Mobile Development

Stages of App Development – The Complete Guide

Marlena Walburg
map with pinpointed targets

A great, innovative idea has come to your head and you’re wondering, how to start developing an app based on it? You probably have a lot of questions or doubts then. Well, the road from the vision to its implementation is usually long and quite winding. And so, when it comes to developing a mobile application, you must take into account that it’s a complex process. It requires good planning, some time, energy, a certain budget, and many other things that you’ll read about in this guide. However, with the current progress, technologies, and tools available, we can get the software to market faster than ever.

Delve into our ultimate guide to a successful app development process and learn what’s essential in every step. Getting to know how to create a product step-by-step from scratch, will give you a deeper understanding and encourage you to develop your app.  

How to choose a company to build an app?

Each stage of application development is associated with certain challenges that will be easier to overcome if you choose the right people to cooperate with. Therefore, at the very beginning, you should choose partners for the implementation of your project. There are two approaches – in-house, that assumes the software is created by developers from the corporation that will use it. The second one is to outsource a company as a contractor.

The following comparison of the pros and cons of both may help you choose a suitable solution.

In-house/outsource – pros vs cons

First, let’s discuss the in-house option. 

Developers who are regular team members are more aware of the values of the company they work for. You can count on the commitment and their better sense of business needs. They are more motivated to achieve the best results. This constant presence of the project team at your fingertips helps to improve the communication process. Face-to-face conversations let you save time, avoid the fuss, increase agility, and speed up the development process. 

However, in-house development is associated with high costs, especially in the initial phase. The final price consists of expenses for the entire period, such as office rent, taxes, hardware, software, benefits, and more. Moreover, there is always the risk that an important employee leaves. Finding a new, qualified specialist is in itself difficult, not only due to the strong competition on the IT employer market but you also need to introduce a new person to the project. This slows down the development process and generates additional costs. 

Now the time for the alternative of in-house development, which is outsourcing practice.

Typically, outsourced development teams have more experience and knowledge in various fields, so the price of this approach is more reasonable. Therefore, such a team is easily scalable to match the changing needs of the product, which also helps to stay within budget. The team’s experience also guarantees an efficient, well-established development process. Such a configuration allows the immediate start of the project and faster time to market, without recruiting and onboarding new specialists as it happens in the in-house development.

Outsourcing also has several potentially risky areas. When choosing a partner for cooperation, we must be sure that they are trustworthy people. This way you will avoid the dangers of the lack of transparency. Limited team control, which must be taken into account in this solution, may result in failure to fulfill the contract or the delivery of a low-quality product. There is also a problem with communication, which, in the absence of an established routine, may end up in misunderstandings and the inability to carry the project on time. It’s really worth doing good research and checking the company’s reviews and portfolio before you decide to cooperate. Thanks to this, you will reduce the probability that the provided code and documentation will be poorly made and so, further work and development of the obtained product will not be problematic. 

You can learn more about the advantages and disadvantages of in-house development from our related article.

How to choose the right agency to contract with?

As it was mentioned before – do your research! Check out platforms such as Clutch.co, GoodFirms, but also ask your friends if they know companies that are worth recommending. Take a good look at the offer and their previous projects, pay special attention to whether they implemented products similar to the one you want to develop. 

After the first selection and picking candidates, commission them to make an estimation. Then analyze the offers received and don’t be afraid to ask questions. Make sure the estimate includes all the key elements as well as taking into account risks, meeting time, and quality assurance.

Then carefully check the contract you received and consult it with your lawyer. Make sure it includes a confidential information clause and regulates the intellectual property of everything that the software house produces in your project. It should also include information on the advance payment, the consequences of late payment, terms, and conditions for termination of the contract, and deadlines.

If everything is alright, it’s time to get down to business!

