In today's environment, mobile is more than just another platform to be taken into account. For many people, it's the primary way they will interact with your business, and you need to prioritize accordingly when it comes to developing new applications.
Whether it’s a customer-facing app to boost revenue or improve your service, or an internal tool to help employees increase their productivity, creating an effective mobile app is no longer optional, it's a must-have if a business is to be successful.
But actually developing these solutions can be a tricky process, and may involve new ways of working, requiring you to consider factors that aren’t necessary for traditional applications. These may include the limitations imposed by the smaller screen size, or how best to incorporate the touchscreen.
Therefore, you should bear in mind a few key tactics for the best chance of ending up with a great-performing app that does everything its users expect, and does them well.
1. Know your audience
The planning stage is among the most important parts of any development, as decisions made here will set the course for the entire process and can be difficult to change if firms realize later they’ve gone down the wrong path or made incorrect assumptions.
One of the first questions will be: who is using the app? And this is a more complex question that it may initially appear. Whether the software will be used internally or externally, you'll need to understand your audience's demographics, such as age and gender, but also what hardware you expect them to use, as this can have a big impact on how you develop your app.
This should even extend to where your audience is located, which may be an important consideration for global businesses. For example, if you're aiming at users in the US, it may make more sense to focus primarily on an iOS version instead of Android, as more than half of users in the country use Apple products. In Europe, however, the ratio is the other way around. Then, consider where they will be connecting from. Are they likely to have a consistent 4G signal? If not, this may affect how data-hungry you can make your app.
2. Focus on UX and UI (and don't mix them up)
Two terms that should be at the forefront of any app developers' thinking are user experience (UX) and user interface (UI). It's easy to view these terms as interchangeable, or at the very least, so closely related they can be regarded as a single entity, but while there is certainly some overlap, there are also a few key differences to be aware of.
UX dictates the overall usability of the app, in particular its functions and purposes. Does it answer the queries that customers may have? Does it let them complete tasks quickly and intuitively? To get the best results, you should start by creating a wireframe for your app that gives you an idea of how it will look and feel to use, without the distractions of any visuals.
On the other hand, UI concerns itself with the visuals. This isn't something that can be left as an afterthought, as 94 percent of first impressions are said to be related to the design of a page or app. When designing for mobile, key tips include reducing clutter and sticking to a clear style guide that consists of just a handful of design elements. The more complex you make it, the more confusing it's likely to be.
3. Don't overcomplicate it
Avoiding over-complexity isn't just limited to the aesthetics. Feature creep is an issue that can plague any software development, and it’s easy to let this get out of control, especially if you're trying to build a single, comprehensive app that meets any conceivable need a user might have. But on mobile, a bloated, overstuffed app can be even more of an issue than it is on desktop applications or websites.
Where you may be dealing with end-users who will have limited storage space and processing power, and where real estate on the display is at a premium, any extra functionality you’re thinking of adding needs to be weighed up against the potential performance or usability issues this may cause. What's more, additional features can very easily result in much more data being used, which won't please users who have allowances to think about.
It's also good to keep things simple for user trust. If people download the app and find it has a long list of permission requirements such as access to cameras, storage and contacts because they may be needed for lesser-used, but not essential features, this could leave people suspicious, especially if it's not obvious what the purpose behind them is.
To avoid this, it's best to strip things down to a must-have list of essential features and work from there. Instead of asking what your users might want, ask what they can't do without. This is always a delicate balancing act, so be prepared to listen to feedback from testers and real-world users to add or remove functionality as necessary.
4. Automate your testing
Testing is an essential part of any app development process, but there's a lot of factors to consider. Applications will need to run across multiple operating systems and versions, cope with a variety of network conditions and work on any hardware users might have.
This can quickly become overwhelming and it can be easy to miss things if you're in that final rush to meet your go-live date. Therefore, it pays to take the workload out of your own hands and use automation tools to do the heavy lifting.
Mobile app testing software allows developers to analyze their app for usability, consistency, functionality and security across a wide range of scenarios and devices. These can help pinpoint any flaws, errors or other issues that may affect how an app will perform in the real world, without developers needing to go through the costly and time-consuming process of running tests manually.