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How to develop mobile apps

Learn how to develop mobile apps from planning to launch with our comprehensive guide. Discover key steps and strategies for successful app development.

image author Jhonatan Gómez

Jhonatan Gómez

Marketing Specialist at Cressco

In this space of digitization, mobile apps have become intrinsic to our very existence. From ordering food or using transport services to personally managing our finances and staying in touch with loved ones, mobile apps have revolutionized our interaction with the world. Big and small businesses use the tool toward effectively reaching their customers, which means high user engagement and, hence, growth. Such importance in mobile apps translates to these being very critical tools for any business entity to stay competitive in the rapidly changing market.

So, how does one get into this mobile app business? How to start a mobile app business is the million-dollar question that this guide seeks to answer. This step-by-step overview will provide you with the information on how to proceed successfully in the application development process from the basics down to the launch and distribution. Now let's go step by step through the execution stages that are required to get your application from vision to reality.

Section 1: Understanding the Basics

What a Mobile App Is?

A mobile app is a software application that is designed to run specifically on mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets. They can be from social networking or games, productivity to e-commerce platforms. In general, most mobile apps are developed to serve and solve needs that take place right at the users' hands.

The mobile apps come into three distinguished types:

  1. Native Apps: These are developed for a specific OS—say, iOS or Android—using the languages native to the OS: Swift or Objective-C in the case of iOS and Java or Kotlin in the case of Android. Native apps offer the best performance and best user experience because of optimizations carried out for a particular platform.
  2. Web Apps: It is not an actual app, it is a website that gives a feel and look of indigenous apps. Such apps run with the help of browsers and are generally created by using HTML5, CSS, and JavaScript. These apps are totally independent of the platforms and do not need app-store installations at all.
  3. Hybrid Apps: It's a combination of both native and web apps. They are built using web technologies—for example, HTML5, CSS, and JavaScript—but are covered in a native container that allows them to work on any device. Hybrid apps are distributed through app stores and are able to access device features, being in a sense a good compromise in terms of performance and access.

Why Build an App?

These mobile applications benefit businesses on the one hand and, on the other, benefit the users. Below are some of the benefits or reasons a business acquires while developing a mobile app.

  1. Better User Engagement: Mobile apps give more personalized, interactive, and user-engaging experiences compared to websites. Features of push notifications, in-app messages, and engagement elements return users to interact with your brand.
  2. Improved Accessibility: a Mobile app creates easy access to your services at any time and from anywhere, which is really convenient for your customers and consequently raises their satisfaction.
  3. Brand Building and Recognition: A good mobile application will build a brand by bringing visibility and recognition to the business. It's like having a reminder of your business in their pockets if they have your apps on their devices.
  4. Direct Communication and Marketing: Mobile apps are a direct channel of communication to your customers. You can always use push notifications to inform users about new products, special offers, and any crucial updates that can actually drive sales and customer engagement.
  5. Data Collection and Insights: Information derived from the data collected through the mobile apps can provide some useful insights into user preferences, which would help businesses make informative decisions to better the quality of services with appropriately tailored marketing strategies.

Section 2: Plan Your App

Find Your Goals

The first step in app planning involves defining its purpose and objectives. Knowing what you are even creating an app for and what you want to do with it will help govern the rest of the development process. Consider the following:

  • What problem does your app solve? Knowing the key features and functionality your app will have is a good point in identifying the main issue your app addresses.
  • What are your business goals? Do you want to drive more sales, be in touch with your customer base, or launch a new service? Such business goals are what define the look and the features of the app.
  • Who is your target audience? You should understand the demographics, preferences, and behaviors of your users. It will be of help in designing your app, making it answer your audience's needs and fulfill their expectations.

Market Research

Proper market research would enable you to ensure that your app does not dissolve into the sea of many others. This means understanding competitors and similar apps to fathom their offers and shortcomings. Here is how:

  • Analyze Competitors: Look through popular apps in your industry. Notice features, user reviews, and ratings. Point out what they are doing well and what they could do better. This way, we will have a good hint about what the industry and users expect.
  • Recognize Gaps and Opportunities: Look for the gaps in the market by going through your app idea. What need do users have that other applications are not able to fulfill? Do you have the ability to provide extra features and provide a better user experience? Find such opportunities and make them serve your app for an edge over the others.

