The ultimate guide to building a mobile app in 2019

Got a great idea for an app? Need a new way to grow your business? We tell you everything you need to know about building an app in 2019.
Adam Smith @HomebrandAdam
Technical Co-pilot
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Mobile apps are a powerful tool to market and grow your business. Find out why you need one, how to build one and how much it’ll cost.

Mobile apps are big business. According to Statista, there were 197 billion mobile app downloads in 2017. It’s estimated that 81% of smartphone users have the Facebook app on their phones. And research from Flurry Analytics shows that Americans spend an average of five hours a day on their smartphone, and 92% of this time is spent using mobile apps.

If you're wondering how a mobile app might take your business to the next level, read on to find out.

How much does it cost to develop a mobile app?

The cost to hire an app developer will depend entirely on the solution you choose. We've laid out the options in the table below. As you can see, freelancers can significantly reduce the cost of getting your app off the ground. By comparison, Clutch estimates the average cost of an agency-designed app ranges between $30,000 USD and $700,000 USD, with a median cost of $171,450 USD. 

Solution Description Average cost
Hiring an agency An agency will have a team of developers working on your project, along with a variety of other projects. They'll work with you from the pre-discovery phase all the way through deployment across app store platforms. However, agencies tend to be a high-cost solution. According to Clutch, the average cost range for agency app development is $30,000–$700,000 USD
Hiring in-house An in-house app developer will be able to devote all their time and energy to your project. However, you'll need to weigh up whether you'll still need their services once the project is complete. If you have need for a Javascript, Python or PHP developer on an ongoing basis, a good app developer could be a worthwhile investment. You should also note, though, that it may be difficult to find one person with the required skills for end-to-end app development and deployment. The average salary for app developers, per PayScale, is $68,478 USD
Software as a solution (SaaS) There are a number of software solutions that allow you to build an app with a simple drag and drop interface. You won't need to know how to code, but you'll also be limited in your design and functionality. And unless you invest in the premium version of the software, your app will likely carry the software's branding and display ads. The top SaaS platforms we inspected ranged from $99 USD a year all the way up to $180 USD a month
Hiring a freelancer On the Freelancer platform, you can hire skilled mobile app developers from around the world. This is often for a fraction of the cost of other solutions. A freelancer can help you through the entire development process, from concept to deployment. $149 USD median cost for completed project/

5 reasons why your business needs a mobile app

Mobile apps aren't just for big businesses. Whether you're a small business, a startup with big plans or an established company, a mobile app can deliver you stickier customers, better sales volumes and useful insights into how your company is operating.

How do mobile apps help small business grow?

You can increase sales

In 2018, retail sales over a mobile platform crossed $600 billion USD. Considering 85% of consumers say they prefer an app over a mobile-friendly website, mobile apps are an enormous sales channel.

A mobile app gives you a direct sales channel to your customers. You can use push notifications, coupon codes and special promotions to market your products or services to your customers wherever they are. Moreover, a purchasing portal and payments system means you've made it easier and more convenient for your customers to buy from you.

Finally, a mobile app means your local business can go global. You're no longer constrained by geography and can reach customers anywhere.

You can build brand loyalty

Living on your customers' phones means you're always top of mind. You can connect with your customers 24/7. It also helps differentiate you from your competition to better position your brand. A recent survey by Clutch found that 58% of small businesses don't have a mobile app and only 30% plan to build one in the future. Offering a mobile app to your customers puts you in a rare category.

You can communicate with your customers

A mobile app can help you connect with your customers, not only for marketing but also to provide support. You can include an FAQ section, link directly to your support phone number or even build in a live chat window to immediately address customer needs.

But a mobile app also provides a channel for immediate marketing communication. You can send push notifications for special promotions, recent developments or reminders. While you don't want to bombard your customers with constant communication, push notifications are a powerful tool for remaining in contact. Data from Localytics shows 65% of push-enabled users will return to an app within 30 days of downloading it. This is crucial when the average app gets deleted just 5.8 days after its last use.

You can streamline your business processes

A well-built app can help your business run smoother. If you have a payments platform, you can take the pain out of invoicing. If you're running a retail store, a mobile app can help you keep track of your inventory. Restaurateurs can use a mobile app for bookings to help them better plan staffing. No matter what business you're in, a well-built mobile app can help it run more efficiently.

You can learn valuable info about your customers

Apps are great for collecting data about your customers. This doesn't mean you have to spy on your clients. Rather, you can gain valuable insight about customer behavior. You'll be able to see at a glance the number of customers using your app, where they've come from and the products or services they engage with most.

You can expand this to collect demographic info on app users to get a better idea of who your customers are. You can survey customers to find out their age, their income, their interests and other retailers and services they use. This can be a wellspring of information to help your marketing efforts.

mobile app development small business startup statistics infographic

 

Should I build an app or a mobile website?

The question of whether to build an app or a mobile website is a tricky one. A mobile-friendly website is easier to build, but statistics point to the strong return on investment for mobile apps.