Idea & Strategy

The time to speak your vision out and share it with the team has come. Before you start the process of creating a mobile application, it is necessary to discuss the idea for it and do some analysis. We need to define some assumptions and formulate a strategy that will help to successfully develop functional software. All this brainstorming can be done in a workshop that your project contractors are organizing for you. Let’s focus on the most important elements to think about and discuss at this stage.

Product Discovery

This process is basically laying the foundations for the project. Here are some basic questions to ask yourself at the beginning:

  • What is the goal of the project?
  • What do I want to achieve?

Then, focus on potential users and define personas to understand their needs:

  • Who is the application for? 
  • What problems users have? 
  • How can I help them?

Now, the natural order of things is to come up with solutions. During brainstorming, you exchange ideas, and then the best ones are selected. Don’t forget to pay special attention to user experience and system usability. 

Have you already chosen what functions and solutions you want to implement? So move on to prioritizing:

  • Which features are the most important in the app? 
  • What features should be implemented first?

By determining the order and importance of individual application functionalities and grouping them into milestones, it is easier to determine the MVP (Minimum Viable Product) scope. Creating an MVP is about removing the functionality of the product that is not necessary and defining the core value – it may be a challenge, so it’s a step that requires deep reflection and patience. Usually, the first concepts and wireframes of the application appear during the workshops. More advanced designs appear in the next stage of app development.

After this quite demanding, but also extremely resultful stage, your vision should take a specific shape. At the end of the workshop, you have the project roadmap ready and the development team can proceed to the next stage.

Market Analysis

Market research will show you how unique your idea is. Knowing what competition you may have to face, you can discover what solutions are successful and find a way to stand out in your niche. Researching applications similar to the one you are going to create will help you understand what users are looking for, how to respond to their needs, and go even beyond that. 

It’s worth checking places like Google Play Store and Apple’s App Store. The two largest mobile app markets will give you the best insight into app popularity and competition. Pay attention to the number of downloads, but also a very valuable thing – user reviews. This will give you the best data about what people really want and enjoy. At BinarApps, we analyze the market together with the client and develop the best strategy for product development. Thanks to this, we care about the competitiveness and uniqueness of the application and also know what the users are looking for and how to satisfy them.

Business Analysis

This part plays a huge role in the product discovery process. Thinking about the value and benefits that it should deliver, not only to the user but also to stakeholders is essential to building a successful product. Defining success metrics will help you test whether your application is achieving its goals. At BinarApps, we place great emphasis on getting to know the needs of the client and its users – without it, satisfactory results cannot be achieved. That is why we offer not only application development but also consulting services examining every important business aspect and values ​​for the client, to help them choose the best solution for them.

Product Design

You already know how the application is supposed to work. Now it’s time to decide on its design and check how the invented functionalities will work in practice. It is a conceptual work that requires a lot of creativity and knowledge of how to adapt systems to the needs of users. Most of the time, preliminary sketches (wireframes) are already drawn in the Product Discovery phase and the concepts, user flow, or user journey map are discussed too.

Prototype

Prototyping is a process that helps understand the application, user flow, and the whole experience. Developing the initial concept will let you find out if everything is going in a certain direction. Prototypes are created very fast to give it into a user’s hands as quickly as possible and see how it works in common use cases. This way you can immediately get feedback on how to improve the app. It requires hours of rethinking, hard work, lots of sketched wireframes, but it’s necessary to build a convenient and easy-to-use application.

UX

Providing the best user experience is the ultimate goal of the application. Because who would like to use an ugly-looking system that doesn’t ensure trouble-free and convenient operation? Therefore, you should take care not only of a beautiful, transparent interface but also of interactivity, intuitiveness, and ease of use. The success of a mobile app will largely depend on how well users adapt and use all its features. This is why wireframes are an essential part of application development. They simply define the structure, hierarchy, and relationships between the building blocks of the product. Wireframes are used to create interactive prototypes of your app to simulate and visualize the final product.

