So you’ve come up with an app idea. That’s cool. You’re cool. Now you need to take that abstract idea and turn it into an actual application. The mobile app design and development process requires a lot of work (and time and money). But what about the details? How should you approach it? Where should you start? How do you maintain it, monetize, and market it? We have answers to these questions and many more.
With more than a decade in business, we at Mind Studios successfully delivered various projects for healthcare, sports, logistics, and real estate businesses. If we were to post mobile application development steps in detail, the list would be pretty long. Long and full of jargon. So we’ve lumped them all together and divided them into five major stages of application development for simplicity.
Let’s thoroughly look at how to create a mobile application and what it takes to make it successful.
5 key stages of the mobile app development process
Here, we’ve highlighted five core stages of creating a mobile app: from idea to launch:
Stage 1: Discovery
At the very beginning, when you assemble a team of developers or come to an outsourcing mobile app development company, your first task will be to provide as many details about the project as possible. The more detailed your project description is, the easier it will be for your app development team to feel out possible pitfalls and either avoid or neutralize them.
For this, you need to:
Sketch your idea
To make the discovery stage easier and more useful, many companies, Mind Studios included, use the Lean Canvas — a table of sorts where you fill in information about your idea, the problem your app will solve, the possible solution you’ve come up with, and more. The Lean Canvas is one of the best options to organize the most crucial information about your company in regard to the project: strengths and weaknesses, advantages you have that your competitors don’t, and so on.
You can try your hand at the Lean Canvas with CNVS or Canvanizer, if you want.
After sketching your ideas and visualizing them into something you can create estimates from, it makes sense to start creating a business plan for developing a mobile app. At this stage, you can add to a business plan your assumptions regarding the viability of your ideas, goals, and marketing strategies along with potential ways to effectively monetize them. By getting through the analysis during the next steps of your project discovery phase, you’ll be able to back up your predictions with more accurate data.
Learn about your customer
Knowing your customer is the key to successful mobile app development. Who will purchase your product? Where are they from, what do they do, and how do they use their mobile devices? Create a generalized persona of a customer that has the problem you’re aiming to solve with your application.
You can have more than one persona, of course. In fact, it’s better if you do since the more types of customers you cater to, the more chances you’ll have of achieving success with your product. However, do keep in mind that you can’t satisfy everyone, so limit the number of typical user personas to a handful, segmented by certain parameters.
Create a navigation concept
This is also called a low-fidelity prototype. It’s not yet a functional application; it’s just a visualization of the app that serves a single purpose — to verify that you and your team see the product the same way.
A navigation concept is a set of images that show how the connections between screens: which screen can lead to which, how they interact, and where your users can jump between those screens.
Low-fidelity prototyping can also help with further estimation of costs, at least partially, by allowing your team to better understand the scope of functionality and be able to calculate the approximate cost to develop an app.
Write a mobile app requirements document
To successfully get your development team on the same page with your product vision, a mobile app product requirements document (PRD) will be of great assistance. Compiling a PRD will allow you to:
- establish a clear vision of the project’s objectives and restraints
- save time and resources by reducing the rework and enhancing the development with clear expectations
- establish criteria that will determine your satisfaction rate with your future app
Stage 2: Idea validation
Having decided on the problem you wish to solve and the solution, it’s time for some deep research. Within the mobile application development flow, idea validation is your first attempt at making sure that your product doesn’t just flop. And idea validation employs a variety of methods to prove an idea’s worth.
Here are the most frequently used validation steps to create a successful mobile app:
Conduct direct research
It never hurts to go through the applications already on the app store to see the competition in your category and how your competitors deal with the problem you’re aiming to solve (if anyone is dealing with it at all).
Survey target users
On the one hand, surveys aren’t the most reliable source of information, and you might want to at least combine this method with something else. On the other hand, communicating with your maybe-future customers not only allows you to validate your idea but also provides the first bits of feedback. Therefore, lets you know the criteria your target audience uses to decide whether they’re willing to pay and creates some presence for your brand. Win-win.
