“I have a great idea for an app. How fast can you build it?”

We hear this A LOT. But as much as we’d love to launch the finished product in the app store next week, we simply cannot. When asked why, the answer is always the same: “it depends”.

Futuristic app

There is no such thing as an average timeline to build a mobile application. It’s not that we doubt your idea or that we are trying to run up the bill, it’s because from ordering dinner to social networking with 1.3 billion people, there are limitless ideas and each one requires a different mobile solution.

For example, a basic stand alone application with no server backend or database support might be completed in one month or less. On the other hand, complex networking apps with a server backend (i.e. Facebook) and visually-intensive apps (i.e. games) can take over a year before they’re ready for launch.

Therefore, it all begins with your objectives – what do you need this app to do? Since the answer varies wildly depending on your goals, for the sake of this article, we’re going to build the average native application as per the survey by Kinvey. On average, the time it takes to design, build, and test the core frontend and backend components of a native mobile applications (iOS or Android) is about 18 weeks.

That’s more than 4 months of work and, if you’re hiring a professional team, you’ll want to make sure they are building exactly what you want to justify the investment. It is for this very reason that we begin every single project with a clearly defined goal for the native mobile application.

  • What will this app do?
  • What problem is it solving?
  • How does it improve my customer’s life?
  • What is the core value proposition?
  • What is the least expensive way to validate your idea?

Be prepared to run step-by-step approval checkpoints alongside your investors to make sure everyone feel comfortable with the overall investment.

Once we have defined your objectives, it’s time to start sketching. It’s critical that we conceptualize the main functionality of the application and visualize the layout of the end product. This is an important step to ensure everyone understands and agrees on what we are building before we get started.

sketching
Sketching is an important step to ensure everyone understands and agrees on what we are building before we get started

 

Market Research

Then, it’s time do a little research. There are millions of native apps in the Android and iOS app stores, therefore, it’s probable that someone has already created a similar application to what we are building. That’s okay. Competition is good, it confirms the demand and validates your market. Furthermore, research is where we find our inspiration!

  • What apps do we admire and use everyday?
  • Why?
  • What is it about these applications that we find so attractive?

It doesn’t have to be in the same genre or even in your industry. We’re just collecting the best features of the apps already in use that will inspire us to build the best possible mobile app for your customers.

Business Strategy
Do your research before you start building your app

 

The Storyboard & Wireframes

Now that we are inspired and have our destination clearly defined, it’s time to build the roadmap that will take us there. In industry-speak, this is called the storyboard and it will outline how the user is going to navigate through the application. To help us understand the connection between each screen and feature, we create wireframes that will essentially become our first working prototype.

Balsamiq Wireframing Tool
Wireframes are the key reference point for your application

The wireframe step is crucial because it helps us complete two mission critical activities to building a great mobile application. First, the wireframes become a key reference point for designing the structure of the application. For the developers, the wireframes are a clear guide explaining what will be needed in terms of data storage, APIs and server requirements.

Second, wireframes are typically created using a tool like Balsamiq or Moqups which are actually working prototypes of your app that can be tested and used for gathering feedback. Ask people in your personal and professional network to use the wireframe in front of you. Take notes on how they use it, what actions they make and if they can easily follow the storyboard layout you created. The more you can finalize the app concept at this stage, the better. Once actual design and development gets started, it’s much harder (and more expensive) to change things.

Design & Development

Now that app is well-defined, the real work begins. While the developers use the wireframes to build the backend and server requirements, the frontend team gets started designing the app “skins,” or the individual screens the user will see when using the app. This is the step where your ideas become reality and everything begins moving very quickly! It is also when you should sign up for your “Developer Account” in the iTunes and/or Google Play app stores. The approval process can take anywhere from a few days to a up to four weeks with Apple App Store, so plan ahead.

Development cycle of a mobile app
Development cycle of a mobile app

 

UI/UX Testing

When the skins are complete, it’s time for the real testing sessions. Call everyone you know and schedule time for them to take your app for a test drive. This time they are using the actual app you created with the design and usability all inside. Collect their feedback, log any bugs, modify the layout, make revisions, fine tune and send back to the development team for a final polish. You’re almost there, but don’t skip this step! It is crucial to target real users –not friends– and give the UI/UX Design Team the necessary time to review and potentially reiterate when appropriate.

User Lab
User testing is crucial to your product’s success

 

App Marketing

As you nail down the final details, perfect the copy, and get ready for launch – you should also be getting your target audience ready to download the app when it goes live. While this is a subject that requires it’s own article (see: 14 Steps To Reach 100M+ Downloads For Your Mobile App), in short, you must utilize all of your marketing channels (i.e.: blog, social media, newsletters, PR, paid ads, etc) to maximize your launch. In the world of app stores, success breeds success, and there’s a massive upside to becoming an “Editor’s Choice” or hitting the Top 25 list of recently released apps.

Be aware however, that the iOS and Google Play app stores function very differently. Android apps can be launched immediately at the time of your choosing, whereas Apple reserves the right to approve your app before it goes live. There’s no given timeline, but expect about a week before you hear back from the gatekeepers of the iOS app store.

Make your app stand out in the overcrowded mobile marketplace
Make your app stand out in the overcrowded mobile marketplace

 

Alternative Paths to Success

Whilst you would usually do the steps in the described sequence: wireframing, design skins, implementation, testing and publishing, as you become more experienced, you may want to alter the order of those steps, depending on what’s your primary focus. For example, if you want to test a specific function with the public but you don’t care about the looks, you might want to ask a developer to implement it right away, with no visual specification. Usually this ends up with a very ugly but fully functional application, which you can use for testing your concept. If your concept is very focused on aesthetics, then maybe you might want to start designing the “looks” of it, and fit in the functionality afterwards, once you have a nifty design with the right colors and animations.

One more thing…

Congratulations, your app is live! Unfortunately, your work is not done yet. The best mobile applications are the ones with a team that is obsessed with constant improvement and committed to building a sustained marketing effort to attract new users and more downloads. The mobile app lifecycle is an ongoing effort to meet your users needs and amaze them with intuitive simplicity, and that’s why there’s no such thing as an average timeline to build a mobile application and our answer will always be, “it depends”.

If you need an expert opinion or simply want to put your idea into an actionable framework, feel free to contact our experienced engineers, designers, marketers and mobile business strategists at Mobile Jazz. We’ve launched more than 50 successful applications, many of the them with 10M+ downloads, some of them even above the 100M mark holding top positions in the App Store and Google Play Store. To learn more about our work, check out our full range of services on our Mobile Jazz website.

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Authors

Stefan Klumpp

Stefan Klumpp

Stefan grew up in a small town in the Black Forest in Germany. After dropping out of high school he started an apprenticeship as a car mechanic. Later on, he studied Electrical Engineering and developed the first self-driving cars at Stanford University.