How to Build a Mobile App: The Ultimate Guide

It’s no secret that smartphones are quickly becoming intrinsic multi-tools that enhance our productivity, our access to information, and pretty much everything else in our daily lives. The meteoric rise of mobile devices is indeed a shake-up to an already volatile and new industry itself; it’s almost difficult to believe that mobile devices account for 63% of all internet traffic, a 6% rise from 2017.

Out of that 63% of mobile internet traffic, a whopping 90% was spent using apps. Just like the total increase of mobile traffic, app usage grew by 6% from 2017 to 2018 – a dip from the 11% between 2016 to 2017 – but still a significant amount of growth nonetheless, especially when accounting for certain app genres, like games, which are seeing users spending both more time and money on their interactions.

This is a trend that isn’t expected to stop any time soon, and if you’re an entrepreneur, or the CEO of a fortune 500 company, and you don’t have an app to enhance your business (or engage your customers), it’s time to get one.

So, how do you go about making an app?

Building an app

Before we get into the intricacies of app creation, let’s go over what we’re going to cover in our How to Build a Mobile App: The Ultimate Guide.

  • The platforms available to you, and the code that makes them work
  • How to properly design your app
  • How to find and communicate with developers
  • Different types of development
  • App Store Optimization and how users engage with the App Store
  • Usage, keyword, and design trends
  • How to measure, grow, and ensure your app’s chance of success over its lifetime

For the next 22 weeks we’re going to dive deep into every facet of app development, from the very basics and first steps, to user retention and acquisition strategies. This is the How to Build a Mobile App: The Ultimate Guide after all, so strap yourself in for a five-month-long ride down the app creation highway.

For now, here’s an introduction to each topic:

The platforms available to you, and the code that makes them work

Mobile Platforms

When it comes to platforms, there are two main players; iOS and Android. Each has its own benefits and drawbacks when comparing the two – iOS provides greater stability and Android allows for more customization.

Apps that run on iOS are programmed using Swift, the most current iteration of the language being Swift 4. Swift can be used to code for iOS, macOS, watchOS, and tvOS. This is handy, as it gives you the ability to code for all Apple products while only requiring the knowledge of one language, but it limits your potential audience.

When programming for Android, there are many languages available to you: Java, C and C++, Go, and Kotlin – the most popular being Java. Android is open source, which gives you free reign to modify and distribute Android’s code at no charge. Android is used on a wide variety of mobile devices, which gives you the potential to open up a greater range of revenue streams, but this can also slow down your app’s development.

When it comes to choosing a platform for your app, there isn’t a right or wrong option – and frequently, the best answer is both. In the future, we’ll be looking more into the intricacies of developing for both iOS and Android.

How to properly design your app

App Design

App design is like butter on toast; not enough, and you’re in for a bland experience – too much, and you’re not sure whether you should eat it or throw it out to give your arteries a break. Due to user experience (UX) being so entwined with user retention and acquisition rates (as well as user ratings) an app’s design can make or break its chances of success.

Design trends are changing all the time, so it’s important to update your app to not only keep it secure, but to also ensure it stays relevant. User reviews are a great source to pay attention to when planning your app’s design – but always err on the side of caution when designing your app – if you can scrape some butter off of that toast without sacrificing flavor, get rid of the unneeded butter.

In the future, we’re going to cover app design principles from the ground up.

How to find and communicate with developers

Finding App Developers

There’s a multitude of developers out there, so how do you figure out which one is the best for you?

Rather than searching Google, it’s best to start with Clutch. Clutch is a website dedicated to providing a platform for entrepreneurs and businesses to search for developers that fit their specific needs, and is a great resource for vetting teams when deciding on a development partner.

As we cover development pitfalls and best practices, we’ll go into detail about how to ensure time spent building your app is never wasted, as well as tips on how to communicate effectively with your development team.

Different types of development

App Development

There’s plenty of fish in the sea, just as there’s a myriad of methods to structuring and planning your app’s development. The most common are Skyscraper, Agile, and Minimum Viable Product (MVP).