Research search queries
It all depends on the product you’re making and the in-house or outsourcing app development team you’re working with, but sometimes it might be useful to conduct global search query research. It can help you see if anyone is even looking for a solution to the problem your app solves.
Run promos and ads
These aren’t ads as a monetization model, but ads to make your company and your product visible. For example, you can run a campaign on Facebook to see how many users are interested in what you’re looking to offer.
Validate the concept prototype
You’ve sketched a concept prototype at the discovery stage to make sure your team sees the project the same way you do. Now it’s time to learn if it actually achieves its goal in the eyes of your potential users. The best way to do that is to offer the prototype to a test group in some form or another: for example, as a chatbot. This is easy to do and will offer you the data necessary to proceed with fewer risks.
Build a medium-fidelity prototype
The mobile application development flow requires quite a number of different prototypes — throughout the process, you’ll have to test at every step. Medium-fidelity prototypes are a tad more complex than low-fidelity prototypes but are not yet actual apps.
Basically, a medium-fidelity prototype is a mockup that allows your testers to get somewhat acquainted with your product’s proposed UX design and flow without you having to actually develop a fully functional app. A medium-fidelity prototype is cheaper and faster to build than a full app and helps pinpoint parts that are good and parts that would be better left out from the final version.
Build an MLP
A minimum lovable product, or MLP, is the final step in the idea validation stage, and it’s also your first functional prototype. An MLP is similar to an MVP — a minimum viable product — but instead of creating the minimum necessary functionality, with an MLP, you pay special attention to the unique feature of your product. So it’s viable, but it’s also more than that.
An MLP is the first result you get from all the knowledge you’ve accumulated during the first two stages, and it’s an opportunity to test all that knowledge on an actual, although heavily abridged, version of your product.
It all seems like a lot, doesn’t it? However, it’s not as daunting as it appears at first glance. In reality, the first two stages can take from one to two months to complete, depending on product complexity. These are the shortest stages, actually.
Stage 3: UX strategy
Now you know that your idea is something the market needs. It’s finally time for in-depth UX design. Stage 3 of the mobile application development lifecycle is about designing the interface in all its detail.
To make everything easier, start with structuring all the data you have. There are a number of ways to do that, and you can choose the one you like best. We find ER diagrams and UML class diagrams quite useful, as they help show not only the elements themselves but also the relationships and connections between them, offering a clearer picture of what it is that you’re doing.
With all your data structured neatly, it’s time to create another mockup. This time, it will be a high-fidelity prototype.
High-fidelity prototypes include detailed design of both the UI and UX, and it’s recommended to make them interactive so that your test group can try the navigation and get the overall feel. The reason for creating high-fidelity prototypes is to monitor user behavior, find patterns, and, once again, receive feedback.
While low-fidelity prototypes only offer a very rough sketch of the app’s functionality and medium-fidelity prototypes provide a more detailed look, a high-fidelity prototype is a result of both of those stages, applying the accumulated knowledge to the initial skeleton.
Having completed and tested a high-fidelity prototype, you’ll also be able to estimate the app development cost with a lot more precision than you did initially, as well as create a more detailed and accurate project plan for the development stage.
Stage 4: Design and development
Every preparatory action has been taken, most data has been collected, all preliminary app development process steps are behind you, and it’s finally time to begin designing and coding.
At Mind Studios, we work with the Agile methodology. According to Agile, the mobile application development process flow is divided into tasks per sprint. A sprint is a short period of time, usually two weeks, during which a certain portion of the development work is completed. At the end of each sprint, the planned scope of work is compared to the work done.
Tasks are planned in the order best suited to finish your product, be it an app for mobile phones or a website, smoothly and with as few interruptions as possible.
First comes the design concept sprint, aimed at creating a style guide for what the product should look like. Creating a style guide makes it possible to do the visual design simultaneously with coding or only a step or two ahead.
