How to Create a Mobile App: A Complete Development Guide

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With the mobile market continuing to grow exponentially and the demand for applications exploding, the business of app creation has never been more attractive.

By 2023, the mobile application market is expected to reach $311.25 billion. More and more entrepreneurs are drawn to invest every day. But how can interested parties ensure they turn a profit?

Building a mobile app requires an abundance of patience, clever financial investments, and a relevant technical skill set — provided by qualified developers. This is your complete guide to developing a mobile app. Read on to learn more!

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What Is a Mobile App?

A mobile app is a software application specifically designed to run on mobile devices like a phone or tablet. Whatsapp, Facebook, and Subway Surfers are currently among the most popular mobile apps.

The original purpose of apps was to facilitate productivity. Calendar, email, and contact list apps were once the norm. Now, these come built-in in any typical smartphone.

But demand nowadays revolves around mobile game apps, GPS services, food delivery, and whatever else fills the base convenience and entertainment needs of smartphone users.

The word ‘app’ in and of itself came into use with the rise in popularity of mobile applications. It was voted word of the year in 2010 by the American Dialect Society.

3 Types of Mobile Apps

The nitty-gritty, software side of mobile apps recognizes three different modes of mobile app development – native, cross-platform, and hybrid.

Native Apps

Native app development involves the process of building mobile apps that are only compatible with one platform. Such specificity allows software engineers to develop apps that are noticeably high-performing and high-functioning.

Since developers know exactly what platform their app will be released on, they have far-reaching access to targeted features and functionality.

For developers building mobile apps for iOS code in Swift or Objective-C, XCode is an integrated development environment (IDE) for Apple operating systems where programmers can write and test their apps.

For developers building mobile apps for Android code in Java or Kotlin, Android’s respectiv, e IDE is Android Studio.

Cross-Platform Apps

Cross-platform apps are made to be compatible with multiple mobile operating systems. 

React Native, Xamarin, and Flutter are common software tools for developing cross-platform apps.

While it is easier to take the cross-platform development route to release your app on a wider network, performance is not expected to be on par with native apps. Customization is also more difficult.

Hybrid Apps

Hybrid apps use traditional web technologies like JavaScript, HTML, and CSS but encapsulate the product into an application that’s optimized for mobile users. This is less demanding in regards to cost and time for developers and businesses.

There is some confusion in the industry about the difference between hybrid apps and cross-platform apps.

It’s important to note that hybrid apps rely on web development techniques but deploy in a mobile environment.

As an aside, progressive web apps (PWAs) share some similarities with hybrid apps. They are built with web technologies but run in a browser and no installation is required.

PWAs illicit the speed of mobile app, despite not having much more interactivity than a typical website would offer.

The Ionic framework is a popular developer tool for building both hybrid apps and PWAs.

Why Develop a Mobile App?

Mobile apps are, by definition, mobile. This inherent convenience and flexibility  can draw a lot more consumers to your product or service than otherwise.

But in a more general sense, a mobile app can grant you flexibility in your industry market. Developing a mobile app can give you the opportunity to flex your business.

In public relations, you’ll have the chance to gain a media presence and appear on lists for recommended apps. You’ll also be able to compete in the same market as your competitors.

The competition more than likely has an app to offer its consumer base already. And if not, you can be ahead of the game.

Needless to say, you can make money off mobile apps too. You have the option of putting your app on the app store with a price tag. Or, you can look into other strategies for boosting capital from mobile apps, as you’ll read more about later on.

5 Advantages of Developing a Mobile App

Many businesses think they are doing just fine because their business has a website, and they feel like this can render the same results. But mobile apps are a whole different ball game.

1. Accessibility

Apps are faster than websites. They’re quicker to access and the performance is unparalleled as well. Not to mention, with a mobile app, users have online and offline access as some elements can be stored in cache or downloaded for offline use.

2. New Consumer Base

Mobile apps tend to garner a younger fan base. In 2017, people aged 18-24 spent two-thirds of their time on smartphone apps. While Boomers may shun them for their behavior, you can use this new form of consumption to your advantage.

