Mobile Application Development – A Definitive Guide

Mobile applications have infiltrated almost all aspects of our lives and businesses have acknowledged the importance of having a mobile application not just as a fad, but as an important marketing tool, an avenue for great customer service, and an efficient medium to expand customer base and loyalty.

Though we are all now well aware of all the advantages of having a mobile app for business, but there is still a veil of mystery around the subject.

In this blog we will introduce you to mobile application development and give you an overview of topics related to mobile application development, its types, platforms, and more!

A guide to mobile application development - Appy Pie

What is mobile application development?

Mobile application development is the process of developing a piece of software or application that runs on mobile devices. Though mobile application development has its foundation in traditional software development, but one defining difference is that mobile applications are developed specifically to leverage the features of the mobile device it is designed for.

For example – a flashlight app was developed for mobile phones to leverage the flash in the mobile cameras and a fitness app may be developed to use the numerous sensors in your Apple watch.

Mobile application development platforms (Device)

Today, there are two prominent operating systems on which the majority of devices operate – iOS platform from Apple Inc. and the second one is Android from Google.

The iOS platform is exclusively designed, just for iPhones. The Android platform, however, is not exclusive only to Google devices. In fact, many other OEMs use the Android platform for their smartphones and other mobile devices.

In spite of certain similarities between the two platforms, the two platforms use entirely different software development kits or SDKs and development toolchain

Types of mobile application development

There is more than one way (in fact four ways) to develop mobile applications.

  • Native mobile application development
  • Cross-platform native mobile application development
  • Hybrid mobile application development
  • Progressive web application development

As you set out to create your own mobile app, you will have to choose from among these options. Now, it is impossible to choose one as the best option because each one comes with its own pros and cons. What we can determine though is, the best suited option according to the purpose of the app. Let us discuss each in detail.

Native mobile applications

Native mobile applications or native apps are those that are developed for the devices that operate on a specific operating system. For example you can have a native Android ap or a native iOS app and these are developed to run on that specific operating system. This means that you cannot install and run an Android app on an iOS device or vice versa.

Pros

  • Faster to run
  • Better performance
  • Leverage the device’s features efficiently
  • Use native device UI, hence offer optimized customer experience

Cons

  • Need to develop different apps for different platforms from scratch
  • Higher costs of development and maintenance
  • Take up space on device
  • Updates need to be downloaded every single time

Cross-Platform mobile applications

Cross-platform native mobile applications may be developed using multiple programming languages and frameworks. However, eventually they are compiled into a native application that runs directly on the operating system that the device uses.

Pros

  • Single piece of code can be used for multiple platforms or operating systems
  • Ease of development and maintenance

Cons

  • Must use bridges and libraries to leverage native device features
  • Bridging restricts and limits app performance

Hybrid mobile application

Hybrid apps are essentially web apps that look and feel pretty much like native apps. Built with typical web technologies like JavaScript, CSS, and HTML5, Hybrid Web apps are often bundled together as app installation packages.

Pros

  • Quicker and cheaper to build
  • Load quickly
  • Comparatively contains less code to maintain
  • People with web development skills can also create hybrid apps

Cons

  • Lacks the power of native apps
  • Slower than native apps as they have to download each element
  • May be unable to use certain native features of the device

Progressive web application

Progressive web apps or PWAs represent a unique application development approach by eliminating the role of app stores and the need to install apps. PWAs are essentially native apps that run within a browser. PWAs use a set of browser capabilities like offline working, running background processes, adding a link to device home screen etc. and offer an experience quite like a native app.

Pros

  • Runs on all platforms
  • Cheaper to build
  • Easier to maintain
  • Doesn’t use much device storage
  • No installation needed

Cons

  • Capabilities depend on the browser
  • Requires an internet connection (for first use, at least)
  • May be incompatible with device hardware

Native vs Hybrid Mobile Applications

It is natural to compare these two. The differences between the two are as clear as can be.

Native apps are platform specific, work with compiled language, offer access to Device hardware, and work on platform specific frameworks.

Hybrid apps are cross platform, work with both scripting and compiled language, work with plugins or native modules and work on web frameworks.