The sprint following design concept development is the technical setup sprint, in which you’ll be making final preparations. And then, the development sprints follow, with testing at each step.
There are two sides to building a mobile app: the front end and the back end.
The front end is the part your users will see — the interface, the visual design, everything that we, as users, believe to be the app. Depending on the platform you choose (iOS, Android, Windows, web), you’ll be using a different programming language: Objective-C or Swift for iOS-based native apps, Java or Kotlin for Android. Besides languages, there are other tools like libraries, version control systems, and frameworks.
The back end, on the other hand, is the powerhouse behind your product’s functionality. A user doesn’t see it, but the back end is what holds everything together, manages communication with the servers, and maintains the operational logic. There are separate languages and tools for backend mobile app development as well; hence development teams usually have at least one backend specialist in addition to Android and iOS front-end developers, designers, and a QA.
Popular backend programming languages include Python, Ruby, Node.js, and Java. A backend developer needs to be able to operate web servers, local development environments, databases, collaboration services, and more.
Strictly speaking, testing is not unique to the design and development stage — you’ll be doing it from the very first prototypes. That’s what prototypes are for, after all: to test what you’ve got against the expected results. But when you reach this stage, quality assurance becomes even more essential and rigorous.
Stage 5: Launch
A successful launch of your mobile app significantly depends on the previous stages and their results. Four steps come next:
- Ensure your app works well with various screen resolutions. As the variety of devices from both Android and iOS continues to rise, you need to ensure your solution is adaptive to different screen resolutions.
- Keep in touch with your users. Provide an accessible feedback system to learn more about your customer’s experience and analyze it to improve your app. Let your target audience show you what they actually need and like, and make sure to take their feedback into account when making updates.
- Track essential app metrics. The number of installations, average session lengths, the number of users that turn into paying ones, user lifetime, and others make up the data you can’t gatherd through user feedback but that still greatly helps adjust your app for your business needs and improve its quality.
- Run marketing campaigns. Without a doubt, a proper marketing campaign is essential for your app to gain its audience. Whether it will be a campaign before the launch or right after, you need to choose among the many marketing channels the one fitting you most.
Let's focus on the last two sub-points in more detail.
8 ways to increase user engagement in your mobile app
Now that you’ve developed your great app, you want the maximum engagement from app users. There are eight tools focusing on which can help you increase user engagement and app retention rates in the early stages:
- App store page content. A catchy or clever name, pleasing icon design, and engaging description are your best friends in making your app desirable and in raising users’ interest. Use A/B testing to get the best results.
- Tutorials. If you build a complex app, integrated tutorials are a must. Choose between the coaching screens and interactive tutorials to create a great user experience.
- Push notifications. One of the most efficient ways to communicate with app users that won’t be marked as spam. Make sure you personalize and dose push notifications enough to make users engage, not mute them.
- Account creation. Let your users take some time first surfing the app and testing its capacities without registration. After that, if they find your app interesting or useful enough, proceed with the registration form to create an account.
- Deep linking. Deep linking is a linking system that refers a user to different pages based on specific conditions. For example, if a user clicks a deep link without having your app installed — they will be transferred to the app’s store page, and if a user does have your app — they will proceed to the specific screen inside your app.
- Freemium model. Not everyone is willing to pay for a cat in the bag if you offer your users to buy a premium subscription right away. Consider giving them a taste of what they are missing out on and provide a 1-, 3-, or 7-day trial for your users to understand the difference in experiences practically.
- Gamification. By introducing gamified elements, you encourage users to compete against each other, making it more engaging to open your app and grind the achievements more and more. For example, you can create an account progress bar offering discounts or gifts for reaching some results, and to reach these results, users need to complete daily tasks and use your app regularly.
- Referral system. Yet another effective reward-based system to spread your brand among potential users. Not only does it increase the engagement of existing clients trying to benefit from the reward you are offering, but creates passive conversion, leading to new app users and even more profit.