3. Engagement

On a mobile app, you’ll see engagement in two ways. First, you’ll see an increase in engagement in your product due to new consumers. But you’ll also see a larger engagement in the context of consumer-to-business (C2B) interactions.

Customers are more likely to leave feedback about your product or the app itself through the app store or through a ‘Contact Us’ segment of your app.

4. Personalization

Mobile app developers can give smartphone users more personalized experiences. Instead of seeing what everyone else sees on a website, you can use features like Dashboard or Recent History tabs so the experience can be catered to the user.

5. SEO Ranking

Search engine optimization (SEO) plays a part in the app store as well. Both your in-app content and the app itself can be optimized for higher rankings. Naturally, your business will do better the higher it ranks.

5 Steps To Begin Developing

Unfortunately, many business-oriented minds become too eager about developing a mobile app and forget the basics. Before you begin to develop your mobile app, there are a few steps to account for.

Flowchart displaying 5 steps to building a mobile app: Research, Gather Feedback, Make a Business Plan & Mobile Strategy, Design & Build an MVP, and Build Your Brand.

1. Research

There is a huge problem with overconfidence amongst entrepreneurs in the app industry. To a beginner, making a large profit seems far easier on paper than it actually is.

Too many app creators forget the most important part of validating their apps – the research.

Researching your app’s subject matter is critical. Without understanding your market, the potential risks, and the optimal strategy for your target demographic, your chances of success are far lower you might think.

Today’s app market is extremely saturated. Most of your original ideas are not exactly original.

But competition doesn’t have to be negative. Like any other creative pursuit, you can add an interesting twist or spin to make your app unique.

This is why it is important to research the past, present, and future of your app’s market. The most successful entrepreneurs seek to understand their markets on a deep level.

A well-researched and nuanced comprehension of your subject matter will lead to better-developed ideas.

2. Seek Feedback

Once you have an understanding of your app’s market, it’s time to seek out feedback. You’ll benefit from collecting as much information as possible in the form of feedback.

Get all the opinions you can and you will have far more accurate data to assess the feasibility of your project.

Don’t look for empty compliments or a ‘yes man’. You need real, honest feedback. Give value to critical opinions and try to remain objective. Your ego does not belong in the feedback process.

The more you learn, the better. As your success grows, your confidence will too.

In effect, you will experience less emotional distress when your ideas are criticized, and your situational intelligence will rise.

3. Make a Business Plan

Get to know your potential clients. Even with a fleshed-out business plan, without customers, your business is nothing.

Human-centered design and development processes result in better product reception by the market and more engagement from the end-user.

Keep in mind that app development doesn’t stop when the code is written. It includes all the related processes from tech support to promotion, and this should be covered in your business plan as well.

A balance of your business goals and customer needs should be reflected in your business plan when you are forecasting profits and setting the breakeven point.

It’s best to have at least three forecasts – one realistic, one negative, and one positive – to have an accurate demonstration of potential business risks.

Support your financial plan with a marketing and sales strategy that will illustrate who your customers are, how they can be reached, and how you can keep them engaged with your app for longer periods. This will secure a steady return on investment (ROI).

Take your business plan seriously and be prepared to show it to investors, partners, and other stakeholders.

4. Build an MVP

A minimum viable product (MVP) is a version of your software that contains only the key features of your app. 

The MVP gives developers an opportunity to present their ideas early on so they can start collecting feedback.

It is imperative in learning how your customers will interact with the app. More importantly, developing an MVP will help you determine whether your app will be gainful in the first place. Ultimately, your MVP will mitigate any risk-taking.

Given that the launch of your MVP is successful, you can start looking into companies that might be interested in developing your application.

Be selective in your decision-making. Once you choose your developers, be clear about your requirements and firm about your budget. Ask all the questions you need.

5. Build Your Brand

It’s never too early to start building your brand. And once your app is released, this should become an even bigger priority.

Your image and your brand need to capture the essence of your app’s purpose.

Effective visual identity and design go a long way towards promoting interest and awareness in your app.