The average adult in the US spends 2 hours and 43 minutes per day using mobile apps, versus just 27 minutes browsing the mobile web. Obviously, consumers prefer apps.

There's plenty of evidence that apps are better for sales as well. E-commerce apps are more effective at closing sales than mobile websites. A study by Criteo found consumers view 4.2 times more products per session on mobile apps versus mobile websites. Conversions on mobile apps are also 3 times higher than on mobile web, and 1.5 times higher than on desktop.

How do I create a mobile app for my business?

If you've decided you need an app, the next step is to figure out what you want from it. A mobile app needs something to differentiate it. It needs a reason to exist. It's clear a mobile app can help your business, but you shouldn't devote the time and resources to building one until you determine why and how it will do this.

Decide what problem you want your app to solve

What need do you want your app to address? Is it a business need or a customer need? Do some research on your customers and figure out their pain points in engaging with your company. What would you need to do to remove these pain points? Answering this question gives you a good springboard for deciding how your app will function.

Research similar apps

Once you've determined what problem your app is solving, have a look at similar apps that try to address this issue. How effective are they? What methods do they use to solve the problem you're trying to address? Is there a way to do it more efficiently? Read any user reviews of similar apps to see what they did well and areas you can improve on. You don't have to reinvent the wheel. Just try to make a better wheel than all your competitors.

Sketch out some ideas

Sketch out how you want the app to perform, then get an idea of the user journey on your app. Where does it go when a user opens it? What are the actions they can perform in it? What's the basic structure and how is the information ordered? What functions will you need it to have in order to address the problem you're trying to solve?

Once you've got your ideas down on paper, you can begin the process of building your app. Now comes the tricky part. You'll have to decide how you're going to get your mobile app created. Fortunately, you have several options.

I have a great idea for an app. How do I get it made?

You've been converted to the idea that mobile apps are a great source of business. You've decided what kind of app you want developed and what you want it to do. Now you just have to figure out how you're going to get it built.

Unless you're an expert coder, chances are you're going to need some help making your mobile app a reality. There are a range of solutions to consider for hiring a mobile app developer.

Should I hire an agency to build my app?

You could hire an external agency to develop your app. Agencies will be able to work with you from the initial concept of your app all the way through to deploying the product on platforms such as Apple's App Store and the Google Play store. However, you can expect to pay a high price for agency-based mobile app developers.

Should I hire an in-house app developer?

You could hire a full-time app developer for your staff. This gives you the benefit of constant oversight of the project. However, you'll need to weigh up whether or not you'll need the developer's skills on an ongoing basis after your app is finished. Also, it may be difficult to find a single developer who's skilled in graphic design, front-end coding and back-end coding.

Can I build a mobile app myself?

There are a variety of software programs that allow you to build an app with no coding knowledge. They use pre-made templates and easy interfaces to help you design your app. Most of these software platforms offer a limited range of app functionality, and many insert their branding and run display ads on your app unless you pay for a premium version.

Should I hire a freelance app developer?

A freelance app developer is a lower-cost solution than hiring an agency or an in-house staff member. Because freelancers work all over the world, you're likely to find a skilled developer for a fraction of the price of an agency or in-house staff member. Freelance mobile app developers can work with you through the entire app development process, from concept through to deployment.

What's the process of mobile app development?

Native, web or hybrid

The first thing you'll want to decide is whether you want to design a native app, a web app or a hybrid of the two. The difference between these is the platform on which they live.

Native apps

A native app is an app built to work on the user's smartphone or tablet. This will be an iOS or Android app, or perhaps Amazon Fire.

Native apps are built specifically for a device and installed directly on the device itself. They're downloaded from an app store such as the Apple App Store or the Google Play store.

The benefit of native apps is they can often be used offline. They also allow the app to directly access features of the device, such as the camera or geolocation features. They tend to perform faster, as they store their information on the device.

The downside of native apps is that they're much more costly to develop and maintain. They also rely on your app being approved by the app store platform you deploy it on. While the Google Play store has a fairly simple approval process, the Apple App Store can take more time.

Web apps

Web apps use the device's internet browser. Users don't have to download web apps and can access them from any device. They also don't have to go through a curation process in an app store. They're cheaper to build and easier to maintain than native apps.

The downside of web apps is that they can't be found on an app store. They rely on users finding your web app through an internet search. They also can't be used offline, and performance can vary dependent on the browser the user chooses. Web apps can't access a device's features either. Perhaps the biggest drawback is that web apps don't live on the user's device, meaning they don't put your brand top of mind.

Hybrid apps

A hybrid app combines elements of native and web apps. Hybrid apps use the device's browser engine, not the browser itself, to access online features, but can function whether or not the device is connected to the internet. They can also access the device's hardware, such as the camera or accelerometer. Hybrid apps also tend to be less costly to develop than native apps.