To know how your user engagement tactics perform, it’s important to constantly track mobile app metrics using specific analytical tools.
Platforms you can use to monitor your mobile app KPIs are:
- App Store Connect
- Google Play Console
- Google Analytics
- Data.ai, and more
The list of 20 essential metrics to measure your mobile app performance are:
- User acquisition
- Number of downloads
- Activation rate
- Number of active users
- Average session length
- Average daily sessions per user
- Screen flow
- Retention rate
- Conversion rate
- Click-through rate
- Churn rate
- Bounce rate
- Abandonment rate
- Uninstall rate
- Net promoter score
- User feedback, reviews, and app ratings
- Cost per acquisition
- Time to first purchase
- Lifetime value
How to successfully market your mobile app
Marketing in the mobile app segment is divided into three stages:
1. Pre-Launch marketing
At this marketing stage, you don’t have anything to promote except for your idea. To market a non-released product, you can use:
- Landing pages
- Social media
- Website and blog
2. User acquisition stage marketing
At the stage when you are launching your MVP, you focus on:
- App store advertisements
- Video ads inside other apps
- Outreach marketing
- App Store Optimization (ASO)
3. User retention stage marketing
The user retention stage is about dealing with the users who already installed your app but weren’t active in the last periods. The ways to keep the user retention rate high and regain the attention of inactive users are:
- Push notifications
- Referral systems
- Asking users to leave reviews
- Collaboration with influencers
- Paid Advertisement
- YouTube channel
- Affiliation marketing
7 ways your app can earn money
Yet another vital question for mobile app development is: “How will the app make money?”. Every business owner expects their creation to bring profit in some way, so let’s take a look at the most common ways how to monetize your mobile app:
- Paid apps
- In-app purchases
- In-app sponsorship
- White-labeled code
The mobile app development team you need
The variety and number of specialists you’ll need for developing your app fully depend on the complexity of your idea, your business requirements, and the project’s scale.
As a rule, to deliver a simple yet quality mobile app, you will need a team of six members:
- Project manager
- UI/UX designer
- Backend developer
- iOS developer
- Android developer
- Quality assurance engineer
If your app is to be complex, has unique functionality, or involves the integration of trendy technologies, say, AI-powered ones, you may need more specialists to join your mobile app development team.
How to find the best mobile application company
Now, let’s focus on how and where you can find the best outsourcing mobile app development team.
The first question is usually: “Where should I search for mobile app developers?” and let’s deal with that first. Among the popular services you may use to look for the best of the best, Clutch.co, LinkedIn, and Appfutura.com offer a wide list of companies and freelancers to choose from. To find the UX/UI specialists in particular, Behance and Dribbble are the first in line with their services.
Finding the best company for your exact needs becomes easier when you consider it thoroughly. Use the following criteria to narrow down the list of your potential partners:
- Company experience
- Development costs
- Ratings and reviews
- Corporate match
Mobile app development cost estimates and how to reduce them
The costs of building a mobile app consist of a variety of factors: type of application, number of platforms, feature complexity, etc. However, one of the factors that significantly influences the mobile app project estimate is whether you choose to hire an outsourcing development team or stick to using your in-house team.
The in-house team will cost you significantly more than an outsourcing one, and it’s almost impossible to provide even general numbers. Creating such a team includes you paying salaries, taxes, and providing workspaces along with software and hardware for your development. As it is more possible to provide general estimates for building a mobile app with an outsourcing team, let’s take a closer look at them.
The average working week contains 40 working hours, making it 160 working hours per month. With those numbers, let’s compare the rough estimates for developing a mobile app with a US-based outsourcing team and a team based in Eastern Europe:
Let's compare a medium-complexity app that takes about 6 months to build. 6 months x 160 hours a month makes 960 hours.
- The average hourly rate among US-based developers is $130. To build the app we're talking about would cost approximately $124,800.