If your app isn’t attractive and easy to use, people won’t give it the attention it needs to grow. So keep aesthetics in mind; they can make or break your app.

Stages of Mobile App Development

Now that you’re finally ready to start building your app, you’re probably wondering what actually goes on in the development process.

There are several stages of development that must take place in order for you to build your mobile app successfully.

The stages of the mobile app development process cannot be separated from one another and are tightly connected.

Each stage of development takes a different amount of time, but with experienced developers, your whole project should take between three and six months.

The success of your project depends on how well the foundation for development is laid, including how clear you were about your app’s requirements. Here’s a breakdown of what to expect.

Flowchart outlining stages of mobile app development: Creating Specifications, Designing UI/UX, Back-End Development, Front-End Development, and Quality Assurance (QA).


Specifications, or specs for short, take about 10% of the whole application development process.

At this step, you’ll be focusing on the app’s functionality, navigation, features, and other technical details.

This means vague ideas about the final product must be further developed and/or replaced with as many specific details as possible.


User interface (UI) and user experience (UX) play a crucial role in the project’s success.

They address the visual appearance of the application as well as how the end-users will interact with your product.

This stage of mobile app development typically accounts for 20% of the total development time.

Back-End Development

Back-end development takes care of all the internal structures that you will need to support your application like application programming interfaces (APIs), data diagrams, servers, data integration, and push notification services.

However, for relatively simple apps, you may want to use a backend as a service (BaaS) platform.

BaaS providers service all the necessary technology to structure your app. In essence, these providers allow you to outsource this part of development entirely so that you can save time and resources.

Front-End Development

Front-end development is focused on the client-side of the application and deals with everything that the user sees on the screen.

You must make sure the user is provided with a seamless experience and interactions. This end of development relies heavily on the information provided by UI and UX designs.

While custom back-end development can be substituted with BaaS platforms, front-end development is where doing your due diligence really pays off.

Quality Assurance

Quality assurance (QA) is a means of verifying that your application is up to standard. This stage in particular is intertwined with back-end and front-end development.

Thus, it takes approximately 60-70% of the whole development process. Software quality assurance addresses particular criteria, that if followed, guarantee a high-quality software product. 

Testing is equally important and exists as an ongoing process during development where you can detect small errors in functionality and fix them prior to the application’s release.

As expected, this will lead to more genuine feedback and prevent unexpected problems when you finally launch your product on the market.

Design Thinking in the Mobile App Development Process

Intentional design, functionality, optimization, and user-friendly features are the building blocks of a quality software product.

To guarantee that your product is well-liked by its users, you need to walk the extra mile in their shoes.

One way to do this is through design thinking. Design thinking prioritizes empathy.  In other words, don’t assume what your customers want. Let them tell you. And listen.

There are various academic explanations of what design thinking is, but to put it simply, it is a creative process of human-centered problem-solving.

While it might seem like this was always the goal of software development, this is not the case.

Software is built for people, but traditional development only targets the logical side of the building where behavior is optimized.

But humans tend to be more emotional than an assortment of clicks and buttons can really convey. You need to dig deeper into their motivations and feelings to truly improve your product.

Businesses conduct research to observe how users interact with their products. They ask questions about certain features to find out what does and doesn’t work. Online forums like Reddit can also be helpful for secondary research.

When Swiss houseware company Zyliss wanted to design a new set of handy kitchen tools, a team of designers spent time with people in the kitchen. They noticed that some people licked their spoons before placing it in the sink.

None of the questionnaires took note of this behavior, yet the team saw a less obvious need and addressed it with their design: “mouth-friendly” scoops.

