Few fields move as fast as mobile app development. If you’re a decision maker on an app development team, the choices you make will be key to whether your product succeeds.
To keep up with your competitors and get the most out of your team, you need to know the latest methodology. Technology is important but isn’t the whole story, and being aware of what is recommended in the industry will help you get things right.
To make sure your app delivers everything you and your audience want, here are 13 mobile app development best practices you should know about. Following them will help you produce a better quality application that meets your goals while staying within budget.
1. Conduct Your Research
According to some estimates, 72% of apps underperform because their creators fail to conduct their research properly.
Here are five fundamental steps you shouldn’t neglect:
- Establishing your target audience. You need to know your customers and their needs and wants before you start coding. There are many metrics to think about when learning about your audiences, such as their age, occupation, or interests.
- Researching the market. Before you begin working on your app, it is a good idea to determine if there is a need for it on the market, or if another app already solves a particular problem.
- Analyzing competition. Being aware of similar products and researching your competitors’ strengths and weaknesses will help you spot gaps in the market that your product can fill.
- Developing a business model. You need to determine how you are going to make money from your app, whether it’s through charging for the app itself, a freemium model with in-app purchases, or through ads.
- Establishing a marketing strategy. To get your app to its target users, you’ll have to look into the most effective ways to advertise it, whether it’s through ads, social media, or SEO.
With mobile app usage increasing, there are always new users in need of software, and in a growing market, conditions change quickly. Covering your basics and finding a balance between what you want to make and what customers want to pay for is a prerequisite for success.
2. Pick Your Platform
Apps come in many varieties, and choosing the right platform can make or break your project. The two most significant app platforms are Android and iOS, which differ according to technical challenges, as well as the markets they serve.
For instance, Android has the largest market share globally, but iOS tends to do better in wealthier countries, such as the US, Australia, or the UK.
Additionally, apps for iOS can only be developed on macOS without compiling, but they have to be compatible with a smaller number of devices. On the other hand, developing apps for Android gives you more flexibility, but it also means that your app has to offer a good user experience on a wider variety of devices.
You should keep in mind that iOS users tend to be more willing to pay for apps and make in-app purchases, while Android users prefer their apps to be free of charge, meaning you’ll have to come up with a different monetization strategy.
App developers can choose between developing an app specifically for a particular platform, or opting for a cross-platform approach.
Native apps can take advantage of all the OS features and are typically faster and more reliable. However, if you choose to offer a native solution, you need a separate project for every platform you target, which is more expensive.
Cross-platform apps, on the other hand, can maximize your potential user base and save you development time, but you need to put in extra effort to make them feel as good to use as native applications.
To sum up, the basic equation when selecting a platform is cost vs. quality, with cross-platform generally being cheaper and native delivering the best experience.
3. Choose the Right Development Language
After you’ve chosen a platform, you need to choose the right language for your project. While your choice of platform won’t dictate the language you choose entirely, it will restrict it.
Swift and C# remain among the most popular programming languages for iOS, each with their own strengths and weaknesses.
For instance, Swift is modern and pleasant to work with, but it isn’t particularly fast. On the other hand, C# is fast but has a complex syntax.
On Android, Java tends to be the language of choice. It is somewhat complicated, but it boasts a great online community. Recently, Kotlin has started to catch up with it in popularity. Kotlin lets you target multiple platforms easily and is popular with developers, which is usually an indicator of quality.
To a large extent, your choice of language will depend on the skills of the people who work for you. However, your team’s preferences need to be balanced with the demands of the project.
Picking the right language will have implications for development speed, reliability, and portability.
Those need to be matched to the project timescale, the complexity of the application, and the target audience.
The type of app you want to create will also affect your choice, with native, hybrid, and cross-platform apps suited to different languages. Security considerations, the ecosystem and support available, and the long term prospects of the language all need to be factored in.
The choice of language will be key to meeting your project goals.
Related: Startup Software Development Guide
4. Follow the App Store Guidelines
If you want to get your app published, you have to adhere to the rules of the app store you’re submitting to, concerning the technical requirements, user interface rules, and information for the store listing. It is critical to be aware of them right from the start of your project.
To get accepted, you’ll often need recent development libraries, so upgrading your tool-chain to the latest available one is a good idea. This can leave you with a tricky balancing act as you juggle dependencies and try to deliver a build that works well and ticks every box.
There are also guidelines about making the user interface consistent with the platform the users expect, particularly on Apple devices.
Since getting the marketing side right is crucial, consider bringing in a copywriter to write your market listing if you don’t have anyone on your team who can do it well.