In short, the Skyscraper method relies on heavy planning and market research, Agile focuses on utilizing an adaptive, responsive method of development, and MVPs are used to quickly and efficiently produce a bear-bones, but workable app, intended to be enhanced upon after being brought to market.

In the future, we’ll cover how to figure out which development style will work best for you.

App Store Optimization and how users engage with the App Store

App Store

App Store Optimization (ASO) is crucial to your app’s chance of success. Just like SEO, ASO relies on utilizing keywords that users regularly search for, which are then paired with your app’s total downloads, user retention, user ratings, and user reviews, which culminate to form your app’s ranking in the App Store or Google Play. Apps with higher scores in these categories will be listed above lower-scoring apps during searches, giving them access to a wider audience.

Most app downloads come directly from the App Store’s search function. The two largest discovery channels in the App Store are the search function, coming in at 20%, and word-of-mouth, coming in at 15%. This exemplifies the importance of both keywords and UX, as users are much more likely to recommend an app to a friend if their experiences using the app are positive, as opposed to negative or even mediocre. Interestingly enough, negative word-of-mouth spreads much faster than positive, doubling the importance of your app’s UX.

In our How to Build a Mobile App: The Ultimate Guide, we’ll spend a lot of time covering ASO best practices, pitfalls, and proven user acquisition and retention strategies.

Usage, keyword, and design trends

User trends

Your app’s ranking, design, and user experience aren’t set in stone. Trends can make or break your app’s growth, so knowing the resources and options available to you in order to stay at the crest of these trends is crucial to your app’s success.

Your customer’s usage patterns will morph based on a plethora of factors, from simply-recognized time-of-day patterns to seasonal usage patterns influenced by weather, or even geographical differences. For example, productivity apps are used more during the day, while mobile games are used more during the evening. An app that tracks waves for surfers to catch will perform well in costal areas, while a snow-plow service app would perform better in cold regions during the winter.

ASO is ever changing – for example, certain keywords (especially those that are holiday related) can perform better during certain seasons, and should be implemented only at particular times. Keyword trends are forever changing, and it’s imperative to keep up with those trends to maintain your audience’s engagement and growth.

Even the design of your app is expected to change over time – mobile devices are constantly improving and changing, and your design must follow suit to compensate with larger screen resolutions and more powerful processors. There are trends in mobile design as well, which evolve frequently, and paying attention to the UX innovations of your competitors can give you an edge on how to do it better (simpler is always better), and stay up to date.

In the future, we’ll go into more detail about the methods and resources available to help you stay on top of upcoming keyword and design trends.

How to measure, grow, and ensure your app’s chance of success over its lifetime

App Growth

There’s never a fool-proof method to ensure a 100% success rate with any app, let alone any facet of life, but there are tools and options available to you to help ensure your app is successful in the marketplace.

There are tons of analytical services to choose from, ranging from touchscreen heat mapping and user session tracking and recording, to crash monitoring and realtime alerts.

If you’re keeping up with your ASO, and providing users with regular updates to stay on top of trends, you’re already headed in the right direction. Partnering with the right developer can spell either the success or failure of your app as well, so knowing how to shop for and speak with development teams is a crucial step in providing yourself with a stable foundation to build upon.

Over the next few months, we’ll dive deep into all of these topics, covering app creation from start to finish. Next week, we’ll cover tips on how to be a successful appreneur.

What Features are Worth it? Refining Your App Ideation and Scope

When solving a problem, it’s tempting to want to solve every problem. Replacing your car battery? Might as well change the washer fluid. Have a routine check-up with your doctor? Might as well get that flu shot.

While it’s pragmatic to perform routine maintenance on your car, addressing tangential pain points when designing your app can bloat your budget, muddle development, and reduce your app’s user experience. Before deciding what features your app should use, figure out the main pain point you want your app to address.