If you are interested in a deeper read on the differences between the two, you must read – Native vs Hybrid App Development – Choosing the Right Development Path for your App.

Mobile app development lifecycle

Mobile applications are composed of two cohesive components – Front end and the Back end. The front end component is the one that is on the device of the app user and the back end is the service component that supports the front-end.

Mobile application development life cycle - Appy Pie

  • Front end vs back end
    To begin with, mobile applications were more or less contained within themselves and could only act as static ads.
    With advancements in connectivity and network capabilities, mobile applications have evolved dramatically as they connect easily to multiple sources of data and information that is stored outside the app, becoming dynamic in the process. This way, the UI and the content within the app can get updated with the data they receive over the network from queries to data sources.
    It is for this reason that the front-end of the mobile application depends heavily on the back end that provides the data.

  • Communication between front-end and back-end
    Now we know that the data is provided by the back end to the front end, but the question here is, how do they communicate?
    Primarily this happens through various APIs, which may be owned and operated by the company that has developed the mobile application. However, in some cases, the APIs may be owned or controlled by a third party that grants access to the mobile app developer or the company in exchange for a fee.

  • Why people opt for a cloud back-end?
    More often than not, it is the mobile app developers who are responsible for the creation and management of the back-end services even if they are not particularly skilled at creating and running these infrastructures. It is precisely for this reason that most developers choose to leverage a cloud services provider often called backend-as-a-service provider. It is this cloud services provider that takes care of all the heavy lifting and management and the developers can comfortably focus on building a feature rich app without worrying about its scalability and security.

Front-end mobile app development

The front end of a mobile app is what the app user interacts with and is installed on the device. These mobile applications are downloaded either form the app stores, are pre-installed on the device, or in case of PWAs can be found through the browser.

  • Front-end mobile app development workflow
  • Front end mobile app development requires a developer to know certain languages and technology. There are multiple steps in the process and it may all be accomplished by a single developer or several specialized developers, each with defined sets of responsibilities.

    Front end mobile application development involves several aspects, for example graphic design, user experience and user interface design, motion graphics (in case of gaming apps particularly), and engineers.

  • Mobile app integration with the Backend
  • Irrespective of how big or small the team maybe, one of the most important parts of mobile application development process is the one that makes the queries or network calls to the back end services, retrieve the data, and update it in the back end systems using the new information from the application. In general, these back end services are accessed through APIs. Most of these APIs are available to the app through calls within the platform, however, certain specialized services need to be integrated into the app through an SDK or a software development kit.

  • Interaction with back-end data
  • In order to access the back end services directly, the mobile application developer must be aware of the network location of data, the protocol to access it, authentication and authorization credentials to access it, and the precise commands to extract it.

    Another way to do this would be to leverage a specialized API, so that the developer only needs to know the parameters of a method call to extract or update the relevant information. These APIs may be developed by the developer themselves or provided by the back-end service provider.

Backend mobile app development

This is the non-glamorous part of mobile application development. A back end mobile application developer needs to have an in-depth knowledge of specific programming language or framework, accessibility, security compliance apart from a fair understanding of front-end technology, for example HTML, CSS and more.

To understand the concept of back end mobile application development in detail, I suggest you read – A Quick Introduction to Backend Technologies & Mobile App Backend Development, a detailed blog we wrote some time back.

Conclusion

Mobile application development is a fairly technologically inclined field, however, that does not necessarily mean that you cannot learn the basics, or even gain an advanced understanding of the concept as a whole. There are multiple approaches to creating an app, and it is impossible to deem one as the best. The right choice for you, depends on your priorities and preferences.

For example, if your customers are evenly distributed across multiple device platforms then a cross-platform approach makes sense. However, if you are only looking for a way to get your app quickly to the market, a PWA may be the right choice for you!

The one solution that gives you the best of all possibilities is to choose a no-code app builder like Appy Pie AppMakr. The platform has managed to democratize technology by making it affordable, accessible, and entirely no-code, so that anyone, irrespective of their technical prowess or budget, can easily make their own app!

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