Many developers have clicked the submit button, thinking things were over, only to get a rejection message a few hours later, asking for changes. Checking the guidelines at the last moment is a common mistake small teams make, so the sooner you do this, the better.
5. Build Your App Around a Strong Core
Many app developers make the mistake of adding too many features to their app too soon. They waste their resources trying to do too many things at once, resulting in underdeveloped functions and an app that lacks overall focus.
So remember, extra features are nice to have, but to stand out in an increasingly competitive marketplace, your app needs to excel at its basic function.
To make sure you’re delivering an excellent core experience, make a list of key features your app needs, and prioritize those. You can think about adding more of them later if you have time. Whatever you do, don’t neglect the features users care about the most.
Identifying the essentials at the start of your project will allow you to focus on them early and get them right by the time your app is delivered.
If your app has a solid core, users will stick around to explore the additional features you provide. The basics are what matters though, and focusing your resources on the essentials will help you deliver a better quality app, giving you the platform you need to grow.
6. Eliminate the Clutter in Your App
We’ve talked about focusing on the core strengths of your application, but avoiding clutter is just as important. It can be tempting to present all the cool features you’ve created at once, but overcomplicating your app will confuse users, making them less inclined to continue using it.
Your focus should always be on allowing your users to use the basic functions on your app—the reason why they downloaded it in the first place—with as few obstacles as possible. That will enable you to eliminate elements they don’t find relevant and focus on what they do.
For instance, if you’re designing a shopping app, you want your users to be able to make a purchase without looking for the “add to cart” button among endless animations.
In short, keep in mind the limitations of small mobile screens and try to be sparing when designing your interface. Getting in your users’ way with extra-long splash screens and push notifications is not going to drive retention.
It also helps to avoid long passages of text: few users want to read an essay when using the phone on the train. Similarly, use push notifications strategically, without overwhelming the user.
There is no need to remove extra features entirely but think about putting them somewhere users can access optionally, after they figure out the basics of how your app works.
Reducing the clutter will help you deliver a streamlined application that meets the users’ needs, resulting in more retention, a better reputation, and a more successful application.
7. Embrace Agile Development
Agile development practices result in faster development and a better return on investment for clients.
By allowing you to deliver functional iterations of a project and receive feedback quickly, agile practices can give you an edge over the competition and help you organize your projects in a way that brings out the best in your team members.
They also help you manage the relationships that are critical to the success of your projects. Developers get to understand the client’s needs, without being subjected to damaging micro-management. On the other hand, clients are continually involved, but avoid getting pulled into technical discussions.
Additionally, organizing your work into sprints makes your schedule more predictable, while focusing on small sets of features allows you to adapt and refine the product as development goes on.
There is a range of software geared towards making the implementation of agile methodologies as straightforward and as smooth as possible. Jira and Azure DevOps are good choices for teams looking to make the transition to agile.
With Agile, everyone is involved in understanding the project’s vision. Developers use their expertise to meet the project’s requirements, while the client ensures that the project is achieving their aims.
If this approach is new to you, try implementing agile methods on a small project to see how it works out.
8. Make Your App Secure
According to some reports, there were over 3,000 data breaches in 2019, with that number only rising in 2020. Such breaches can have major consequences for your users, so they erode trust and harm your product’s reputation.
Doing everything you can to protect users will increase consumer confidence and ensure that you deliver a product that can overcome any vulnerability.
Despite the increased focus on security in recent years, high-risk issues are found in approximately 40% of the apps on the major platforms.
Some of the app store guidelines will help you avoid security catastrophe, but it is a good idea to do extra research and have at least one team member with a deep understanding of potential issues.
Encrypting everything you can, using APIs sparingly, and keeping your tools updated to the latest versions are all examples of good practice.
Thorough testing will also help you identify flaws in apps before you publish them. If you want to test your app in the wild, you can use bug bounty programs to offer incentives to white hat hackers to uncover weaknesses before they get exploited.
Security is an especially fast-moving area and not one you can afford to ignore, so don’t release an app without thoroughly checking it for vulnerabilities.
9. Focus on User Experience to Reduce Churn
The success of your app will depend on the users’ overall experience. Get it right, and users will stick with your app.
User experience, or UX, refers to the whole experience the user has when using your application. It involves such elements as a clear layout, reliability, and design consistency.
On the other hand, the user interface, or UI refers to the specific elements the user interacts with, such as menus, buttons, or loaders. A good UI will contribute to a good UX, but it isn’t the full story.