Define Basic Features

Now, with clear goals and an idea of the landscape in the market that the app works in, describe the core features of your app. Here you will have a list of app functionalities and a ranking of priority levels in consideration of user needs and your business goals.

  • Key features: these would be the functionalities that would basically make up or form the core of your app. These features are important to your application because they are designed to execute its primary function; for example, in an e-commerce app, you would have features such as a product catalog, shopping cart, and payment gateway.
  • Nice-to-Have Features: These are additional features that add value but are not central to the core functionalities of the application. For example, good examples of nice-to-have features include social media integration, advanced search filters, and personalized recommendations.
  • Prioritise Functionalities: Once you have listed all potential features, now you can prioritise them according to the importance of the feature to the user and the business goals you have. This will assure you have time to work on implementing functions that are most important, and mainly that the main features will be implemented first in your development process.

You are laying a strong foundation for developing your app with the planning and framing goals for your app, conducting market research, and further noting core features of the app. This just sets it up not only to meet the needs of the app user but to stand out in the competitive market.

Section 3: Design and User Experience

Wireframes and Mockups

Wireframing is one of the most important stages in the design process of your app. In other words, a wireframe is more like a visual guideline of the structure of the app and layout detailing the placement of its elements and the way it will flow between screens. First and foremost, however, it is a blueprint that allows you and your team, before detailed design work commences, to know exactly what the application should do and to ensure that all vital elements are included.

Wireframes are important for the following basic reasons:

  • Clarity of Design and Functionality: They help to give a clear picture of an app's layout and functionality, hence making it easy to easily identify any potential issue at the earliest.
  • Communication streamlining: Generally, wireframes are the tools used to clear ideas that are communicated to stakeholders, developers, and designers for everyone to be in a similar page of the project.
  • Save Time and Resources: Design flaws can be identified and fixed from wireframes, saving time and preventing heavy changes during development.

This would be the time to design some mockups, immediately after the approval of the wireframes. Mockups are high-fidelity designs, representing the visual style of the app, such as colors, typography, and images. Common tools for creating wireframes and mockups are Sketch, Figma, and Adobe XD. These tools have many features for prototyping and collaboration with your team.

UX Design

Basically, User Experience Design is about creating a user interface so easy to use and pleasurable that its value is self-evident. Well-thought-out UX Design is not about the app but about the users' needs, offering them a seamless and intuitive experience. The following are some principles of good UX design:

  • Simplicity: The interface should be simple, free from all unnecessary elements that have the potential to confuse the user. Each design element should carry a quality that adds to a purpose.
  • Consistency: This will mainly have consistency attained in the design components, such as buttons, icons, and typography. This way, users will be able to learn the interface faster and their efficiency in using it will increase.
  • Feedback: Give feedback to the users on their interactions. It could be in the form of simple messages of confirmation or just loading spinners. This provides a guarantee to the users that the app is functioning properly.
  • Accessibility: Design your app to be accessible for all your users—that includes users with disabilities. Ensure fonts are as clear to read, with contrast, and fill in alternative text for images.

Below are some handy tips that will prove helpful for the design of more intuitive, user-friendly interfaces:

  • User Goals: Design the app by keeping in mind the users' goals. Understand what users want to achieve, and ensure it's easy for them to achieve it.
  • Simple Navigation: Navigation within the application should be straightforward and natural. Follow standard patterns, such as using a bottom navigation bar or a hamburger menu, to allow users to easily find their way.
  • Minimize User Effort: The number of steps through which an intended action is to be completed should be reduced optimally. For example: Using autofill options, providing clean instructions, and minimizing typing help.

User Interface (UI) Design

User Interface design concerns how an application looks: its layout, color schemes, typography, and general aesthetic. Good UI design is user-oriented, enhances the user experience, and makes the application look good with good usability.

