How to Make an App in 2021: A Definitive Guide

Several factors affect the process of building an app. This guide takes you through all of them in detail to understand the lifecycle of app creation.

Several factors affect the process of building an app. This guide takes you through all of them in detail to understand the entire lifecycle of app creation, build, and launch.

48% of the world’s population owns a smartphone in 2021

This fact is no exaggeration. Statista reports that the number of smartphone users globally reached 3.5 billion in 2020 and continues to grow in 2021. There is a vast, untapped, and growing market for any mobile app developer looking to reach billions of users worldwide. It is no surprise that anybody with a vision to build a global billion-dollar business is looking to develop mobile apps as their primary channel to tap into this enormous customer base.

If you are one of them and are looking to understand how to build one for your own business, this guide will walk through all the factors you need to consider.

App Ideation: Where Do You Start?

All of us have several ideas to build the next billion-dollar app. But the key to begin is to not fall in love with the app idea but with the problem you are trying to solve. Suppose you truly understand the problem our app or business is trying to solve for your customers. In that case, you can eventually make your app essential to your customers, so they make it a part of their daily habits.

So how do you truly understand the problem our customers are facing every day? The answer is two-fold:

Understanding the Customer

Customer or user research enables us to identify and empathize with our customers' beliefs and mental models as they go about their daily lives. It helps us understand why our users do what they do, what their decision-making process looks like, and primarily how their outcomes make them feel. User Research is conducted as a mix of two research methods: qualitative and quantitative.

Qualitative research is about observing, querying, and understanding user behavior. It helps us deeply understand the pain areas, challenges, and motivations when users perform specific activities during their routines.

Quantitative research allows us to inspect behavioral aspects of such customers at scale and then find patterns in that data to understand customer preferences.

Understanding the Market

User research is only one of the many research activities you need to effectively understand the problem space, primarily because you also have to understand the market in which your customer works and lives. Market research will help you understand how the current environment influences your customer's decision-making choices, e.g., do people pay with cash or if all merchants use card payments. Along with these activities, there might already be competitive apps available that fulfill our customer's needs. Market Research will help you analyze and understand if they are unfulfilled customer needs or gaps that your customers are still looking to solve.

You can effectively do market research by mapping your activities with Porter's Five Forces. Porter's analysis framework allows you to understand if there are unmet needs in the market, which you can exploit for solving crucial problems for your audience.

The fundamental aim for undertaking these research activities is to identify an audience which is:

1. Suffers from an evident pain point

2. There exists no apparent solution in the market which solves this pain point

3. There exists a sizable audience of customers who can validate if you solved their problem effectively

Designing Your App MVP

Once you have interviewed enough participants and identified the problem correctly, it is time to brainstorm opportunities and ideas for your app to solve it effectively. Considering that you do not have a lot of resources at this point, you must prioritize these ideas to create a list of features for your app based on two factors:

1. How much value would it bring your customers

2. How much effort would it take for your team to develop it

You would then plot these ideas on a simple 2x2 Value-Effort Matrix to understand which features would make the prioritized list to build at the moment based on the highest value and the lowest effort needed.

This approach ensures that you build the leanest version of your app to validate with your customers without too much effort and resources. This approach is known as building the Minimum Viable Product or an MVP. If you are interested, you can read more about app MVPs in detail in our article here.

Once this feature set is determined, you can now design an app prototype or use a drag and drop tool to make your app template. An app prototype is a lightweight version of your app that shows low or high-fidelity visual mockups of how your app screens would look and interact with each other. Prototypes are created by a team of User Experience (UX) Designers, visual designers, and motion designers to provide your customers a preview of the app navigation, functionality and screen flow to complete a particular set of activities.

There are various platforms and apps that allow designers to create low-fidelity wires and make an interactive prototype on mobile devices. Let us take a brief look at the four most popular design platforms in 2021.

Figma

Figma is the most sought-after platform for UX and visual design, although it provides several rapid prototyping features too. It became popular because of its collaboration-first approach and in-browser design capabilities.