UI

Developing satisfactory results in terms of user experience leads to the design of the final version of the look and feel of the application. Designers typically create several versions of a user interface for stakeholder’s approval. It is a multi-stage process involving many reviews and approvals of designs, which will differ in the arrangement of elements or the method of navigation etc. All of this to achieve as original application as you can. UI and UX should always go hand in hand. Even the most beautiful application is not able to compensate the user for the inconvenience of use and the lack of intuitiveness.

App Development

It’s time to revive all the created designs and put the work in the hands of developers. 

All technical aspects, such as the selection of the technological stack, will definitely help determine the team of developers. An experienced team will know what architecture is best to build for a given application. In short, they will build the frontend – the client-side of the system, and what the user cannot see directly, which is the backend. Teams usually work according to a specific methodology. A very well-known and widely used agile software development methodology, also used in BinarApps, is Scrum. It is about working in sprints that have specific milestones to deliver. Such a division greatly facilitates the development of a complex system. This isn’t the only right approach, but it’s by far the most popular one currently.

During the application development process, you will have to decide what type of application you want to receive. Take a look at the examples of approaches you can choose from.

Mobile – Native/Hybrid

The most popular approach to mobile apps development is native applications. They are created for specific platforms and written in, using a concrete integrated development environment (IDE) for selected operating systems. They are distinguished by the best performance and smooth operation. Native applications allow you to access the built-in functions of the device, such as the camera or GPS, and to use push notifications. Unfortunately, this solution is the most expensive of all and very time-consuming. They are recommended for building very complex systems.

There are also hybrid applications that share common features with both native and web. Hybrid applications are built using HTML, CSS, and JavaScript and then packaged in a native container. They can be distributed in app stores just like native apps and can use some features of the device. They can be built on a single base, which allows adding new functionalities to multiple versions of the app. They are faster and easier to deliver, but not as efficient – the speed of a hybrid app will depend completely on the speed of the user’s browser.

Web App – PWA

PWA stands for Progressive Web Application. They are a simpler solution than the previous ones. They work in a browser on any device, regardless of the operating system. They are built using standard web technologies including HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. Generally speaking, they run like ordinary websites but give the feeling of operating as native mobile applications and create a similar user experience.

Unfortunately, in terms of UX, they are not as effective as native applications due to their limitations and dependence on the web browser. Additionally, they cannot do everything other kinds of apps are capable of, ex. use a camera. Since they are written in JavaScript, they are not as efficient and optimized as applications written in Kotlin or Swift.

Learn more about Kotlin and Swift in our related articles:

Quality Assurance & Development Support

A step that is often neglected, and is of considerable importance – quality assurance. It can be said that the testers bear the greatest responsibility for the success of the application. They have to check every possible use case and break everything down into the smallest details. Checking every element of the system and its operation is a crucial part of developing an application, so let’s dig into the nuances of this stage. 

Manual Testing

Let’s start with the fact that development teams should have dedicated QA specialists. Developers do not have such a fresh perspective and focus on other details, which is why the people designated for this process will do their job better. Manual testing is simply, as the name says, the process of manually testing software for defects. This requires the tester to impersonate the user and check the use cases. To ensure the completeness of the tests, the tester often follows a written test plan. It is especially important for large endeavors and avoids releasing a system with critical errors. The application should be tested for usability, compatibility, interface, load, security, and performance.

Manual testing is complex and consists of several steps. The classic approach assumes that these are:

  • Unit Testing – this initial stage is usually carried out by the developer who wrote the code or sometimes by a peer;
  • Integration Testing – individual units or components are combined and tested as a group.
  • System Testing – the software is tested from all possible dimensions for all intended purposes and platforms. 
  • User Acceptance Testing – carried out to get customer sign-off of the finished product. At this stage, the customer accepts the software and it’s ready for use.
  • Release or Deployment Testing – the onsite team goes to the customer site to install the system in the customer configured environment and check how the software is performing.

