From Idea to Market-Ready: Understanding the Mobile App Development Process / Business Solutions / Last Modified: March 14, 2018
By GaudiLab/Shutterstock

Want to create a mobile app but don't know where to start? From idea description to marketing tips, here's how to navigate the complex mobile app development process.

The process of creating a mobile app is not limited to coding. It involves many stages, including idea description and clarification, communication with a software development company, cost estimation, prototyping, design, back-end and mobile development, release and marketing.

Yes, it’s complex – but the game is certainly worth the candle!

According to GeoMobile, users spend three hours, 23 minutes a day in apps (compared to 50 minutes on mobile web and a little over two hours spent on PCs). Whether you plan to deliver the ultimate experience to your mobile customers or build an app-based business, you’re on the right track.

The App-Making Process: 3 Steps to Success

1. Idea description and requirements analysis

Contact a software development company and give a general description of your application. For example, “I need a food ordering app, like Domino’s, with the restaurant menu displayed on the home screen."

The software development company will then prepare a ballpark cost estimate using the app you referred to as a reference. The cost of building a restaurant app depends on various factors. These include the country you outsource the development work to, the size of a development company, platform choice, the pricing model, the scope of work, etc. No software development company will give you an accurate estimate based on your general description – and that’s where the requirements elicitation process begins. Be ready to meet your Account Manager and tech lead in person/on Skype to decide on your app’s feature set – that is, the list of features that will help your customers pick a meal, place an order and make a secure payment.

Together with the vendor, you’ll choose the target platform. As a rule, it’s Android and iOS, so you’ll have to build two native apps to ensure seamless experience on multiple devices. Also, you need to decide on a pricing model. Building a food ordering app is not rocket science, so you’ll probably sign a Fixed Price (FP) contract and be able to plan software development costs in advance. Depending on the complexity of your project, the communication part may take up to several weeks. In the end, however, you’ll have a detailed technical vision listing all the functional (what your app should do) and non-functional (how the app is going to do it) requirements for your project.

If you’re going to take the Fixed Price approach, make sure the tech vision covers all the features you’d like to enable in your application. If you realize you want to add extra features to the scope in the midst of the development process, you’ll have to sign a supplementary agreement and pay for those features separately. According to your FP contract, you won’t be able to review your team’s work until the very end of the dev process.

As another option, you can sign a Time & Material (T&M) contract and be more hands-on with the project – that is, prioritize the app features on the scope, review the work at the end of each sprint (which usually last for two to four weeks) and conduct face-to-face and phone meetings with your team. The T&M model is more suitable for complex and knowledge-intensive mobile app projects dealing with cutting-edge technologies like the Internet of Things, artificial intelligence or augmented reality. However, your cost will be harder to predict.


2. Mobile app design and development

The user interface (UI) part of an app is just the tip of the iceberg. The mobile app logic is enabled by a server, which is built with web development technologies like PHP, .Net, Ruby, etc.

Here the “app logic” term refers to many things, including live chat (your customers might want to message call center employees or delivery personnel directly), social features (including the integration with social networks, comments, ratings, etc.), referral/customer loyalty program elements (invitations, bonus points and discounts) and payments. Also, you’ll need a web-based admin console to update menu and pricing information, manage locations, track orders and define delivery area.

A great mobile app is a set of modules which can be developed and deployed independently. Going back to the food ordering app example, it will feature multiple modules like communication, social features, payments, delivery service and chain management.

How do you know what features will prove useful to your customers? You can only tell once you try, so you probably should start with a Minimum Viable Product (aka the very basic version of your app), conduct testing and expand its feature set based on user feedback.

Finally, there’s the design part. Your design decisions should be based on a through user research; you might even get a bit more technical about it and create simple app wireframes in Balsamiq before you address a mobile app development company to explain your idea better. Together with a user experience (UX) designer, you’ll figure out how app screens should be connected to each other to help your customers place orders in the most convenient way and make sure the design meets the App Store and Google Play requirements.

3. Mobile app marketing

Four to five months later your app will be ready to launch – and here comes the hardest part: app marketing. Although apps now consume over 90 percent of the total mobile time, most smartphone owners use just 30 apps on a regular basis. These include Facebook and Instagram, mobile games, educational apps and business tools.

Marketing the app to customers who attend your physical restaurants is one thing; what if you’re operating an online food delivery business only? Obviously, you need to create some buzz around your project before the app goes live. Be sure to allocate a sufficient marketing budget (expect around $30K-plus) to do the following:

  • Think of an app feature that will help you stand out from the competition (something like Domino’s Zero Clicks will do).
  • Build a simple WordPress promo website with an explainer video and information about your project. Then start a Google AdWords campaign to get some traffic and encourage users to subscribe for updates.
  • Run a blog documenting the app making process and share news on social media.
  • Start with an MVP and conduct early tests to refine your product.
  • Plan a soft launch to test your business model.

Easier said than done, right? With the average cost per install (CPI) in the USA hitting $ 1.64 (iOS) and $ 1.91 (Android) last year, marketing a new app on a tight budget is a real challenge. Perhaps you can draw inspiration from Eat24 – a food delivery company that decided to advertise their services on adult websites and won big.

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