InVision

In recent times, InVision has become one of the most extensive and comprehensive design platforms. It provides tools for all stages of designing in one single platform, from ideation and prototyping to development specifications. It also provides a robust design system to enable large design teams to design consistently across multiple channels.

Adobe XD

If we are talking about design platforms, it would be unfair to keep Adobe out of the mix. Adobe XD enabled all interface design capabilities within one platform - wireframing, animation, prototyping, collaboration - everything is possible in Adobe. It also allows cross-app collaboration between other Adobe products like Photoshop and After Effects.

Sketch

Sketch started a breakout design platform in 2010 by creating a design ecosystem outside of Adobe. It was one of the first products with an easier learning curve for new designers than the existing design tools like Photoshop and Illustrator. Despite the recent competition, it continues to be a consistent choice among digital design platforms, with its intuitive interface and a wide variety of plugins and integrations at hand.

The outcome of these prototyping activities would be to create a clickable, usable version of your app to show to your customers and observe how they would respond to these screens. While they provide feedback on what information they are anticipating on the screen to complete a particular activity, it would offer you valuable insights into how they would adopt your app without writing a single line of code.

Building Your Mobile App: Platform Considerations

Once your users provide valuable feedback on your design prototype and your app design gains acceptance, you can decide to move to the build phase. You can now breathe life into these designs and make it a fully functional app that any customer can install on their phones.

Android and iOS

In recent years, the platform choices for app builders with minimal coding experience have increased tremendously. Several no-code and low-code platforms like Adalo and Outsystems have lowered the barrier to building apps for non-programmers. If you want to exercise a little more flexibility in building apps for multiple platforms, cross-platform frameworks like Flutter(Dart) allow building once and launching simultaneously on iOS and Android.

But if you choose to utilize device hardware features extensively and value performance over anything else, it would be wise to consider native apps at the very outset. Native apps are built and written for a single platform but provide unparalleled access to OS-specific APIs and hardware features, which could make a massive difference in the way your customers adopt and use your app every day. Depending on the platform you choose (iOS or Android), there are development environments provided by Apple and Google, enabling app developers to build to optimum performance on mobile devices.

Xcode

Xcode is Apple’s Mac-based native development environment, which allows iOS developers to build iOS apps and Universal apps that could work across other Apple-based platforms by leveraging the same code base. It provides access to iOS native platform APIs to be used with Swift, Apple’s programming language, and includes testing capabilities by providing simulators for each Apple device type.

Android Studio

Android Studio is the development environment provided by Google across Mac and Windows platforms, enabling Android developers to build apps on any Android device type. Like Xcode, it provides access to device simulation and API capabilities to test, debug, and fine-tune Android apps across various mobile devices and Android OS release levels. Android is a much larger and fragmented mobile platform than iOS, so testing and optimizing the app across multiple devices is an exhaustive effort. Many Android handset manufacturers like Samsung also provide remote testing capabilities for popular devices, which enables app developers to optimize their apps for specific handsets.

Depending on which mobile platform you choose (iOS or Android), the factors which decide the cost and effort required to build your own app vary widely by the talent available at your disposal. It also depends on other critical aspects like:

  • App screen count
  • Feature set complexity
  • Device compatibility

We understand this computation is a big unknown for most businesses, so we have created a comprehensive app development cost calculator to understand all the different costs you may need to understand for building your mobile application, its backend and user interface

Preparing for Launch: App Store Considerations

You have now spent a considerable amount of time, effort, and resources researching, designing, and developing the app. To ensure that your app launches into the limelight smoothly without a hitch, you need to pay close attention to all the guidelines required to release your app to the Apple App Store or Google Play Store. Apple and Google have put together a very comprehensive checklist to keep track of all the activities needed to prepare an app for launch. The primary considerations for both these marketplaces are as below:

1. Your app should be stable and performant

2. Your app and the assets within the app should be original

3. The business model for monetization within your app should be clearly defined

4. Your app store submission should clearly articulate the terms of use, privacy policy, data collection criteria, and the permissions required for the app

5. Your app should provide disclosures for age-restricted or objectionable content

In addition to these, you should also prepare for providing sufficient time and effort to create assets, copy, and content to optimize for App Store display and recommendations. App Store assets like icons, app images, and video previews are a great way to showcase your app's unique proposition, so keep these assets ready in time for your App Store submission.