Here is a quick introduction to some of the basics of visual design:

  • Color Schemes: Use color schemes that are in line with your brand and the target group. Use colors consistently for commonality. Make sure you consider the psychological effect of color and how this will change user-end behavior.
  • Typography: Use a font that is easily read but also agrees with the brand's personality. Use different sizes and weights for fonts to create a visual hierarchy and guide users' attention.
  • Spacing and Layout: Pay attention to the padding between all elements so that it does not look too much congested and also for clearer readability. Use grids and try alignments for a balanced, organized look of the page.

UI means User Interface design, and it involves branding because app branding entails an identity. So, ensure that your app mirrors your brand identity across all the other touchpoints. This includes using the same color, typography, and imagery that represents one's brand, ensuring that this copy maintains the same tone of voice. Chances are good that if you have a strong brand for your app, it is likely to be recognized and remembered, thus adding to trust and loyalty. With a focus on wireframing and mockups, on UX design, and on UI design, one can actually create an app that is not only functional but enjoyable to use. A well-designed app will attract users' attention and charisma to use it, leading to business success.

Section 4: Development Process

Selecting the Optimal Development Approach

Different client needs can be best met by choosing the right approach for developing a mobile app. The three main approaches for native, hybrid, and web applications have their pros and cons that require maximum consideration, depending on what fits your project.

Native Apps. Applications are programmed for particular OSs with the use of platform-based languages: Swift for iOS and Kotlin or Java for Android.

  • Advantages
    • Performance: Native applications are more performance and speedy since they are optimized for particular platforms.
    • User Experience: It enhances user experience through smooth interaction and access to all the features of the device.
    • Reliability: Native Apps are more stable and reliable.
  • Disadvantages:
    • Development Cost and Time: A huge expenditure is involved in developing different mobile apps for diverse platforms.
    • Maintenance: It means to maintain several codebases.

Hybrid Apps: These are basically web apps developed in web technologies like HTML5, CSS, and JavaScript, and then put in a native housing that runs them.

  • Advantages
    • Cross-platform compatibility: Design and development for one source code to be later applied onto many platforms.
    • Access to the features of devices: The device features can be accessed by hybrid applications through making use of plugins.
  • Disadvantages:
    • Performance: Generally slower, and lacks the responsiveness native applications have.
    • User Experience: The user experience may be slightly less beautiful than native applications.

Web Apps: More or less, this is simply a mobile-optimized site with the look and functionality of an app but operating via an internet web browser.

  • Benefits:
    • Platform Independence: Works across all devices with browsers.
    • Economic: Normally more cost-economical and less time-consuming in development.
  • Disadvantages:
    • Device Functionalities Inaccessible: Does not access all the functionalities of the device.
    • Performance and User Experience: Slower and relatively less compelling compared to native or hybrid applications.

Setting Up Your Development Environment

To start developing your app, you will need to prepare your development environment with the tools and software in the following quick list:

  • Integrated Development Environments (IDEs): These are application software that provide facilities to the programmers that can be used in developing the software. Some of the popular IDEs are:
    • Xcode: For creation of iOS and MacOS applications with both Swift and Objective-C.
    • Android Studio: Android application development with Java and Kotlin.
    • Visual Studio Code: An adaptable editor to develop hybrid and web applications.

Software Development Kits (SDKs): These are collections of software tools and libraries that come in handy for the developer in the creation of an application for a given platform. For instance:

  • iOS SDK: This is the kit for developing iOS apps.
  • Android SDK: This helps equip the developer with the tools they need to develop an Android app.

Emulators and Simulators: These are virtual devices imitating hardware and software configurations in the real devices, which allow developers to test their applications without real devices.

A very basic introduction to programming languages for app development:

  • Swift: A powerful and intuitive programming language for iOS, macOS, watchOS, and tvOS application development that is designed to work with Apple's Cocoa and Cocoa Touch frameworks.
  • Kotlin: This is a modern, concise, and safe programming language for Android app development. It is fully interoperable with Java and nowadays widely chosen for Android development.
  • JavaScript: The hybrid and progressive web apps are supported by the multi-paradigm language. JavaScript is used for cross-platform purposes by frameworks like React Native and Ionic.

