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How long does it take to develop an app?

Ben Obear
August 15, 2015

Trying to get a comprehensive time frame for the development of your app can be frustrating because numerous factors affect the time. Developing and launching a new app requires you to follow a multi-step process, which you must adhere to in order to ensure your app achieves its goals. Following this process ensures your app is tested for software bugs and usability issues prior to launching a marketing campaign that targets your desired customers.

These are simply a few successful app qualities that are approached preemptively. After all, an app is only as good as its end result.

How Long Does it Take to Develop a Mobile App?

On average, a fairly basic app can take about 18 weeks to develop and then get the app to market. However, this time frame does not include the time that is involved in getting the idea for the app in order, the size of the audience you have in mind and the complexities involved in the app itself. Some of these can include the platforms that you are looking to support your app- in example, iPhone versus Android, or both- as well as the developer that you are working with. For the most part, it is broken into a front and back-end development phase. The first eight weeks are the front-end process in developing the user interface, also known as the UI, and the final eight weeks are mostly dedicated to the back-end development of the app.

Below will provide a step by step guide for developing an app from scratch. Here, you can break each phase up into a timeline that you would like to follow for the development of the app. Bear in mind that timelines are simply an estimate- some of the greatest apps have been in development and pre-development for years before launching, but have seen major victory through a well executed thought, development and marketing process.

Defining the App Before Beginning Development

Before you begin, it's important to think about the complexity of the app that you have in mind and execute some research as to whether you should hire a developer for your app. If you are developing an app that isn't overly complex in nature, you may even be able to look into using an app program that can help you build from start to finish without the assistance- or budget- for a developer. However, many apps will require a developer, which means labor- time and money out of your pocket. Know your budget before you get started so that you can stay within the confines of it during each phase.

Define the Goal of Your App

The most important piece of the app will be the idea and the overall purpose. What is the end goal for your app? What is your target market and how will you be able to make life more interesting, easier, more organized or solve problems for the consumers that you are going after? Also, consider your competition- what is on the market that is similar to what your app will do? Will you be rolling out your app to download for free, or will there be a cost involved in order for your consumer to download it?

Having your ideas and essentially a strong business plan mapped out for your app will be the stronghold to the development process. Once you have your ideas concretely in place, you can begin the actual development phase for the app.

Begin Development of Your App

You don't have to be Michael D'Angelo to create a comprehensive and rough sketch of what you want your app to look and feel like. Creating a visual image as well will assist you in bringing the idea to life, making it feel more real. You can look at that rough outline as a foundation so that you can get the proper structure for the app. Composing the sketch will also help you to communicate with your developer, or team of developers to address any questions, and/or potential complications based on the initial outline.

Research and Development for your App

Research is a key phase for the development and finalization of your app. First and foremost, you want to find out what the competition is doing. How is your app different and what makes it better, or more useful than your competitor? During the R & D phase, you will also be able to pull more inspiration for the design layout, as well as gather information for the technical requirements that your app will need to run properly. Lastly, you need to find out how you will be able to monetize your app and finalize your target market(s).

Research can often add obstacles to your initial concept, especially when it comes to competitors that are running applications similar to what you are building. You may have originally thought your app was an innovative idea, only to find that more than a handful of people have structured something comparable. Because there are more than a million apps currently on the IOS and Android app markets alone, finding that small, untouched niche may be nearly impossible. However, this shouldn't be a factor that you allow to completely dissuade you from continuing. You can actually use the competition to conduct further research and touch on the hiccups that they may have encountered- thus providing yourself with proactive knowledge on how to overcome them. You can also figure out where they do and don't work. Utilize that information to fine tune your app based on what they may have missed. Remember the key component questions- how is your app going to help someone make their life better, easier or more entertaining?

Once you have these in place, you need to figure out the marketing and monetization behind the app. What is your game plan on getting it into the market? Are you looking for a viral response? If so, what do you need to do in order to reach that potential market and how are you getting the word out? It's important to strategize based on who your market is and what it takes to reach them.

Finally, decide on the platforms that you will be using to monetize the app. Again, this requires further research and some strong organization on your stats and findings. Are you looking for advertisers? If so, be prepared to present them with the firm demographics on who will be using your app, why it will be of use to them and how the advertiser will directly benefit from pairing with your app to go after their target market.

Create Your Storyboard and Wireframe

Wireframing means to create a prototype of your app. You can utilize online programs and tools to create the mockup, or you can have your developer do it for you. Once you get to this phase of app development, you pretty much have a semi-beta version of what your app will look like. You will be able to review the app as a user. At this phase, you will be given the ability to figure out the pros and cons to the app usability and tackle any potential issues.

You will be using the wireframes and storyboard as the back-end core for the app. Now you need to compose a sketch of your data diagrams, which will become the basis from which your developer or team can review. Technical limitations at this point will need to be addressed. Simply make the necessary modifications to the storyboard and wireframe as necessary as you get ready to move into the next phase of development.

Test the Prototype of the App and Make Necessary Changes to Prepare the App for Design Phase

Now is the time to segue into the testing phase for the prototype for your app. This is the point where you will go after your network in order to gather feedback for the app before you market it. Call upon those in your circle- friends, family and colleagues alike- to have them help you in getting a strong basis of reviews and critique for the app. You're basically giving the app its first test run and gathering market research that will be useful to your end goal. Remember to urge your users to give you critique and offer up honest feedback. Your goal here is to finalize the app details before it moves into the design phase. If you have a concrete and clearly designed prototype, you will make the final phases much more seamless.

Building the Back End of the App Phase

As the app has been finalized for the most part, with a clear vision, outline and usable prototype, it's time to move into the back end development portion. At this point, servers, databases and solutions for storage issues will be compiled and troubleshooting will need to be done. As you are developing the back end, this is a good time to sign up and get approved for developer accounts that you will be using for the app. Some of these may take time, so it's better to get done in advance.

Design and Finalize your App Screens, or Skins

This is the phase of your app where you will put to good use the feedback that you received from your prototype app users. You are now turning the initial wireframes into high-res versions of what the end user will see. It's crucial here to dot all of your i's and cross your t's- you are almost finished with development and after some further testing, you will be getting ready to launch. If there was any open-ended feedback given from your testers, address it so that you can make any last minute changes or improvements to the app.

Final Phase of Testing for the App

After finalizing the concept for the skins and having the design implemented, it's time to do one final round of testing on the app. At this point, every piece should be in place- from the graphics being used in the app down to the basics of the fonts. The final round of testing is being done as the app itself will really look, how it will work and feel for your users.

Final Revisions and Defining Each Detail of the App- Preparation for App Launch

Once you’ve given your design a test drive and collected more feedback from future users, you should use these new ideas to polish up your app idea. Here you can make last modifications for the design and layout.  At this point, you will also test your app on the platforms that you will be featuring it on. IOS and Android platforms vary greatly in how they can be tested, so apply due diligence here as this will be the final phase to the completion of the app and you want to ensure that your app is fully compatible.

Launch of Your App and Getting Reviews

App markets vary when it comes to launching a new app. Some will require that a certain amount of time passes before they will allow your app to be reviewed. However, on the IOS market, you can have your app reviewed and approved even before it goes live. This is at the discretion of the platform.

Following these steps through to completion when developing a new app will make the app building process much more streamlined and structured. It may also help you in being able to adhere to a specific timeline in building and launching the app as you clearly define each step.

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Ben Obear
San Francisco