Design Thinking Process

The design thinking process consists of five non-linear steps. You can jump from one to the other to make adjustments:

  1. Empathize with the user. Software engineers can get a better understanding of how they can improve their product by listening to user feedback and recognizing pain points. Pain points are specific problems that prospective customers may experience.
  2. Define the problem. Engineers should identify a problem by analyzing gathered information through a human-centered lens. The goal of solving the problem will guide the next steps of the development process.
  3. Ideate possible solutions. This is where the team brainstorms. There are plenty of techniques from the Worst Possible Idea to Mind Mapping. The purpose of this step is to start the creative flow and find new solutions.
  4. Prototype selected solutions. Once you select the most practical ideas, the prototyping stage begins. You can test multiple ideas, and each prototype should give you a better idea of how to better manage the functionality and user experience of your app.
  5. Test the prototype with users. Users should test and give feedback based on your prototypes. Software engineers can then make changes to the product or start from scratch depending on the feedback you receive.
Diagram of the Design Thinking Process, including Empathize with the User, Define the Problem, Ideate Possible Solutions, Prototype Selected Solutions, and Test the Prototype with Users.

Design thinking might not be the solution to every complex software engineering problem, but it certainly does help if you’re looking to better satisfy your customers.

Applying design thinking to the development process can take your software from good to great.

How To Create a Viral Mobile App

There are many ways to measure the success and impact of a mobile app, a few being the number of downloads, revenue, and reviews or feedback.

All of these measures help developers to see the impact of their work, but the true measure of an app’s success in today’s market is having it go viral.

What Is a Viral App?

A viral app is a mobile application that gains popularity from frequent internet shares to the point that it becomes a modern trend. 

The attention garnered from this type of popularity is often more effective than paid promotion.

An app’s virality stems from both technical and marketing expertise. The two are dependent on each other.

For instance, even if you create a great app, without the proper marketing, no one would know it existed.

Technical features affirm the value of your app but an elaborate marketing strategy is what defines how the app will reach its target audience and thrive on the market.

Unfortunately, going viral is incredibly difficult and only a few apps become viral overnight. But there’s no harm in trying.

How to Develop a Mobile Viral App

First and foremost, your app should have something valuable for users to share. Naturally, the main principle of virality is sharing.

Having something worthy of sharing is key to getting users to spread the word about their experience with your apps, such as their achievement in a game like Candy Crush or a new review on TripAdvisor.

Once you have that covered, there are a couple of other tips to keep in mind.

➼ Make It Easy

It should be easy for users to invite friends to join and share their experiences. By simplifying this process, you eliminate any undue stress that will put off users from sharing your app or its content.

Going through a 10-page registration form, for example, will turn away potential users.

➼ Create Additional Value

The value of your app should increase the more dedicated your users are. Giving access to exclusive features is a great way to reward users who dedicate a lot of time to your app. Users will get the impression that your app is well worth their time.

➼ Market Your Mobile Viral App

People share things that they can connect with emotionally. It can be something valuable or funny or unusual. Emotions are used in virtually every industry to drive market growth.

There are plenty of tactics that can improve the chances of your app going viral. These are four tactics that may help to stimulate your app’s success in the market.

➼ Create Limited Access

Some form of limited access or a waiting list can create a sense of suspense and curiosity.

The ones who receive access feel special and validated. The ones who do not experience FOMO, or ‘fear of missing out’.

You can play with the emotions and expectations of your users to create interest within your target demographic.

➼ Incentivize Users

Your app should reward users for sharing, and inviting others to the app via a referral system. You should also create incentives for encouraging users to use the app more often.

Incentives don’t have to be monetary, but the reward should meet the effort. DropBox offers free space as an incentive for new users. Some other apps give limited access to their premium option.

Depending on the nature of your application, you can choose a reward that is attractive to your users based on the specifications of your particular application.

➼ Encourage Social Sharing

Consider using a hashtag or tag phrase to prompt users to share content. Apart from helping your app go viral, social sharing can benefit your brand, your marketing practices, and your customers.

With social listening, you can tune in to mentions of your brand or application. In turn, you will gain in-depth insights into your product, which can help you adjust and update the app to tailor the users’ experience.

➼  Engage Your Users

Notify users about new rewards, competitions, and promotions. Give them a reason to keep returning to your app.

After a while the same routine gets boring and all the excitement goes away, so it is important to introduce new thrills or experiences through your app, whether these are new features or mere contests.

How To Monetize a Mobile App

In 2017, global consumer spending hit $86 billionThis is roughly double what the numbers were in 2015. Today, you can expect that the amount is even greater.

