App Development, Thought Leaders

How Long Does a Mobile App Development Project Take?

February 6, 2020

by Thayer Tate

VP of Technology/Lead Solution Architect, SOLTECH

The answer is probably longer than you expect, but not as long as you might fear. By planning for your research, specifications, development, and testing stages, you’ll have a better understanding of what a mobile app project really takes.

We all have apps we can’t live without, and they’re no doubt worth the time and money that it takes to develop them. According to Sensor Tower’s download statistics, the Google Play Store and the iOS App Store saw over 105.3 billion unique downloads in 2018. 

Every application is completely different in its complexity and design, but the basic development steps are similar. Customizing each app’s look, feel, and functionality is what makes the development process so detail-intense and intricately coded. To help you better understand the course of a typical mobile app project, we’ve outlined the four basic phases of app development along with projected timelines and requirements.

The 4 Phases of a Typical App Development Project

  1. Idea Formulation and Research (2-3 weeks)
  2. Specifications and Design (2-4 weeks)
  3. App Architecture and Development (3-6 months)
  4. Testing and Finalizing (3-6 weeks)

Phase 1: Idea Formulation and Research (2-3 weeks)

If you have ever been involved in software development, the process for building an app is very similar. Ideas are plentiful, but coming up with the “right” idea is key. 

We recommend scouring through the app stores to discover if there are other similar apps out there. Simply plug several keywords to see what comes up in the Google Play Store and the iOS App Store. 

Don’t be surprised if there are similar apps being marketed. The best time to add unique features and your brand’s own customized twist is before you get started. 

If you need help making sure the idea is solid, look to you app developers — they’re ready to offer their experience and perspective. Once the concept is firm, you will move on to Phase 2.

Phase 2: Specifications and Design (2-4 weeks)

Design is very important when it comes to apps. Craft the right look and feel it happen quickly, or it can take a little longer to get the details right. You, the decision-maker, will work with your team to:

  • Identify the specific duties the app will accomplish. What are its requirements?
  • Decide how the app will work with an existing or planned website. Will it mimic the website or be fully functional and promoted on its own as a stand-alone app?
  • Discuss the needs of the users and how the app will overcome potential navigational or operational issues. Nothing is worse than an app that has glitches. Users will drop an app that promises functionality but fails to deliver. 
  • Create the app design along with documentation that details each feature. Discuss possible changes or revisions to ensure the design covers everything it needs to for the time being.
  • Decide if you will want to roll out more features in the future. You can save time and money if you plan ahead.

In our experience, the Specifications and Design phase takes up to 4 weeks. If the app is simple in nature then it can happen much more quickly.

Phase 3: App Architecture and Development (3-6 months)

Planning any type of software application takes time. Schedule each task in the project to see where you can be more efficient with your time and budget. As with any complex project, some tasks can get done in advance while others must follow a step-by-step order. 

For example, you can work the app’s icon throughout the project. Use a “dummy” icon in the interim — sometimes the appearance of the app changes over time as the architecture evolves. Developing an overview and the specific plan is critical to staying on budget and completing the app successfully.

Once you’ve developed the plan and accepted it, building the architecture can begin. The framework includes the user interface (UI), user experience (UX), frontend, and backend. This is the highly technical part of the process, particularly if the app needs to integrate with other technology. 

The UI and UX

Graphic designers are in charge of creating a visually appealing experience for the user. Your app needs to stand out among amidst hundreds or more of competitive apps. The way it looks is as important as the way it feels. By making your app beautiful to look at and easy to use, you’ll grow your customer satisfaction and gain user loyalty.  

By making your app beautiful to look at and easy to use, you’ll grow your customer satisfaction and gain user loyalty.

Help your graphic designers in the early stages by supplying them with user research along with your personal preferences. Your preferences might not align with your target audience, but they are still important; you should be proud of your project and excited about where it goes. Using their first-hand experience, your design team can advise on why your project should follow or avoid certain directions.

The Frontend

The frontend is what users will see when they use and navigate your app. To make it a smooth flow, you need to understand cross-browser compatibility. In the past, a CSS stylesheet and a JavaScript file in the HTML were enough. Now, frontend developers must know browser-specific quirks and how to work around them. Think about all of the screen sizes and browser types —you can imagine that building the frontend is not as simple as it may sound.

The Backend

The backend is the code and technical functionality that makes your app tick. Programming takes the longest amount of time — it is intensely detailed and must be checked for bugs and errors along the way. 

Imagine building a structure on a base full of faulty pieces of wood. Before too long, small problems will emerge and morph into larger problems, causing the structure to eventually topple. Similarly, if one part of your app’s codebase is faulty, then any later development will build upon an unstable structure.

If you need to speed up the project, you can use more than one developer at this stage. However, adding new IT people so late into the project can inadvertently slow you down as they get up to speed. Ask your team for guidance on the best way to staff your backend development.

Phase 4: Testing and Finalizing (3-6 weeks)

This stage is when you test every component in every direction from end to end. Even though your team is reviewing the UI, UX, frontend, and backend as they develop them, issues may arise that couldn’t be seen until all elements are put together and tested. Test all features using test exercises. They should expose any weak areas or glitches to set up for corrections.

Alpha and Beta testing will help you learn if the app can handle multiple users at the same time. Load and performance testing will ensure that the app is error-free before it’s launched. Make sure that the testing takes place on different devices and browsers to reflect your users’ experiences.

For example, this was a custom mobile app built for LG’s internal sales team to view sales opportunities and real-time internal reviews and approvals. 

This was a custom mobile app built for LG’s internal sales team.

Take your time to determine if your app team has maintained the integrity of the original specs and the final product’s user experience satisfies your needs. Note any performance or visual issues not caught during the team’s testing. A second look will help you find and correct any remaining bugs before your app is publicly released. 

Have a Better Grasp of Your Timeline

In my experience that mobile apps can take anywhere from 3-9 months from conception to completion. However, any project’s timeline and costs are determined by its scope.

A very simple app will have fewer than 10 screens and easy coding logic. A complex app includes:

  • More than 10 screens
  • Complex coding requirements
  • Data migration
  • Big data processing
  • Attaching a gesture to an action (such as swipes)
  • Notifications
  • In-app purchases
  • Synching multiple devices
  • In-app advertising
  • Online and/or offline data support
  • Performance testing

The more complex you expect your app to be, the more time and money it will take to develop it.

Nevertheless, as mobile devices continue to grab the lion’s share of the computer software market, app development can help take your company to a new level of success. Since it is often a lengthy process, consider working with an experienced app development company to guide you through every step.

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