“I always ask my clients to describe what their app does in two sentences,” said Nick Jones, CEO of NS804. “If they can’t do that, I know we need to work together to create a concrete, straightforward idea.”

The key to successful development, and in turn, a successful app, is to identify your primary pain point, and then focus on solving that, and only that. All other solutions will stem from your original pain point. It’s like writing a thesis statement – your overall idea needs to be summed up in a few sentences – later, you can get into the details.

“Do your one thing right,” said Jones. “and do it well.”

So, you’ve done your market research, and have identified your main pain point. How do you implement your findings into a successful set of features? Are there certain app features that will provide the functionality your users need at less cost than when compared to another? What even is a feature?

First, let’s go over just what an app’s features entail. Widely used features are as follows:

  • Mapping/GPS/Navigation
  • Social Sharing
  • Back End Management / Reporting
  • Game Center
  • Push Notification
  • Augmented Reality
  • Virtual Reality
  • Real Time Updating
  • Third Party Tool Integration (API)
  • Graphics

The more features your app includes, the more time your app spends in development, and the more money you will inevitably spend. Out of this list of features, graphics (including AR and VR) and back end integration are the most time-consuming and expensive features to include in your app.

Keep in mind that certain features can be used, but in a sparing manner. Your app might need a back end to manage data, but it might be manageable without website integration. Your app may need to use graphics to convey ideas to users, but icons might suffice instead of 3D graphics. Find ways to trim the fat from your app’s features, and in turn reduce your budget.

Features are the core of your app, and they include everything from simple fields for users to select, to massive back end infrastructure to manage cloud data storage for millions of users. There’s a wide range to choose from, so make sure you choose wisely.

How do I implement my findings from my market research into a successful set of features?

Building Apps with Strategy

Let’s say you run a farmer’s co-op, and based on market research, you want to offer your customers an easy way to select their choice of produce to be delivered each week.

That’s all you should focus on for now; providing your users with a simple interface for selecting your currently offered produce, and fields for inputing their delivery address and contact data. To achieve this, the only features your app would need to function are:

  • Simple graphical fields for selecting produce
  • Simple fields to input user address and contact data
  • Back end management for storing and accessing a user’s address and contact data

Believe it or not, that’s really all your app needs to complete your goal. Adding quality of life features – such as a produce rating system used to give customers product suggestions based on food they like – can be added in the future.

Your delivery drivers can input delivery addresses directly into their own phone’s navigation system, so there’s no need to implement navigation in your app. Need to contact a customer? You can use the contact data provided to call or text. In the future, internal app messaging might be something to consider, but you’re not making a messaging service. Don’t be afraid to rely on other apps’ functionality – your users aren’t downloading your co-op delivery app to check the weather.

The more features your app has, the more time is needed to test and debug. When you focus on solving one problem, you reduce your development and testing time, which saves you a lot of money. The less features your app implements, especially at launch, the more robust its user experience will be, as new users will not only be introduced to a simple, easy to understand UI, they also won’t be confronted with as many bugs (or optimally, none at all).

First impressions are important, and it’s no different for your app. If a user downloads your app, and finds they are inundated with various options, numerous fields, and a lengthy learning process, they’re much less likely to continue using your app. Keep in mind that your app most likely isn’t the only one on their phone, so don’t try to do everything.

Another benefit to focusing on solving one pain point is smaller file size. Apps take up space just like any program, and 1 in 6 users delete one app per week to free up storage space. If your app isn’t taking up too much space, it’s less likely to be deleted to make room for another app.

Your app only has to do one thing, but it has to do that thing better than anyone else.

How do I know I’m providing my users with enough features to satisfy them?

Satisfied Users

After solving your initial pain point, this question is solved by listening to user feedback.

User reviews and feedback are fantastic channels to understand your user’s mindsets. This direct-from-customer research is a goldmine for you; use the reviews and feedback to develop features that improve your app’s user experience and functionality.

