How to Make an App

From conception, to design, to development, our 10 step tutorial will help you discover if you're ready to build an app and how to make a mobile app.

At AppIt Ventures, we know that the process of mobile app development can be daunting, especially without the right development partner. To give you a better idea of the typical process of how to make an app, we’ve put together this list of the ten essential steps in developing and launching your mobile app, from conception to a successful and rewarding deployment. Not sure if you're ready to build an app? We have a resource for that too!

1. Decide on Brand

Branding is an oft-neglected area in mobile app development, despite its high rewards. With competition in every mobile app marketplace, strong branding is what sets your app apart from the rest at first glance. The first step in branding your app is creating a memorable name that references the function of the app. For instance, if you’re creating an ambient noise app, a name invoking peace and quiet, restfulness, or sleep would help would-be users associate your name with what they’re seeking, and the product you provide. Likewise, designing a notable icon that captures the essence of your app and expresses its basic elements in a simple, unique shape, will draw attention to your app.

2. Establish Requirements

Once you’ve established your concept and branding, you’ll need to gather the requirements for your mobile app, both business and technical.  The information that goes into this document is referred to as a mobile app requirements document. This document is the foundation of your product, outlining the business logic, listing the technical specifications, and ultimately guiding your team from early conception to the final product.

The mobile app requirements document allows the project manager, designers, and developers to understand what is required to build your mobile app. In order to create a strong document, you’ll need to gather research on your competitors, related mobile apps, your potential users, needed technologies, and the capabilities required from your designer and developer. While there are different ways of organizing this, AppIt recommends including both business and technical requirements, as well as a few other considerations that will help prepare your engineering team to get your product to market as efficiently and cleanly as possible.

Below, we’ve listed some questions you’ll want to address in preparing your mobile app requirements document.

Business Requirements

Business requirements are criteria that are necessary to meet organizational objectives for the mobile application. Typically, they outline how the product or solution will address the needs of the company and/or its users.

  • Why are you building this app?  What’s the purpose?
  • What are the business goals you are hoping to achieve with this app?  What problems will it solve for your customers/users?
  • How will your mobile app improve or streamline an existing process?  Will it create a new process that will help people be more efficient? If so, how?
  • Will the mobile app need to be created from scratch, or can you leverage existing assets?
  • In general, what should the mobile app do?
  • What features will set your mobile app apart from the competition?
  • What is your revenue model?
  • Does your company have branding guidelines or marketing constraints that need to be followed?

Technical Requirements

Technical requirements outline the systemic and technical needs in order for the mobile app to achieve the desired features and functionalities. You should determine answers to the following questions within the technical specifications for your mobile app requirements document:

  • What mobile platforms will the mobile app be built for (Android, iOS, or both)?
  • Do you have an existing database, server and web services?  If so, in what technology? Do you have current API/web services documentation?
  • Do you have a budget for ongoing maintenance?
  • Do you have a plan and a budget for ongoing updates to keep the app fresh and relevant?

Once you have gathered your business and technical requirements you are ready to start putting together your mobile app requirements document.

3. Create  Wireframes and User Stories


The next step to your mobile app development process is developing the wireframes of your mobile app.  Wireframes are low-fidelity blueprints of a mobile app, depicting what goes where in the design in a basic mock-up, without focusing on details, colors or shapes. All the buttons, tabs and placeholders are included, making it easy to imagine the final version of the application. Each wireframe is then connected to the others, creating a clickable prototype that demonstrates the flow of the mobile app.  Here is an example of wireframes from one of our clients.

In order to create wireframes, designers communicate with the architects and developers to scope out user stories and assess how the software is going to function. In other words, this is where theory starts to meet reality, where form meets function, and the clickable prototype that results is exactly where you and your app development team will be able to start parsing what’s really working in your new app.

As important as wireframes are, we sometimes see clients tempted to skip this step completely, often for cost-cutting reasons. We strongly discourage this, and have outlined five of the most important reasons to include wireframing in your mobile app development:

1. App architecture visualization

A picture is worth a thousand words. With wireframes, the whole app architecture is clear from the beginning, saving you from costly backtracking later on.

