:

  • Bug fixes and patches - Regular bug fixes and patch releases address reported issues and vulnerabilities, but also regular dependency updates.
  • **Performance monitoring reports **- Performance monitoring provides metrics like response times, crash rates, and resource usage to identify performance bottlenecks in production. As the app grows, it’s important to keep an eye on resource usage to scale your infrastructure as needed.

In one sentence: a great maintenance phase is no maintenance phase. Low maintenance costs should be the top quality indicator thanks to automated monitoring, good coding and testing practices, and effective patching processes.

Hire JAMStack Consulting

The mobile app development lifecycle has several crucial phases that ensure the creation of high-quality, user-friendly mobile applications. The research phase sets the foundation by understanding user needs, while the design phase brings ideas to life through intuitive and visually appealing interfaces. The development phase converts designs into functional apps, and the testing phase ensures optimal performance and a seamless user experience. The launch and deployment phase marks the app's entry into the market, and the maintenance phase guarantees its longevity through updates and enhancements.

With the ever-evolving technological landscape, the future of mobile app development is bright. For expert mobile app development services, hire JAMStack Consulting to bring your app ideas to life. We are a web development agency with experience in both React Native and Flutter, so working with us makes it easy to launch apps across web, desktop and mobile platforms in one go!