There are many things you can do to improve your UX. Simplifying the interface and prioritizing the key elements should be your guiding principle. Your navigation should be intuitive, and your app visually appealing and easy to personalize.
It is a good idea to conduct plenty of tests to see how users interact with your application and what you need to do better. Understanding your users and making sure the app caters to them will keep them engaged and reduce churn.
To sum up, develop an understanding of how your users see things and you’ll be able to provide a satisfactory experience.
10. Enable Quality Assurance and Test the App Throughout the Development Process
Thorough testing will get your app in the best possible shape and the more you test before release, the better. Quality assurance should begin from day one to help you eliminate problems throughout development.
Test-driven development and automated tools can help you identify issues easily, offering cost benefits.
Furthermore, regular code reviews throughout development will also help, enabling team members to spot bugs that may have been overlooked by the original developers and offer solutions.
Conducting frequent unit tests will also catch issues. Splitting tests into smaller units accelerates the development process and helps diagnose fixes. Moreover, small tests are also reusable, making it easier to target specific areas of your app.
Whatever techniques you use, continuous testing from the early stages development process will deliver a better app, lower maintenance costs, and increase efficiency. A rigorous quality assurance process will make sure you solve problems before they become critical, which will save you time and pay for itself.
Many teams have room for improvement when it comes to testing. Being aware of the latest techniques and implementing them rigorously will help you deliver a higher quality product.
11. Leverage Beta Testers
Beta testing involves letting a limited number of users use your app, usually just before release. It is a great way to spot issues that your own team might miss, either because they know your app too well, or because some issues only show up on particular devices.
When you are conducting beta testing, it is advisable to create a plan.
Having a fixed time period for testing will keep things tight and prevent overruns, and you’ll also need to pick a platform to deliver the app securely to your testers. For instance, TestFlight is popular with iOS developers, while Google Play Console also offers testing features for Android developers.
However, you need to keep in mind that you’ll sometimes need a sufficient number of testers to get meaningful results. Research suggests testing your app with 5 people only but adding additional groups of testers if you have very different groups of users for your app.
Once you get feedback, you’ll need to sift through it to find the data you can leverage to implement improvements. Then, you can make the final tweaks to your app and test again. Ironing out flaws before the launch is crucial for the success of your app.
12. Enable in-App Feedback
When users engage with your app for the first time and you start getting feedback, a new phase in your project begins. If managed correctly, letting your audience express their opinions can create a synergy between your team and your customers, helping you to perfect your application.
In-app surveys are an effective way to actively encourage feedback and elicit quality information from your users. In addition to multiple-choice questions that let you ask users exactly what you want to know, you can also offer open-ended ones, where they can mention anything they like, potentially revealing areas for improvement that you hadn’t considered.
In-app feedback can drive user engagement if done correctly, but you have to get the delivery spot-on. You don’t want to be too pushy.
Make the process painless for your users and give them an interesting, appealing screen to make them more likely to engage with it. If they feel positive, they will likely leave better feedback, too.
Companies that collect feedback say it helps them be more efficient. Investing in effective feedback systems can help you make better decisions and spend your time where it is most needed. That means more value for your clients.
Once you have that feedback, you need to act on it. Figure out what changes you can make, then implement them, and see what people think. Feedback systems can help you improve your app, and help users feel involved.
13. Plan for Post-Launch Updates and Maintenance
Development doesn’t stop when your app hits the store. Once your app is out the door, you’ll need to update it, and planning for this in advance, as well as allocating appropriate resources will make the process much easier.
Your post-launch strategy should include an understanding of potential issues, a timescale for add-ons, and delegating the responsibility for the changes.
Sure, adding a killer feature can change the fortunes of your app, but you’ll need to get some traction by focusing on the basics before you look to grow.
Updates are inevitable. Sometimes they occur because you need to keep up with new app store requirements, fix bugs, or fine-tune your monetization strategy. It is your job to keep on top of those, as well as update your market listing and implement format changes as needed.
User feedback will play a big role in what you decide to do, which is why it’s important to actively collect it. New ideas and problems will come to light, so make sure you deal with them as they arise, without letting them get the better of you.
The more successful your app is, the more likely users are to want new features, and providing these will help build long term success.
Keeping up with mobile app best practices can seem daunting, but implementing them can make a real difference to your app’s performance. The time and effort invested will pay huge dividends.
Focusing on these areas has the potential to boost your productivity and raise your app’s appeal. It can increase engagement with your audience and make your app more robust.
If there’s an area your team isn’t paying attention to, see it as an opportunity to improve your product and increase your app’s chances in an ever more competitive marketplace.