2. Usability pushed to the front

You and your development team can discuss the functionalities and structure without focusing on surficial design details such as colors or fonts.

3. Mutual understanding

Wireframes help to understand the whole app idea and correct possible misunderstandings quickly, allowing you to avoid huge adjustments when the app is already coded.

4. Helping to manage the process

When the whole mobile app has been discussed, and all features are agreed upon, it is easier to divide the development process into design sprints (3-week time cycles).

5. Time- and money-savings

A well-designed app with defined structure and features is quicker to create from scratch than it is to retrospectively edit. Spending the time to create and review wireframes can save you a ton of money in avoidable mistakes, and shore up the shared vision between you and your development partner.

User Stories

User stories are the things that the user can do in the mobile application, and are described from the user’s perspective. User stories can also briefly explain why the user would want to use it, if that isn’t obvious.  This is where your team’s expertise and creativity really make a difference. As your team goes about taking a high-level feature (epic) and describing in granular detail exactly how that feature will work (user story), it’s important to think through every possible scenario to avoid changes or additions later in development.  The more time taken in these early stages to empathize with the users’ interaction in the app, the more time and cost savings you’ll see down the road in development. Empathy for the user, creativity in brainstorming, and patience in documenting your thought process are critical for successful, streamlined development down the road. User stories have become one of the most convenient and popular formats for describing the detailed requirements, due to their simplicity and flexibility.

4. Full Mobile App Design

Having put in so much effort into the functional design of your app, it is imperative that the aesthetics of your app complement its functionality. In the full mobile app design stage, your developers will take creative assets like logos, icons, colors, and fonts, and apply those elements to the wireframes, further fleshing out your application.  Some clients already have these design elements created, while others ask developers and designers to create the elements for them. Properly fitting these components to work well within wireframes can be a tricky process, and it’s important that your team not simply best guess at dimensions, hex values (color), and positioning. A solid design team will have the appropriate tools and applications to bring everything together into a quality, pixel-perfect prototype.

5. Mobile App Development

There are numerous choices to be made when it comes to building a mobile app, including approach, technology, and programming language. The options vary widely in cost and implementation time, and each comes with unique benefits and drawbacks. It is imperative that the choices you make build on a reliable technology stack to avoid the possibility of costly rebuilds in the future. Working with a trustworthy development partner who can help you make decisions is vital to this process.

Front-end | What Users See

There are three basic approaches to front-end development: platform-specific native, cross-platform native, and hybrid. Below you will find a general overview of each.

1. Platform-Specific Native Code

Separate code is written in its entirety for each mobile platform. Since code cannot be shared between Android and iOS, this is the most expensive and time-intensive approach, but it also allows for the most platform optimized and effectual apps.

2. Cross-platform Native

Some (or all) of the code written is shared between mobile platforms, but are the apps are run natively. React Native, Xamarin, and Native Script are some commonly used technologies for this approach. Cross-platform native can strike a balance between cost-effectiveness and platform-optimization.

3. Hybrid

Apps are built using web technologies, such as HTML or Javascript, and installed with a native wrapper. This approach may be achieved using technologies like Cordova, Phone Gap, or Ionic. While this approach is by far the cheapest, it can also be quite problematic.

Back-end | Web API and Server

The server you choose will determine scalability as well as many facets of your app’s performance. Several decisions need to be made before you begin writing code:

1. Language

When it comes to building your API, there are a plethora of choices for language, including, but not limited to, Java, Go-lang, C#, and Python. Within these options, there are various frameworks to choose from as well.

2. Database

SQL and noSQL are the two main options for databases, and SQL is nearly always preferred. MSSQL, MYSQL, and PostgreSQL are a few of the common implementations of an SQL database. In addition to•••••• this, a database schema must also be decided upon, and being thoughtful about this is crucial for ensuring that you have reliable and well-organized data.

3. Infrastructure/Hosting Environment

In this step you need to decide where and how your API and database will be hosted. Decisions made here will help determine the hosting costs, scalability, performance, and reliability of your application down the road. Common hosting providers include Amazon AWS and Rackspace. Beyond picking a provider, you need to plan how your system will scale as your user base grows. Choosing a cloud-based solution will allow you to pay for resources as a utility and scale up and down as needed. They also help with database backups, server uptime, and operating system updates–all things you’ll want to have planned for once your app gains in popularity.