When you listen to your users’ requests, you not only develop your app based upon free market research, you strengthen your relationship with your user base. Your users requested push notifications to alert them when your co-op has delivered produce to their door? Do that. It’s a tangental solution, but it still circles back to the app’s main pain point – hassle-free produce delivery. If a user requests a game to keep them occupied while they wait for their delivery, don’t do that. It’s a simple example, but some user requests can be off-track from the main pain point your app solves. Learn to distinguish the bad from the good.

Here’s a litmus test for determining a good feature from a bad one; if the extra feature provides a more complete solution to, or enhances the user experience when solving your main pain point, it’s good. If it doesn’t directly relate to your main pain point, you can decide whether or not it’s truly needed. There’s no definite answer when determining if a feature is bad, but it is easy to figure out if it’s the right fit for your app.

It’s almost like writing a novel. Does your newest chapter fit within the story’s theme? Does the dialogue progress the plot? It works very similarly with app creation – if a feature expounds upon the central solution your app provides, it’s most likely a useful feature. If you’re finding it hard to justify why a character in your story wears flip-flops in the winter, it might not be integral to your plot. In the same vein, if a feature isn’t easily justifiable when held up to your app’s main pain point, it might be better to forgo it.

It’s always better to pick a manageable number of features to focus on – and to execute those features as best as possible – than it is to cast a wide net in an attempt to catch users with multiple functionalities. Venmo, for example, does one thing – money transfers – and it does them well. The average smartphone has 35 apps installed on it – you’re not competing to provide the answers to every problem your user has – you’re focused on providing the optimal solution to one problem out of those 35.

When you provide your users with an easy-to-use app that solves a specific pain point in their lives, they won’t mind if your co-op produce delivery app doesn’t provide real-time map updates, as long as they receive their delivery at the scheduled time and date. Build your foundation first – then add the decorations.

Measure twice, cut once

Plan Ahead

It’s an old adage, but it rings true. Before taking any steps in developing your app, identify the pain point you want to solve in your target audiences’ lives. Then research that pain point; How many people does this effect? How do they handle this problem currently? What are they asking for? How can you capitalize on this need? What are the most efficient ways to accomplish this?

The first webcam was used by programmers to livestream a coffee pot, so they wouldn’t waste a trip to fill up their mug; it solved their individual pain point, but it didn’t solve the true need millions of other users had. Before executing an idea, ask yourself; is this the root, or a branch?

When you have a solid foundation, and a main focus, build your app around that and only that. If there’s another pain point you discover that isn’t in line with the solution your app is designed to provide, make another. That’s another revenue stream for you.

Do your one thing, and do it well.

Interested in learning more about efficient development techniques? Check out our Minimum Viable Product page.

Lemmings Game Tribute

Remember Lemmings? I sure do it was one of my favorite games growing up. When you consider the amount of thought you had to put into completing a level coupled with the speed needed to keep those little guys alive it is no wonder it was a hit.

I set out about 2 years ago to find a suitable mobile version of Lemmings or a suitable game like Lemmings, but was shocked there was not many out there.

So I did the only thing one could be expected to do and that was to develop my own. The result was Morads: A Lemmings Tribute which has now been in development for over a year. Although we have had many set backs we are now in the home stretch and should have a complete game in 4-6 weeks.

We altered some of the game skills to differ from Lemmings and have been diligently working on a level editor to allow the community to publish their own levels at some point. We are shooting to release with 60 levels and another 60 soon to follow after release.

We are also going to add in some of the fun social aspects of current games in the mobile realm to appeal to a larger audience and give Lemmings the tribute it deserves for being such a great game.

In addition, we are updating the graphics which many will not be pleased with, but we felt a little updating would not hurt.

Keep a look out for Morads: a Lemmings Tribute coming soon to iOS!

Morads A Lemmings Tribute

I can’t believe it Morads is really coming together. We got the performance issues fixed it runs very smooth now maintains frame rate very well even when taxing the platform.

Hopefully a fully testable iPad version in 2 weeks. We also have some cool mini games coming soon as well.