UI Automation (Cypress)

Manual tests are not the only ones that are performed. Every possible aspect of the application must be checked and so, it’s better to use various methods in this process. Therefore, in addition to manual testing, there is an automation approach. The difference is that the computer runs the tests instead of a QA specialist or tester. 

An example of such a tool is Cypress. This JavaScript framework is primarily for end-to-end testing but also allows you to write other types of them. Cypress can test anything that runs in a browser, which gives it a lot of advantage over tools that run entirely in the console. The best thing about it is the ease of setup and use.

Usability audit and testing

This stage is related to the aforementioned Release or Deployment Testing stage. Usability testing is a way to check on real users if the application is easy to use, intuitive, and doesn’t cause any problems. Users are asked to complete tasks in the app and observed, where they are having problems. This helps to react and implement changes in places where the system caused the most confusion. 

Usability audits are carried out by product experts, not test users. Most often they are UX Designers who are responsible for the appropriate user experience and check it from the very beginning to the end of the application development. This expertise and insight into the product allow auditors to evaluate the product in a way that goes well beyond user testing arrangements, revealing design system failures, and identifying possible solutions.

PM/Agile Coach

In the Scrum methodology, the Product Manager / Agile Coach watches over the smooth workflow. A Product Manager is a person who identifies the customer’s needs and the business goals a product is to achieve determines what the success of the product looks like and gathers a team to turn that vision into reality. They define the direction in which the product is to develop. They monitor the market, make research, establish alignments and priorities. Broadly speaking, PM combines all the areas that form application development – business, technology, and UX to deliver value and a suitable, high-quality product to the stakeholders.

Maintenance & further development

When we finally have a fully functional, tested application, it is time to deploy it and take further steps. So what is it all about?

App Deployment Management

In general, deployment is all of the activities that make a software system available for use. In terms of app development, releasing the app requires submitting it to the app marketplace, it mostly comes down to Apple’s App Store and Google Play Store. 

To get approval, you must follow the specific procedures of each platform. This involves the preparation of a complete set of information about the application, sending the application prepared for distribution to the store, setting monetization strategy, etc. These procedures are not required when this is an internal application for use by the contracting company, of course. Then the application is implemented directly in the customer’s environment.

In both cases, however, feedback from users is awaited, and further changes and improvements that will be introduced in new versions or updates of the system will largely depend on it.

SLA

When planning the project budget, it is worth reserving funds for the system support service, because in practice it is the only effective way to guarantee the availability of the system at the required level. Therefore, an SLA is signed.

SLA, or Service Level Agreement, is an agreement to maintain and systematically improve the service quality level established between the client and the service provider. It includes arrangements, service monitoring, reporting, and review of results achieved. The SLA requires the supplier to maintain knowledge about the implemented system, its structure, and functions. 

The SLA guarantees the client that if they report a problem, the service provider is obliged to react within a specified time. It is also a protection for the company offering the assistance service. Thanks to the provisions contained therein, the service provider knows how to act, what the client expects from them, and how they are accountable for these activities. The SLA can also guarantee tools that will support the maintenance team in complying with the establishments of the contract, such as the use of a certain platform for reporting failures by the customer.

Version Management

Versioning is a critical component of your app upgrade and maintenance strategy. Version management is one of the services offered by the management team. It’s conducted to effectively track and control changes to source code. It is an assurance that if the next version of the app comes out with some defect, developers can compare earlier versions of the code to help fix bugs. Certain systems are used for this process, eg. Git, which has their own code repositories, helps to track historical changes, and enable comprehensive activities and control while facilitating the work of developers.

Summary

You can pat yourself on the back now, you’ve managed to get through all the stages of app development! We hope you find it useful if you are thinking about creating your own application. As you can see, this process requires many refinements, good planning, and organization on all sides. Remember to always work with experienced specialists to avoid possible failure. With a trusted company, developing a mobile application will be fun, hassle-free, and very successful!

For more information about mobile app development read our related articles:

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