What is Mobile App Development?

While it’s difficult to envision a future without a smartphone, it is interesting to know that the iPhone App Store and Google Play Store have only been around for ten years. As per the predictions, mobile app downloads would reach 258 billion by 2021, up 45 percent from 2017. The industry expects to earn over $156 billion in consumer apps by 2022 due to increased mobile app adoption.

In this increasingly competitive digital landscape, the app experience must be driven by innovation and compel people to access your app. The numbers above demonstrate the significance of the app development process. So what do you mean by mobile app development?

What is Mobile App Development

In simple words, the process of generating software applications that can operate on a mobile device is called mobile application development. These applications can be pre-installed or downloaded and installed later by the user. A typical mobile application uses a network connection to work with remote computing resources. As a result, the mobile development process entails the following activities:

  • Create installable software bundles such as code, binaries, assets, etc.
  • Enable backend services for data access through APIs.
  • Testing the app on target devices.

Apps are classified into three types: native apps, web apps, and hybrid apps. Native apps are designed for a specific mobile operating system, most commonly iOS or Android. Native apps have better performance and a finer-tuned user interface (UI), and they typically go through a much stricter development and quality assurance process before being released. Hybrid apps are built using web technologies such as JavaScript, CSS, and HTML 5. Hybrid apps function like web apps disguised in a native container.

Because they are run through a browser, web apps are written in HTML5 or CSS and require little device memory.

Major Platforms used in Mobile App Development

In the global smartphone market, there are two major platforms. The iOS platform from the tech giant Apple Inc is one of them. The iOS is the operating system that runs on Apple’s popular iPhone handsets. Google’s Android is the second. Many other original equipment manufacturers, in addition to Google, use the Android operating system to build their smartphones and other smart devices.

Although there are some similarities in producing apps for these two platforms, the development process for iOS apps and that of Android requires separate software development kits (SDKs) and development toolchains. While Apple only utilizes iOS on its own devices, Google makes Android available to everyone.

 

Mobile App Development Styles

There are four core development methodologies to consider when creating mobile applications. They are:

  • Native Mobile Applications
  • Cross-Platform Native Mobile Applications
  • Hybrid Mobile Applications
  • Progressive Web Applications

Each of these development approaches has its own set of merits and demerits. Then how do you select the best method? Developers usually assess the desired user experience, computational resources and native features required by the app, development budget, time targets, and resources available to maintain the app. Depending upon all the above-said parameters, developers decide on the best development method suited for their projects at hand.

Native Apps

Native mobile applications are created in the platform owner’s programming language and frameworks and can run directly on the device’s operating system, such as iOS or Android. Native apps can offer the best runtime performance, and they have direct access to device APIs.

Web Apps

Web apps are software applications that function on mobile devices and behave similarly to native mobile apps. Native apps and web apps, on the other hand, have substantial distinctions. To begin, web apps run in browsers and are typically developed in CSS, HTML5, or JavaScript. The user is redirected to the URL and then given the choice to install the app. On their page, they simply make a bookmark. As a result, they only demand a small amount of device memory.

Users can only use the application if they have an internet connection because all of their personal databases will be saved on the server. The biggest disadvantage of online apps is that they always demand a strong internet connection. Otherwise, you run the risk of providing a poor user experience.

Furthermore, except for the most popular features like geolocation, developers don’t have a lot of APIs to work with. The performance will be influenced by the browser’s functionality as well as the network connection.

Cross-Platform Apps

A developer can use various programming languages and frameworks to create cross-platform mobile apps. These apps are compiled into native apps later that operate on the device’s operating system. The most significant advantage of cross-platform apps is that they need to maintain only a single code base for multiple platforms. Therefore it is easy to build and maintain a cross-platform app.

Hybrid Mobile Applications

The developers rely on standard web technologies like JavaScript, CSS, and HTML5 to create Hybrid apps. Hybrid apps are bundled as app installation packages and run on a web container. A shared codebase between web and mobile apps is one of the advantages of Hybrid apps. It is interesting to use the web development skillset for building mobile apps. Hybrid apps work using a web container that provides a browser runtime and a bridge for native device APIs via Apache Cordova.