6. Quality Assurance and Testing

The majority of testing should be completed by non-developers, so as to better mimic the experience of an app’s average user. There are several types of testing that should be performed during each sprint.

  • Functional Testing
    Ensures that each feature of the app functions as described in the requirements.

  • Usability Testing
    Ensures that the app is user-friendly and functions intuitively. Testers using the app for the very first time are the best choice for this step.

  • Performance Testing
    Ensures adequate responsiveness. An app with features that take too long to load will undoubtedly fail to acquire users. While it is important to do performance testing throughout an app’s development, it is especially key in the later stages.

  • Fit and Finish Testing
    Ensures that the designers’ vision has been achieved. Each feature will need to be reviewed by the designer(s) during each sprint, so it is helpful to have one agency responsible for both the design and development of an app.

  • Regression Testing
    It cannot be assumed that a feature tested in a previous sprint will still be working properly in subsequent sprints. The list of tests should grow with each sprint to include both newly implemented features as well as previously tested features.

  • Device-Specific Testing
    Ensures that your app works properly on all of the various combinations of devices and operating systems. Testing should be performed with tools such as Google’s Firebase, but also on as many physical devices as possible. Keeping a variety of devices with different screen sizes and operating systems on hand is helpful in this endeavor.

  • User Acceptance Testing
    The app owner or the intended users will be the ones performing this final test. Acquiring regular feedback from intended users is crucial to developing a successful app.

Issues that are discovered in the test phase must be resolved by the developers before the project progresses any further.Once this is completed, the app can proceed to the review.

7. Beta Testing

In addition to the internal testing, you should also do some beta testing, which is typically done in the form of a beta launch of your app. Beta testing involves getting a group of testers to user your app in the real world. They use the app just as if it had launched, but in much smaller numbers. Often these beta testers will be power users, early adopters, and possibly your best customers. Give these beta testers sufficient opportunities to provide feedback and let them know when and how you are changing the app. Beta testing is also a great time to see how your app performs on various devices, locations, operating systems, and network conditions. It is imperative that you have sound crash reporting for this step. It does you no good if something goes wrong but is not discovered and diagnosed.

8. App Deployment

Now that you’ve successfully designed and developed your app, it’s time to deploy your web server into a production environment, preparing it for launch. Web servers are responsible for transferring data to and from the app, and you can think of it as a kind of two-way highway shuttling information between your users and the app. If you haven’t built in proper scalability (more lanes during rush hour), your server is vulnerable to overloading, and your whole app could crash just when it’s getting popular. Properly configured servers are scalable to meet your current and potential user base, while not being needlessly expensive. Cloud-based environments (such as RackSpace and Amazon Web Services) are scalable, and are thus better able to handle spikes in traffic. While most mobile apps are not terribly difficult to scale, it’s important that your development team understand your needs and goals in scalability to avoid crashes later on.

9. Submitting to the App Stores

Submitting your apps to the iOS and Google Play app stores is a moderately involved process. Broadly, you will need to make sure your apps are properly configured for release, fill out several forms for each store, submit screenshots and marketing materials, and write a description. Both Apple and Google Play require a registration fees, with Apple charging $100 annually, and Google charging a one-time $25 registration fee.

Submitting a mobile app to the iOS App Store

Apple is a lot stricter than Android when it comes to approving apps for their store. Their approval process involves a review by a team of developers, inspecting every aspect of the app to ensure that there are no errors, and communicating any errors back to the developer. This level of scrutiny and feedback about why your app may have been rejected is why the approval process takes longer than through other platforms. While the average approval time for an app used to be over two weeks, Apple’s current average is down to just two days.

Submitting a mobile app to the Google Play Store

The approval process for Android is a lot more lenient, and one of the most rapid approval processes for mobile apps, taking a few hours at most. Submitted apps are reviewed by a team of experts using automated tools. The team’s main focus is to search for violations in the app such as the presence of malware or spyware, violations of copyright as well as the inclusion of sexually explicit content.