Not to mention, on average, users spend three hours each day on apps. With all this play, the real question is – why aren’t you getting rich?

Well, if lining your pockets is your main goal, Trio can offer some advice.


The most direct revenue stream for applications is mobile ads. These are either placed as banners on an active screen or pop-ups that appear when a certain action happens.

Imagine a gaming app where you see an obligatory 15-second ad each time you lose. App owners can use a mobile ad network to sell ad space. You’ll learn more about these networks further down.

Ad Removal

Ironically, apps sometimes let users remove ads for a small fee. Ads can be very annoying and removing them can greatly improve user experience.

Since this isn’t an expensive investment, many users will take the plunge, ultimately earning capital for your business.

In-App Purchases

Another way to generate revenue is through in-app purchases. Such purchases can take the user experience to the next level.

Paired with a freemium strategy, you can provide users with a basic version of the application for free.

After they grow to like the app there, you can give them the option to upgrade. Some ideas include extra lives for a mobile game or free delivery for a food ordering app.

Affiliate Programs

By joining an affiliate program, you can get paid every time you refer users to other businesses.

The payout depends on the payment model you choose and the action that users have to perform like making a purchase, downloading an app, or passing the first few levels of a game.

Premium Subscription

As mentioned above, some businesses choose to offer the basic version of their application for free to attract more users.

Unlike in-app purchases that can be limited to buying separate items and continuing using the rest of the application for free, premium subscription requires the purchase of access to the app on a weekly, monthly, or yearly basis.

Ideally, the features that premium subscriptions extend should be fitting to the price.

Other Devices

Apps can make money outside of the context of a mobile device. Certain apps like Netflix and Youtube have found their way into other ecosystems such as Smart TVs and video game consoles.

Mobile apps that are accessible from multiple devices will, of course, generate more revenue than otherwise. Therefore, the usefulness of your app will be the ultimate judge of success.

How Much Money Can You Really Make?

The average app maker earns $20,000 a year before taxes. This doesn’t sound very exciting.

But remember that the success of your app has a direct correlation to your own investment, not only financially but in regards to the initial research you put in, the feedback you derive, and the marketing you govern.

Thanks to monetization strategies like in-app purchases, Pokémon GO grossed $800 million in 2018. This was due to its virality and the fact that games, on average, do better than other types of apps.

Really, you have the opportunity to make quite a bit of money with your mobile app. But it takes a great deal of work.

How To Monetize a Mobile App With Mobile Ad Networks

Now your application is up and running and you’re ready to start making money. You’ve heard about mobile ad networks before but you aren’t sure where to start.

The gist of it is simple. As you start attracting users to your app, placing ads within it will lead to a consistent revenue stream.

Ad marketplaces connect advertising agencies with developers or app owners. Advertisements themselves come in different forms – video ad units, mobile app display ads, and native mobile app ads.

In-app ads can also be a viable option for the applications that have recently been released and are still working on setting up paid features or subscriptions. You can start generating revenue for your app while work is still in progress.

Take a look at some of the advantages and disadvantages of mobile ad networks.


  • Most importantly, making money. Mobile ads have proven to be a highly convertible method of mobile app monetization.
  • Increase in-app purchases. Users who engage with advertisements are more likely to spend money on additional items within the app.
  • Improve engagement. Ads that are tailored to match with your app integrate seamlessly with the user experience and help user engagement and retainment.


  • It can worsen the user experience. Mobile ads can be annoying and interfere with app usage. In the worst-case scenario, users may look for an alternative application.
  • How much you earn depends on the quality of your traffic. It’s not enough to just target the people who use your app; you need to target them right.

The following will give you some insight into some mobile ad networks that are worth considering for your new app.


Chartboost is a specialized ad network for gaming apps, boasting direct access to 800 million gamers through cross-promotional ads.

Screenshot of Chartboost website.
Users are able to interact with playable ads via Chartboost.

With their playable ads, users are able to interact with a free sample of the game. Data suggests that this form of marketing increases conversion potential.

To be frank, no gaming app should go without this. And as far as mobile gaming ads go, Chartboost is a strong option.