Progressive Web Applications

PWAs are web applications that leverage a set of browser features to give an app-like user experience, such as working offline, running a background process, and providing a link to the device’s home screen. Through this methodology, the same app is available both for the web and mobile. No installation is required, and the app is accessible through a URL.

Pros and Cons of each platform

Native applications provide optimal runtime performance. You can directly access the device’s APIs (Applicant Programming Interface). The cost of developing and maintaining distinct codebases for each platform is considerable. Each platform requires its own set of codes. Features must be implemented uniquely for each platform.

Cross-Platform Applications are written in a single code base and run on multiple platforms. The app’s maintenance costs are minimal. Bridges and third-party libraries are required to access native device features.

In hybrid web application technologies, the web and mobile applications share a common code base. The web development skillset is used to create mobile applications. Performance degradation when compared to native apps. Support for native device features and capabilities is limited.

Progressive Web Applications are available on the web and on mobile devices. There is no installation required; the app is accessible via a unique URL or Link. Limited support for Native device features. The capabilities of the App are determined by the browser being used.

Why is Hybrid/Cross-platform methodology more popular?

Native mobile applications development demands a high, specific skill set. Although C and Java — the language families most commonly used for native programming — have huge and active developer communities, platform-specific versions of those languages and their associated IDEs have fewer developers. Competent native app developers are in such high demand that many businesses struggle to hire and retain them. Some companies rely on outside 3rd-party design and development firms to complete their projects. Given this problem, hybrid/cross-platform development becomes the more viable option for most businesses.

What is the working principle behind Hybrid app development?

Hybrid apps allow developers to create web applications using HTML5/CSS/JavaScript and then encapsulate them in a container that makes the online app behave like a native app on the device. The majority of the code from a web app helps construct a mobile app since hybrid mobile apps are essentially web apps running in an embedded browser environment. Mobile browser rendering and runtime speed are improving thoroughly day by day. Therefore, Hybrid app development is a feasible option for web developers who want to build their mobile apps quickly.

PWAs use web application programming technologies such as JavaScript, HTML5, and CSS. PWAs are accessed through the device’s or computer’s browser.

The majority of cross-platform frameworks, such as React Native and Native Script, provide native components to interact with cross-platform code. At the same time, technologies like Flutter and Xamarin compile cross-platform code to native code for superior performance.

Mobile App Development Lifecycle

A mobile application has two interconnected fundamental components: 1) the mobile application “Front-End” that lives on the device, and 2) the services “Back-End” that supports the mobile front-end.

The Mobile Application Front-End

The visual and interactive element of the mobile app that the user interacts with is known as the mobile front-end. It usually resides on the device, or at the very least, an icon for the app is displayed on the home screen or pinned in the device’s application catalog. The app can be downloaded from the platform app store, side-loaded directly onto the device, or accessed via the device’s browser, like with PWAs.

Front-end Development Workflow

Everything a user sees on a mobile app, including the design, is referred to as the front end. Simply put, the user interface of a mobile app is what the user sees. A front-end developer is more concerned with what happens in the app than what happens behind the scenes.

Dedicated creative/graphics designers create icons, backgrounds, colors, themes, and other aesthetic components of apps. User experience and user interface designers are also a part of the front-end development team. They usually focus on the layout of different components and how these components interact with one another and with the user.

For example, motion graphics developers or engineers design engines that govern the physics of how components move in the app, such as a car in a racing game.

Contrast the front-end and the back-end

Mobile applications evolved in a similar fashion to websites in the early days of the modern smartphone application era. Initially, applications and websites were entirely self-contained and served primarily as static advertisements for the brand, company, product, or service.

However, as connectivity and network capabilities improved, applications became increasingly connected to external sources of data and information, and apps became more dynamic as they gained the ability to update their user interface and content with data obtained via network queries to data sources.

As a result, mobile front-end applications increasingly rely on and integrate with back-end services that provide data that the mobile front-end consumes. This data may include, but is not limited to, product information for e-commerce applications or flight information for travel and reservation applications. In the case of a mobile game, the data may include new levels or challenges, as well as player scores or avatars.

Front-end and the back-end interaction

The front-end receives data from the back-end with the help of service calls, such as APIs. These APIs may be owned and operated by the same company that created the mobile app in some situations. In other circumstances, third parties manage the APIs, and access to the mobile application is allowed through a commercial agreement.