Once the machine review is completed, the app is forwarded to a second team of reviewers for manual review. Developers typically enjoy a lot more freedom in the general content of their apps, due to Google’s less stringent submission guidelines.

Once your app has been approved and your fees have been paid, your app hits the market.

10. Marketing

Once your app hits stores, marketing becomes essential–in order to achieve success for your app, you must maintain a high level of visibility in relevant categories. You may have designed the best mobile app for your niche, and it could solve a singular need in your industry, but if you don’t get people using your mobile app, it’s worthless.

Once your app is in stores, you’ll want to focus on a few key strategies to help with your mobile app rankings.

Create a Website

Consider setting up your own website, if you don’t have one already. It doesn’t have to be elaborate, maybe just a few basic pages like a homepage, About Us, Contact, and an Apps page. A website helps ground the credibility of your brand and product, and allows you to boost your presence through Search Engine Optimization (SEO).

Write a Compelling App Description

The description of your mobile app is vital for marketing and selling your app to users, and both Apple and Google Play have limits on the number of characters for your description, so use your allotted space wisely. You’ll want to incorporate specific keywords for Search Engine Optimization (SEO) without sounding unnatural, and avoid making false statements or duplicate content. The format can be divided into two sections: above the fold and below the fold. Above the fold must be around one to two sentences long, and should describe the app and its main use. Below the fold should provide a clear listing of the features of the app, utilizing a bulleted list to highlight the features.

Keyword Strategy

As part of your marketing plan, you’ll need to devise a keyword strategy. It’s important to choose keywords that describe the app and the needs of the your potential users. We recommend using the Google Keyword Planner tool to find a set of keywords that are relevant to your app.

We also recommend using a Latent Semantic Indexing (LSI) keyword strategy, which is a mathematical method used to determine the relationship between terms and concepts in content.  Latent semantic indexing helps Google and other search engines understand what the mobile app is about. When people search for a particular item, Google uses the LSI keywords of the site to determine if it is relevant to the search or not.

Reviews and Feedback

Having happy users is imperative, but soliciting their feedback in the form of positive reviews is just as important. Reviews drive a ton of user behavior, and the more glowing praise you receive, and the higher your average rating (4.0+ is ideal), the better odds you have of new users downloading your app.

To optimize your feedback system, try routing positive reviews to the app stores and bad reviews to your support. You can create an in-app notification that appears after a customer has been using the app for a period of time, allowing the user to give feedback. Ask them a simple question like, Do you love our app? Give them two options, something along the lines of Love it or Needs Improvement. If they select the former, route them to the app store to leave a (great) review. If they opt for the latter, have it prompt a form to submit their feedback to your support team.

11. Revenue Model (BONUS Step)

Choosing the right revenue model is a decision that keeps many app developers up at night.  Essentially, there are seven basic ways to make money, along with their various possible combinations. You’ll want to consider the difference between one-time fees and ongoing revenue for future development, and undertake some market research to see what other successful apps in your category are doing, as well as to determine which revenue model is best for your app and industry.

1. One time, up-front fee

The most straightforward, but not the most desirable. As you support an increasing number of users, you have to get even more users to fund your future development costs.

2. Up-front fee + in-app purchases

This is probably the hardest sell because you are asking people to pay twice. It only works in certain niches.

3. Free + in-app purchases

Most of the extremely profitable games in the world use this model. It should be one of the first revenue models you explore.

4. Free (“lite version”) + paid version

This can be a great model if you have a strong value proposition that can be showcased in a free version of your app.

5. Free + advertising

Advertising is generally a four-letter word, but it can be a good revenue model if you have no other options. Consider offering an in-app purchase that removes the ads.

6. Subscription

This model is becoming increasingly popular because it provides recurring income to cover future development costs.

7. Cross Promotion

As we mentioned above, you may want to create a totally free app to get a ton of users. You can then cross promote your paid app within the free app.

12. Conclusion

The mobile app development process might seem overwhelming–there are a lot of steps, and difficult, important decision-making is required at every step. At AppIt, we believe the right guidance can transform an otherwise daunting process into a rewarding and lucrative experience. Our mobile app development guide is the product of hard-earned knowledge from our team members, honed by years of experience in the industry and with an eye for catching costly, common mistakes before they happen.

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