December 14, 2015

Mobile App Development: 6 Best Practices You Must Know

Mobile App Development: 6 Best Practices You Must Know

Interested in creating an app for your business, publication or service? Good thinking! More than 1 billion smartphones will be sold in 2016, and the app industry is expected to more than double from $11.4 billion in 2014 to $24.5 billion in 2016, according to a study by the University of Alabama at Birmingham's School of Business. So this upcoming year is prime time to get on the app train!

Smartphones already outsell computers, but by 2016, smartphones will outsell laptops by double. Already, Internet giant Buzzfeed gets more than half of its traffic from mobile, and that’s not just because it’s a site full of GIF lists and headlines like “24 Hilarious Tweets That Perfectly Capture Your Existential Despair." The Atlantic reports that even Buzzfeed’s longform content gets sizeable activity on mobile. Mobile readers of “Why I Bought A House in Detroit for $500a 6,000 word piecespent an average of 25 minutes on the page. That is, in the words of Atlantic contributor Megan Garber, “a small eternity, in Internet time.”

So, regardless of your content, business or market, you'll pretty much need an app in 2016, whether native or web-based. Here are six conventions and best practices to consider when building your app.

1. Choose your medium carefully. 

If your app requires access to a smartphone’s hardware (camera, GPS, phone, etc.) or you’d like it to appear for sale on app stores, you may need a native app. Drawbacks? You must develop separate code for each smartdevice and platform using Apple, Android and Google code libraries. If you’re not prepared to hire a developer to do this for you (or use a content managing system like Mobile Roadie), a native app may not be right for you.

Luckily, web-based apps are a legitimate alternative for cheaper, easier development. These are mobile-first websites that look and feel like apps, which users can then add to their homescreens on their smartdevices. The only drawback is that is that these “apps” don’t appear on app stores (which also means you can get around Apple’s pesky App Store review guidelines for native iPhone apps). If your app can be hosted on a webpage (or if it’s an app version of a website), developing a web app is probably the way to go.

2. Build wireframes and mockups.

thumbnail1.png

Pictured above, wireframes are rough drawings or diagrams depicting what each screenview of the app will look like. Mockups take these diagrams and render them as lifelike images, such as the image below. 

Good app mockups

These steps can seem tedious and unnecessary if you feel that you have a solid vision for your app. However, in building wireframes and mockups, you will probably find that your vision isn’t as flawless as it appeared in your mind. The wireframe will help smooth out the narrative of your app, and the mockup will help shore up your design strategy before ever writing a line of code.  

3. Design right, according to user conventions. 

Just like in web design, there are certain conventions that are now second-nature to app users—like seeing the “hamburger icon” to represent a scroll-out menu in the upper right-hand corner (prime real estate for thumb tapping).

This is a hamburger icon.(A hamburger icon used to designate an app menu.)

A hamburger icon...but not for menus.

(Also a hamburger icon. Hint: Not for app menus.)

 Here’s a list of other conventions to keep in mind while designing your app:

  • Use progress bars for loading screens.
  • Include instructions or tutorial screens for using your app.
  • Design for a small screen with a large typeface, full-width images, large buttons and a single-column layout.
  • Design for both portrait and landscape views on all devices. 

4. Do usability testing. 

Before going live, it's always important to test your app on as many people as possible. Depending on your resources, you might be able to do a full-blown usability test with real-life members of your app audience. Obviously, that would be a best-case scenario. 

Regardless, you should try to get as many people from your intended audience involved as possible. Have them navigate the app and test the obvious stuff—functionality, links, contentbut also get their general feelings. Remember that even if your testers use your app "incorrectly," their feedback is always useful because it gives you an indication of how your audience will use your app—whether or not that meets your expectations. 

Additionally, try using this app testing checklist from Guru 99 before going live.  

5. Watch your analytics. 

Once you go live, keep a close eye on the analytics that come in from your app's earliest users. Track their activity, time spent with the app and pages viewed. This will give you a sense of how useful your app is for your intended audience and places you might be able to grow. 

Which brings us to... 

6. Update early and often. 

Perhaps your first round of usage statistics indicate that your audience is really interested in a section of your app that you considered secondary. Perhaps you get numerous emails asking how to login. Perhaps you think of new features to supplement the basic app after going live. 

Whatever happens, it's important to stay engaged with your app after going live. Nothing will give you a clearer picture of what your app needs than the real-life analytics you're watching. Mashable reports that top applications tend to develop popularity within two weeks after release. So perfect your app while people are still buzzing about it!

FREE EBOOK: 35 Ways to Promote Your Mobile App

Ariel Bailey

Ariel Bailey started as an intern at madison/miles and has since been promoted to creative specialist. Now she mostly builds apps and websites while pursuing a couple of degrees at the University of North Texas.