There are many other nuances that Apple and Google evaluate closely for approving an app store submission, and they are continuously updated. Be informed that even if your initial app store submission was successful, you might have to provide additional information and disclosures from time to time for keeping your app active. You may follow the links below to keep track of guidelines from both App Stores.

Apple App Store Submission Guidelines

Google Play Store Launch Checklist

Distributing and Promoting your App

Your app is now live on the App Stores - congratulations! It might seem like the conclusion to a long journey of hard work, but it is just the beginning. However compelling your app might be in meeting your customers' needs, it is no use if it is not discoverable. Post-launch, your app becomes only as effective as your efforts in distributing and promoting it to make it visible and easy to access in the eyes of your audience.

The following activities would provide you practical approaches to promote your app.

In-app Referrals

This approach is the most credible way to build trust in your app audience. You could provide a referral section in your app and prompt users after a week or month of usage to refer the app to their family and friends for an in-app incentive. In-app referrals are very low effort to build into an app, but they go a long way in creating word-of-mouth publicity and exponential growth without spending too much.

In-store Displays

There is no better place to promote your app than in your place of business. If you run brick-and-mortar retail stores as part of your business, use QR codes to allow customers to scan and download the app quickly. This tactic is an excellent way of passive publicity and, coupled with in-store promotions, could lead to a lot of adoption and incremental revenue opportunities for your business.

App Store Optimization (ASO)

Apple App Store and Google Play Store operate very much like search engines, where they provide recommendations and match search intent to the app description. You have to ensure that you have a detailed description with the right keywords. You also have to embed screenshots or videos with captions so that App Store users can evaluate your app's purpose quickly. App Store ratings also play an essential part in discoverability, so make sure you keep improving your app ratings and prompt your happier users to rate you on the App Store regularly.

App Store Advertising

Apple and Google enable you to bid for relevant keywords and search terms, so you can boost your visibility by buying sponsored app slots in the App Store. These are a great option to exercise if you have started building good traction in app downloads and would like to boost your discoverability.

Listening to your Customers

Launching an app on the App Store and promoting the app can get you the first wave of early adopters, but a responsive feedback mechanism within your app will make them loyal customers who return to your app every day to use it. The key to long-term customer growth for any app is to be responsive to your customer base and use their feedback as validation signals, achieving a two-fold effect as below:

It allows the app team to hear directly from your most discerning customers in your audience

It enables them to respond and work on those features which are receiving widespread adoption and deepen their understanding of customer behavior.

Although the in-app feedback mechanism is the ideal approach to solicit feedback, customers may not readily discover this part on the app, which leads them to vent their frustration or grief online and on social media. To tackle the app feedback, it is a good idea to invest in social listening tools and build a noticeable presence outside the app to acknowledge and respond to customer feedback. The most prominent way is to provide a website and create a presence on major social networks. Building a web and social presence can educate customers on effectively using the app and broadcast feature updates to an intended audience. Coupled with a dedicated response team for App Store reviews, these efforts are a great way to build rapport with your audience and give them the confidence to stay loyal to your app.

The popular sentiment is that it takes several thousands of dollars and a large army of technologists to build and launch a mobile app. But building and launching the app is only half the battle won. Listening to customers, updating the app for stability, and being immensely focussed on unmet customer needs is the key to making your app a crucial vehicle for your business.

This guide provides you with a detailed step-by-step guide on what it takes to build an app and get it in the hands of your customers. The business and market in which your app might operate may vary, but these steps would hold you in good shape while you navigate a saturated market to differentiate your app from the millions of others in the App Store. Use our app development cost calculator and embark on a beautiful journey to build the next billion-dollar app today!