Designing the App

Once the development environment is set up, what follows is the actual development of the app. This entails some of the key elements as written below:

  • Writing Code and Building Core Functionalities: Let's get cracking on writing code to develop core functionalities, as previously detailed during the planning phase. More attention should be directed toward building the main functionalities end-to-end rather than additional add-on features.

API Integration and 3rd Party Services: Ability for you to extend the functionality of your app through API integrations and third-party services. These could be, but are not limited to, payment gateway APIs using e-commerce apps, social media APIs for the sharing of social media apps, mapping APIs for location-based services, and much more.

  • Testing Throughout Development: Test your application regularly. This might be the only way of figuring out that your application is actually working correctly and providing the best user experience possible. There are a few types of tests you should execute:
    • Unit Tests: Tests of a single component or method to verify it functions as expected.
    • Integration Tests: These test that the different parts of the application go together correctly.
    • UI/UX Tests: Check intuitiveness and user-friendliness in terms of user interface and user experience.

With the right approach to development selected, the environment for its work properly put in place, and adhering to the scaffolded process of development, you have everything at your fingertips to make a successful mobile application that will meet the needs of your customers and support the business goals. Besides, we regularly tested and integrated APIs and third-party services for continuous improvement of application functionality and reliability.

Section 5: Testing and Quality Assurance

Testing Is Important

Testing is an integral part of any app development. It ensures that an app works perfectly well, assures great user experience, and reaches quality standards before reaching the public. Some of those tests you will have to execute in order to get quality in your app are described below.

  • Functional Testing: This is a test to ensure that the app works as per the specification. So it's important to verify the separate functions, features, or workflows to see that they work like they should. It supports that all aspects of the app work in the right way.
  • Usability Testing: This kind of testing is primarily based on the experience that the user has while operating the app. The very idea is to watch real users during their interaction with an application and identify whether one is facing any usability problems or not, so that the app is easy to use, intuitive, and gives a good user experience.
  • Performance Testing: Checks the behavior of the application with respect to performance under several conditions. This includes the likes of speed, responsiveness, stability, and scalability features of an application. Performance testing helps in surfacing bottlenecks or issues that may degrade application performance, especially under high user loads.
  • Security Testing: Security testing assures that the app doesn't contain vulnerabilities and potentials for threat. It includes checks for common security issues: data breaches, unauthorized access, and privacy concerns that might compromise any such issues. Especially, security testing is one integral part in ensuring sanctity of data and maintaining user trust towards the system.

Beta Testing

Beta testing is the process of putting the app to the 'outside,' in the hands of an exclusive user group from the development team, in an attempt to get real-world feedback. The same can be crucial in identifying issues that otherwise might evade the scrutiny in the earlier stages of testing. Here's how beta testing can be effectively conducted:

  • Engage Early Users and Gather Feedback: Invite early users—a group of loyal customers or tech-savvy individuals—to test your app. Ensure that instructions on how to use the app are as explicit as possible. Let them report any issue or suggestion. This would really help pinpoint usability problems, bugs, and other issues that would not be detectable by the project team.
  • Use Beta Testing Platforms: Use beta testing platforms to help ship the app to testers and to provide them a way of providing feedback. Here are two popular platforms:
    • TestFlight: An Apple service for distributing iOS applications for testing. This is used to facilitate inviting of beta testers, distribution of an application, and collection of feedback in one place.
    • Google Play Beta: The same way, though it's a similar platform given by Google for Android apps that allows you as a developer to release the beta versions of your app to testers, receive feedback, and make improvements before offering it officially.

A Beta test should be a must to ensure that your app is ready to hit the larger stage. It will allow you the ability to fine-tune the app as suggested by the feedback of actual users and help solve any arising issues before the final release. It is important to test your application and beta-test it entirely in order to ensure the highest standards of quality, functionality, and user satisfaction. This improves the experience of the user, lessens the risks of receiving negative reviews, and issues post-launch, meaning your app is successful in general.