A developer, for example, may access social media or advertising content by contacting media or advertising companies. In this scenario, a developer may sign a contract to obtain credentials and a key to gain access to the API. The contract can also specify how the developer may use the API, its cost, and frequency of usage.

Though mobile developers are in charge of developing and maintaining their application’s back-end services, they may not be experts or proficient in setting up and maintaining a back-end infrastructure. In that case, developers may prefer to use a cloud services provider. This back-end service provider can handle all of the drudge work and heavy lifting of managing back-end capabilities. Thus developers can focus solely on the features and functionality of their mobile app rather than worrying about scalability, security, or reliability.

Why Do Developers Rely on a Cloud-based Backend?

For the majority of applications, mobile developers are responsible for developing and managing the application’s back-end services. The mobile developer is unlikely to be an expert or even particularly skilled at setting up and maintaining back-end infrastructure.

In this case, developers may prefer to leverage a cloud services provider — a backend-as-a-service provider — that takes care of all of the tedious work and heavy lifting associated with managing back-end capabilities, allowing developers to focus entirely on the features and functionality of their app, without having to worry about scalability, security, or reliability.

Backend Integration for Mobile Apps

Building the app logic or workflow that is responsible for making network calls to the back-end services, retrieving data, and updating the data in the back-end systems with new information generated by the app is a critical component of the development effort.

These back-end services are typically accessed via a variety of application programming interfaces, or APIs. There are various types of APIs, such as REST and GraphQL, as well as various methods and styles of accessing them. While some back-end service APIs are available directly to the application via platform calls, many of the specialized services must be integrated into the app via a software development kit, or SDK. Once the SDK has been added to the app via the development environment, the application can use the SDK’s APIs.

Interacting with Back-end

An app accessing information from a database is an example of a back-end service for a mobile front-end. To directly access the database, the mobile developer would need to know the database’s network location, the protocol for accessing it, the credentials for authenticating and allowing data access, and the exact database commands required to extract the required data.

Alternatively, when communicating with the database, the developer can use a specific API; the developer may need to know the parameters in a method call to access or modify the required information. At times, the mobile developer may create these APIs themselves or rely on the API provided by the back-end resource owner/operator.

REST API helps to interface with cloud data sources, such as a cloud database. Another alternative for developers is to use a GraphQL API, which makes working with back-end data in a mobile app simpler. GraphQL provides querying support via a single API endpoint. It also gives a data schema to create and extend data models easily in the app.

Mobile application Back-End

Delivering high-quality mobile applications that delight and retain users requires reliable back-end services, regardless of the front-end platform or development style employed.

Given the critical nature of back-end services to the success of a mobile application, developers must make several critical architectural decisions. These decisions include which services to build and which third-party services to leverage, as well as whether to run and maintain their own services or to leverage third-party services.

The answer is becoming increasingly clear: in order to maximize developer productivity and efficiency, mobile app developers should build their own services only if they are highly specific to the application’s domain and contain proprietary intellectual property. Additionally, they should almost always leverage cloud-based services to build and maintain their backend infrastructure, even for services they build themselves.

Services Critical to Mobile Application Development

Hundreds of cloud and third-party services are available to help mobile application developers accelerate the development and delivery of their applications. However, it is improbable that a developer will become an expert in each of these distinct services.

Rather than that, mobile developers should seek a development environment that enables them to quickly and easily integrate, use, and consume the most frequently required capabilities into their application while retaining the freedom to take advantage of the numerous available individual services.

User sign-up/sign-in and management, Social login (Facebook sign-in, Twitter sign-in, etc. ), analytics, user engagement, push notifications, real device testing, etc. are some of the essential services to include. Additionally, data services like cloud storage, application cloud functions, online and offline data should also be added. Chatbots, Image and Video identifiers and speech recognition are value machine learning tools to incorporate.

Wrap Up

The demand for efficient, user-friendly, high-performance mobile applications is expected to grow significantly as the quantity, variety, and sophistication of mobile devices on the market and in use, today is expanding. As a result, being able to design these apps sensibly and efficiently will continue to be critical.

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