- Eastern Europe prices fluctuate between $45 and $80 per hour. Taking $50 as a base, you'll have to pay $48,000 for the same app, which is 2.5 times less expensive.
Choosing to outsource development to a country with lower average rates is one way to reduce costs. Now, let’s take a look at five more ways to make the costs of developing a mobile app lighter:
- Partner up with an outsourcing team experienced in your field. Working with outsourcing teams means that hours = money, and hiring a team without previous experience in your field is definitely not a way to spend less. The niche experts, in turn, will deliver the product faster, avoiding untraveled roads and saving time by handling potential mobile application development pitfalls beforehand.
- Adopt Agile methodology for your project. With a methodology like Agile, you leave space for additional changes, as it allows you to pay in sprints. This way your flexibility in finding funds increases and even makes it possible to put the development on hold. With the sprint system, you can also include user preferences and your new requirements for mobile application development into your current plan more easily and without paying much more.
- Use third-party APIs when it’s possible. With so many available free-to-use APIs it’s no longer necessary to build and design certain app components from scratch. Registration APIs, scheduling, mapping widgets, and much more are already waiting to be used without spending extra money on reinventing the wheel.
- Simplify your design to increase efficiency. The more features you envision in your design, the more time and money it will cost you. But when it comes to design, “expensive” doesn’t always mean “effective”. It’s sometimes cheaper and more effective to make your design simpler and more intuitive than to make it look expensive yet inconvenient.
- Embrace proactive bug fixing. Don’t hesitate to test every build you have to find potential bugs. The earlier minor errors are found, the fewer chances are of them becoming major problems at later stages.
In our article, we provide an extended list of 12 ways to reduce mobile app development costs by up to 60% — read it to learn more on the subject.
Mind Studios Experience
We at Mind Studios specialize in turning ideas into working businesses by developing custom software solutions for fitness, healthcare, transportation, real estate, and other industries. We put customers' thoughts and ideas at the center of our development and do everything to fulfill their business needs.
Our diligence allows our projects to succeed and show great performance in the market. Take a look at some of our projects.
Here is Envol, a healthcare app that was recently titled the “app of the day” in the App Store. The founders of Envol came to us with an existing app for some improvements; however, it was decided to build it again from scratch.
First, we dove deeper into the discovery stage and formed a better understanding of the target audience and their in-app behavior. We conducted surveys among the existing users and analyzed the previous app to retain the better parts and add what was lacking. The results came as new user personas, customer journey diagrams, and new wireframes.
The thorough discovery stage helped us achieve high satisfaction levels from our users and keep the retention rates above 40%.
Another gem in our mobile app development showcase is a secure messenger that ensures your work-life balance. This project is a great example of how we faced a lot of challenges and perfectly overcame them.
The first challenge came with our preferred backend Tech Stack being incapable of handling the huge number of users simultaneously exchanging text, audio, and video messages. To solve this, we had to be flexible and leave our comfort zone. We chose to master Elixir — a programming language we didn't work with before — to ensure that our backend would stay strong despite the huge load.
After that, we encountered massive bot waves attacking our app and needed to find a solution as soon as possible because it was damaging the client’s budget. And we did. By integrating a smart captcha, we repelled the bot spam and successfully completed our development resulting in an average user session length of 20 minutes.
To sum up, the process of mobile app development, like insurance app development, is much more than the five stages we described in the first section. It all starts with finding the right team to implement your idea the way you see it, then it takes a lot of time and resources to test and market your solution after the development itself. And still, there is no end to improvements, as you can always pick up a strategy to increase your retention and conversion rates or even change the monetization type mid-way, not to mention the work on further maintenance of the application.
It all seems too complex to even look at but we promise you that it becomes much easier with the right partner and enough dedication. In case you are looking for the ones who will turn your ideas into working business or have any questions regarding the topic — reach out to us, and we will make sure to contact you ASAP.