App development process reviewed for everyone to understand how to make a mobile app from idea to launch. 7 key phases of app development lifecycle.

How to build a mobile app: 7 main stages explained

The purpose of this post is educational primarily, to shed light on basics of mobile app development for those entrepreneurs who are just curious to know how and whether it is hard to launch your own app. Is it hard? A short answer would be Yes, and the longer answer is the text below.

In 2 recent years, mobile app development has become quite affordable for any company or even smaller businesses. A very simple app can be built for $10,000. No wonder that mobile market is steaming with hundreds of apps popping up every week. If you run a business you’re probably looking into launching an app too. So what do you need to know about the app making process?

Before development or Stage 1

Stage one is usually referred to as research, goals, and strategy. For your future app to succeed you have to have a clear vision and goals, as well as tactics and tools to achieve it. Most apps fail and competition is tough, we should warn you right away. So research first, and then research more.

Try to be unique in what your mobile app delivers to users, or at least assist people in some way. Your tasks are:

  • Studying competitors and their products
  • Determining business model
  • Defining target audience
  • Setting ways and tools to meet users expectations

Outline the purpose of an app, it may even not be monetization, but goals like bringing more traffic, expanding the outreach, promotional campaigns, etc.

Stage 2: MVP & design

After setting up the strategy and before starting the development, you have to prepare user interfaces. In other words, the design of an app and how the user experience would be implemented. All the graphics down to every detail, screen, button should be prepared at the start so that developers build the app properly and you won’t have to make amendments.

App Development - Design phase

One optional tactic that many adhere to while making a mobile app is a minimum viable product (MVP). This is actually a prototype of an app that you can check and analyze, see how it looks and feels. For instance, see some of the best examples of MVP in app development. The main rule at this stage and for all design tasks is “User experience first”.

Stage 3: Back-end development

This is where the actual building of the app begins. Developer team (your own or hired) sets up servers, databases and storage solutions, and then starts to code app functionality. Design wireframes and MVP may serve as the basis for back-end infrastructure.

App development implies certain processes and a set of case-specific technologies. You may construct it all from zero (APIs, storages, databases, etc.) or use an app development platform / BaaS, like Azure, Rubix, Blockchain.

Back-end development consists of:

  • Setting the infrastructure for a mobile app
  • User management
  • Server side logic
  • User flow / basic functions
  • Data processing
  • Push notifications

 App Development - Development phase

Stage 4: Front-end development

Front-end app development is the practice of producing HTML, CSS and JavaScript for a web app (desktop version). According to your strategy (stage 1), you have options to develop an app for a specific platform or a cross-platform.

You also have multiple options in tools to use: in most cases, native (unique for a single platform, iOS/Android/Windows) features are of advantage and tend to result in faster apps. While cross-platform frameworks like Appcelerator or Xamarin might be more effective in terms of cost and time.

Front-end development consists of:

  • Data caching
  • Data synchronization
  • Mock-ups
  • Design (screens, interfaces)

Front-end often is referred to as developing web applications (i.e. web sites). It demands more skills in software engineering, thus higher costs. Moreover, not each mobile app requires a desktop version, though it can be beneficial.

Stage 5: Testing

When you have a complete app ready with all the interfaces and features, testing (or quality assurance) is a must. The goal here is to test out any possible scenarios and user actions to spot technical flaws. And to correct them of course. Check with original design and strategy, supervise every feature and user flow.

This way you’ll save costs on post-launch errors and avoid the embarrassment of something going wrong. This is a standard practice worked out and refined by all of the app development agencies. Also, a good idea is to let other people use the app and see how they react to it.

Stage 6: Launch

The job for your marketing department and it should start long before this stage actually. Keyword research for app store optimization, app descriptions, screenshots and other things are to be prepared for app submission to mobile markets. A website or a simple landing page would be also great to promote an app. To attract people it should include:

  • App name and icon
  • App store buttons to download it
  • Screens or promo-videos
  • An email subscription form
  • Contacts and support links
  • Social media pages
  • A press kit and testimonials (if possible)

But do not breathe with relief when the app is released, you have to attract users and keep them engaged. Use push notifications for announcements, offer some incentives/discounts for downloads, etc. This is just the start. And remember about social media.

App Development - Maintenance phase

Stage 7: Maintenance

Post-launch maintenance may include updates, more testing, redesign, and user support. Many businesses launch the main features version initially and then releasing updates with more features progressively (see Agile methodology). Customer support is also crucial, even before the launch in some cases, as users want to be sure about:

  1. Functionality: what does the app do differently from other apps?
  2. Security: what data does the app collect and how does it store it?
  3. Stability: is the app working fine without losing information?

How much does it cost?

Such are the main phases of app development, though even more business owners start their inquiry with the matter of cost. This is a whole separate and extensive issue, so just briefly I should mention that the cost to build an app depends on:

  • Rates
  • Features
  • Expertise
  • Design
  • Complexity

You can also try this mobile app cost calculator, enter your specific data and resources to make an approximate cost estimation or get a quote on your project.


Alex Volski

Business development manager, startup advisor and analyst at ThinkMobiles, EasyQA and dozens of other projects. On the pulse of mobile apps development and global outsourcing, helping entrepreneurs on their path, sharing vision and always in search of new ideas.




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