The disadvantage of hybrid apps is that they can be less stable than native apps. Hybrid apps use a component called webview to access online features, and webview tends to not perform as well as online features in native apps. It can also be difficult to develop hybrid apps to function the same across different platforms.

Which should I choose?

Your choice will come down to what you want your app to achieve. You'll have to weigh up the performance of your mobile app against the cost of development. Native apps are the most stable and offer the most functionality, but are also the costliest to develop.

The app design process

Once you've decided how you want your app to be built and whether it will be native, web or hybrid, you'll work through the process of development. Whether you've chosen an agency, an in-house developer or a freelancer, the process will be roughly the same.

Discovery

If you've come this far, you've likely already made it through the discovery phase. This is where you conduct market research to discover what problems to solve for your customers, look at similar apps and figure out what you want your app to achieve.

Concept

This is where you use your research to determine the function of your app. At this stage, you'll do what's known as wireframing. This is plotting out the elements and functionality of your app before design is added.

User interface and experience

At this stage, the actual coding work will begin. You'll design the look and feel of your app and your developer will begin building the user interface (UI) and user experience (UX).

Back-end development

Once the front end, or the part of your app users will see, is complete, your developer will begin integrating it with the back end. The back end includes any database architecture your app will need to function.

Testing

At this stage, the front-end look and feel of your app is complete. It's connected to the back-end architecture. It's time to test your app for any functionality issues. Your developer will test your app across different devices, including iPhones, iPads and Android phones, to make sure users will have a seamless experience across platforms.

Deployment

Once any bugs have been worked out, it's time to deploy your app. Your app will be submitted for review to the Apple App Store and the Google Play store. Now all that's left is to get it onto your customers' devices. You'll need to put together a marketing campaign to make your clients aware of your app and communicate the needs it addresses.

Maintenance and monitoring

This stage never really ends. Once your app is live on store platforms, you'll need to maintain it, update it to work with new iOS and Android releases and monitor its use to gain valuable insight about your customers.

What tools do app developers use?

App developers will use different tools at different stages of the development process. For front-end architecture, they're likely to use a programming language like Javascript or HTML5. For back-end development, they're likely to use PHP, SQL, Ruby on Rails, Java, ASP.NET or Python. The tools used will largely depend on your developer's preference and areas of expertise.


Why should I hire a freelancer to design my mobile app?

A freelancer can be a smart solution if you're looking to design a mobile app without spending six figures. In addition to cost, freelancers can provide other benefits.

Find someone specialized

While hiring an agency or in-house developer can deliver you skilled work in general mobile app development, hiring a freelancer can help you find a developer with the specialized experience you're looking for.

Are you developing a game? You can find freelancers who specialize in mobile game development. Building a retail portal? You can browse through portfolios of projects similar to yours. No matter what kind of app you're building you can find a freelancer who's an expert in your proposed project.

Save time

Freelancers are highly motivated to deliver projects quickly. Hitting deadlines means they can take on more work, receive higher ratings from employers and build their profile and portfolio. They rely on favorable reviews to get future work, so timeliness is prioritized.

Save money

As you can see in the table above, a freelance mobile app developer can complete a project for a fraction of the price of an agency or in-house developer. Because freelancers rely on employer ratings and are competing for work with other freelancers, they're motivated to deliver quality projects at competitive rates.

How do I find the best app developer?

You can click the button below to post a new project. Make sure to describe in detail what you're looking to achieve, the problems you want your app to solve, the functionality you need and the platforms where you want it deployed. You should start receiving bids on your project within minutes. Once you see a bid that suits your needs, simply accept the bid and begin communicating with your mobile app developer.

Alternatively, if you've seen a project in the showcase above that's similar to the one you want done, click through to contact the freelancer. Or, if you've seen a showcased freelancer who has the skills you're looking for, click through to contact them.

Before you contact a developer or post a project, you'll need to think about the information they'll need to complete the project and include this information in your job posting. Specifically, consider:

  • What are you trying to achieve? What finished product are you looking for and what problems is it meant to solve?
  • When do you need it? Do you have a specific timeframe in which you need the project completed? Be sure to set firm but realistic deadlines.
  • What are the specifications? Are you looking to build a native app, web app or hybrid? Are you building for iOS, Android or both?

You'll likely receive bids from several freelancers once you post your project. Shortlist the candidates who best suit your needs and budget, and ask them about:

  • Their portfolio. Find out what work they've done in the past and see if their output aligns with your vision for the project.
  • Their service scope. Can they build your app end-to-end, from concept all the way through to deployment? Will you need to hire multiple freelancers to complete the project, or can you find a single worker who can see your project through every stage?
  • Their needs. Find out what they'll need from you to complete the project. Set clear expectations for communication and updates and make sure to thoroughly answer any questions they have about the project to ensure the product they deliver matches your expectations.
  • Their availability. How much time and attention do they have to devote to your project? Will they be available in the future to provide help with updates and ongoing maintenance?
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