Google AdMob

Google dominates web advertising, so it’s only natural that they’d be on the list. Combining the best-in-class ad technologies into one platform, Google provides a solid solution that scales easily and integrates well.

Google is fairly easy to use. They allow you to present your app in a number of different ways.

Their platform has cross-platform capability along with a number of other features, including free analytics. offers highly competitive cost per mille (CPM) payouts and is a very popular choice for mobile traffic monetization.

It offers one of the largest pools of mobile advertisers in the market with a wide selection of contextual, native, and display ads that are easy to implement.

The network focuses on providing simple solutions to their clients and improving their ad performance and rising ROI through data analysis.

Keeping ads relevant is key to better user experience and a large conversion rate.

How To Monetize a Mobile App With a Freemium Strategy

To insure your app’s success, your monetization strategy needs to have a balance between revenue generation and user experience, as one is worthless without the other.

Many monetization strategies, such as advertising, can be irksome for users, which may result in lower engagement and loss of interest.

For this reason, the freemium app monetization strategy remains one of the most popular and user-friendly ways to make money with an app.

What Is Freemium?

The term freemium is a portmanteau consisting of two parts: “free” and “premium”. This describes a mobile or web application that costs nothing to download and use, but often includes in-app purchases or a paid premium version with additional features.

The main advantage of the freemium revenue model is that it can be applied to most applications.

If your application is useful and provides value to the users, there shouldn’t be any lack of demand.

Freemium gives you a chance to nurture and educate your free users before they convert into paid ones.

This revenue model creates a lot of positive outcomes for your branding and ranking on the market.

When users decide to try it, the value of your app goes up, which creates buzz. Users who are excited about your app’s features will share your app on social media. If you’re lucky, the result is a viral app.

Building a good application is not synonymous with the success of your mobile app. You need to know how to position it in the market so that it gets noticed.

Freemium Models

Through the freemium strategy, you can offer users a free, simple, and yet valuable version of your application.

And while they use your app,  users learn about the advantages of using the special features available in premium versions, ultimately persuading them to purchase the paid version of your app.

Depending on the product or service, you can decide on your own freemium restrictions. Here are some common options.

➼ Based on Features

Users get access only to the basic features of your app. To get additional access, they must pay for the full version or subscribe to a membership.

For example, Relax Melodies Premium is equipped with additional sounds and guided meditations as compared to its free version.

➼  Based on Time

The user gets access to the full version of the application for a limited amount of time to test out the premium features.

Once the free trial period expires, they can either pay to continue using the full version or choose to return to the basic version. Free trial periods are often between one and two weeks long.

➼  Based on the Number of Uses

In this model, the user has access to all features of the application, but they can access them only for a limited number of times, after which they will need to pay for the upgrade to continue using it.

For example, Medium allows users to read only three stories per month. After you’ve read three articles, you’ll be prompted to get a monthly subscription to get access to all of the content.

➼ Based on Customer Type

This is a rare model because it requires a certain level of user verification. Autodesk would be a good example, where students can use their services for free while everyone else needs to get a paid license.

➼  Sister App

For this model, you will have to create a separate version of your app that is premium/paid. This way, you will have two apps on the market – one completely free and one available only with payment.

Giving users a free or discounted version of the application helps them understand what your app can do for them, how useful it can be, and why they should upgrade.

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Congratulations! By now, you should have the basic building blocks to develop your first mobile app.

To review, you’ll want to start with some in-depth research and an MVP. Then, you might want to start looking at some software companies that can help you build a team to develop your app.

Developing your app won’t be easy. That’s why it’s important to implement strategies like design thinking into your development process.

Making money is another frontier that you’ll have to cross eventually. Luckily, you have a long and wordy list of monetization methods that will get your app booming on the market.

If you need help with any of this, don’t be shy. Reach out to Trio to learn more about the first steps and how you can get started today!

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With over 10 years of experience in software outsourcing, Alex has assisted in building high-performance teams before co-founding Trio with his partner Daniel. Today he enjoys helping people hire the best software developers from Latin America and writing great content on how to do that!
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