Section 6: Publish Your App

Pre-launch planning

Launching your app is an exciting milestone. A great debut requires proper planning and preparation. Here's how to get ready for the big day:

  • Applying Final Polish to the App and Making It Follow Platform Guidelines: Before you launch, make sure your mobile app looks clean and well-designed. It should match guidelines laid down by the app stores. This includes:
    • Bug Fixes and Optimization: Fix any discovered bugs during testing; optimize the application for best performance and speed.
    • Compliance Check: Ensure your app complies with guidelines for the Apple App Store and Google Play Store. Guidelines can be related to content, privacy, and user interface. Failure to comply will lead to a rejection.
    • Legal and Privacy Requirements: Ensuring that this app will not bypass any legal requirements put in place to protect users' data as well as their privacy.
  • Create a Marketing Plan - A good marketing plan will generate some buzz and get users thinking about using your app. Think of things like:
    • Pre-launch hype: Pre-launch teasers, sneak-peeks, and announcements that can conjure some excitement before a launch. Use your social channels, website, and newsletter.
    • Social Media Campaigns: Develop engaging content around your app and share it on social media. Depending on your audience, you could use hashtags, influencer partnerships, and ads to reach more people.
    • Public Relations (PR): Get press to present the app in tech blogs, relevant industry influencers, and media. Get some press releases and articles going to build some hype and, most importantly, credibility.

Submitting to App Stores

There are some of the critical steps involved in submitting your app to the Apple App Store and Google Play Store. Here is an easy step-by-step guide on the process that you could follow:

  • Apple App Store Submission:
    1. Create an Apple Developer Account: Join the Apple Developer's Account portal unless you already have one.
    2. Prepare Your App: Make sure your app screenshots, app description, and app icon are ready for submission.
    3. Xcode Build Configuration: Archive your app through Xcode and then upload to App Store Connect.
    4. App Store Connect: Sign in with your App Store Connect account, enter details about your app, and submit for review.
    5. App Review: Apple is likely to review your app to make sure you aren't breaking their guidelines. This usually takes a few days to a week.
  • Google Play Store Submission:
    1. Create a Google Play Developer Account: Sign up for a Google Play Developer account if you don't have one.
    2. Prepare Your App: Get your app ready with your app description, screenshots, and app icon.
    3. Google Play Console: Through the Google Play Console, sign in and create a new application. Fill in the required information.
    4. Upload Your APK: Upload APK or app bundle and fill in content rating, pricing, and distribution sections.
    5. Review and Publish: Google will review your app, usually this takes a few hours to a few days, before it goes live.
  • Common Rejection Reasons and Avoidance Mechanisms:
    • Not Adhering to Guidelines: Make sure your app follows all the platform's specific guidelines so that it isn't rejected.
    • Bugs and Crashes: Test to prevent anything's happening that could lead to a lousy experience.
    • Inaccurate or Incomplete Information: Have a detailed, accurate information for your app. Include descriptions and metadata.
    • Privacy Issues: Have a good privacy policy in your app and treat users' data respectfully.

By paying meticulous preparation to the launch and taking follow-up steps, you will ensure a flow of the events and increase the chances that your app shall be accepted and launched on the two most reputable app stores globally — Apple App and Google Play Store. The well-done launch would not only help you reach people with your app but also set the stage for its success.

Section 7: Post-Launch Activities

Performance Monitoring

After launching the app, your work is only beginning. Watch how your app is performing so that it remains effective in meeting your users' needs over time. Here's how you can monitor performance:

  • Analytics Tools: Integrate analytics tools to measure user engagement and app performance. These tools will help you to understand how your users are using your app, which features are most loved by them, and where users must be facing some types of problems. Popular analytics tools have evolved:
    • Google Analytics: More detailed reports about user behavior, traffic resource, and users' demography.
    • Firebase Analytics: Offers advanced analytics on user behavior, retention, and in-app activity.
    • Mixpanel: These focuses on the user interactions in your app; understand the way around and application features used.

Regularly supported by this analytics will help trace the patterns and point out issues in order to find data-driven decisions towards improving your app.

Gathering and Responding to Feedback

User feedback is the most valuable thing that will allow you to improve your application even further. Here's why it is important and how to get and act upon it:

  • Significance of User Reviews and Ratings: User reviews and ratings will provide a direct insight into the mind of the user on how your app is performing. Positive reviews will work towards making your app more visible and credible in the eye of the potential user, while negative reviews could possibly point out the weak links. Make the process of writing a review and enabling reviews easy and available in your app to encourage users.
  • Iterative Improvements: Be enthusiastic listeners to user feedback and put changes that are based on common issues raised. Once you make changes based on feedback, that's one way of proving to users that you value their contributions for the making better of their life. The iterative process involves:
    • Gathering Feedback: In-app forms for feedback, social media, email surveys – all paths to take in the opinion and suggestions of the users.
    • Interpreting Feedback: Look for recurring themes and rank issues by the potential for them to impact the user experience.
    • Enhancements: Make the necessary modifications and enhancements in the app. After doing so, notify users about changes and improvements in the app and how their feedback has resulted in improvements.

Marketing and Updates

You need to constantly market your mobile app with updates at regular intervals to keep it relevant and interesting. There are a few ideas for this process:

  • Long-term Branding and User Acquisition Strategy:
    • Content Marketing: Creation of pivotal and relevant content about your niche to which the users will get attracted to or remain within your app. It may be in the form of blog posts, v-logs, and social posts.
    • Social Media Engagement: Be active across all your social media platforms to be present, actively responding to your audience, sharing updates, and running promotions.
    • App Store Optimization (ASO): Update the store listing of your app regularly so that it becomes visible to more people. Use relevant keywords, keep the screenshots of your app updated, and make sure to describe the features and benefits of your app in the description.
    • Paid Advertising: Utilize target advertising on Google Ads, Facebook, and Instagram.
  • Regular Updates and New Features Planning:
    • Release Schedule: Set your app with timely updates to continuously update. Like check-ins and reviews, updates not only improve functionality but also communicate to users that the app is alive and well taken care of.
    • New Features: Keep innovating with the addition of new product features and improvements based on user feedback and market trends. Focus on features that provide great value to the end user.
    • Bug Fixes and Improvements: Regularly update the application to fix bugs, improve performance, and reinforce security. Communicate the updates to the users and relay the benefits following each release.

You stay in the game and keep up with an app that remains competitive and continues to meet the ever-increasing, evolving needs of users through active monitoring of performance, gathering and responding to feedback, maintaining a robust marketing and update strategy. That proactive approach will help build a loyal user base and drive long-term success for your app.


The guide has taken you from the basics of understanding how to make a mobile application to the post-launch activities. Here is a roundup of what you have learned:

  • Understanding the Basics: We defined what mobile apps are, the differences between native, web, and hybrid apps, and their advantages, while pointing out a few current market trends that are driving app development.
  • Planning Your App: Take note of your goals, do a thorough market study of the app, and then define what the core features of your app are supposed to be so that it meets any user's need and shines in the market.
  • Design and User Experience: This stressed the importance of principles of wireframing and prototyping, principles of good UX design, and major features in basic UI design for building an app that is both functional and aesthetically polished.
  • Development Process: This involves the selection of development approach, setting up development environment, coding and integrating the principal functionalities, and continuously executed testing.
  • Testing and Quality Assurance: It outlined here for you what are the different testing types required to make sure that your application should be bug-free, secure, and user-friendly. It also stressed the importance of beta testing for real-world feedback.
  • Launching Your App: Describing how to get ready to launch, including meeting platform guidelines, creating a marketing plan, and submitting your app to the App Store and Google Play Store.
  • Post-Launch Activities: Focused on monitoring app performance with analytical tools, acting on feedback from users, ongoing marketing, and regular updates that tap into opportunities again and again, improving the efficiency and effectiveness of your app.

Absolutely. Structured development of the app will help you avoid some of the avoidable pitfalls, ensure a quality build of your app, and enable you to achieve the business goal of the app as well as the user needs. Each phase contributes, not necessarily in development but right from the scoping to post-launch, to the success of the app.

Remember that app development is not just a one-time process; it is a continuous process of improvement and adaptation over time. Stay true to adding value to your users, and you'll give your app a chance to shine in today's fiercely competitive digital world.

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