August 3, 2022
The number of mobile downloads has been steadily growing since 2016 and reached 230 billion in 2022, but there’s a catch: the market is saturated.
With very few tech giants on top - including TikTok, Imangi Studios, and Pinterest, building a successful mobile application has never been as difficult as it is in 2023.
Source: State of Mobile 2021 / data.ai
With such a volume of applications available to be downloaded, users seem to enter an app overload era and what they really want is simplicity.
People have been using fewer and fewer apps for almost a decade, since 2014. The statistics show that on average, users open just 9 mobile apps a day and 30 apps every month, with 88% of their smartphone time spent in these few applications.
This - obviously - makes the mobile app market even more competitive, especially if you don’t already have a steady base of followers for your personal or general brand. According to Reed Steiner from Fyresite, only 0.5% of mobile apps make it through the first 12 months after their launch.
So, what does it take to stand out from the crowd in 2023 and what does it make a mobile app successful?
We analyze it in this guide, along with a list of steps and strategies to consider when developing a mobile app. You will also read comments from the Monterail mobile development experts.
Here’s a table of contents for you (with clickable links):
Mobile app development is a series of actions with the aim of launching an app that can be used on mobile devices. They can be launched to the public at large by publishing them in Google or Apple app stores or be restricted to certain groups of users, like company personnel. The actions include i.a. developing a business plan, conducting user research, creating wireframes, coding a prototype/MVP, marketing activities, etc.
It is a lengthy and complex process that can be successfully completed with an appropriate amount of planning, but even that doesn’t guarantee that your application will be gaining traction and users. To develop a truly successful mobile app in 2023, you need to stay on top of things when it comes to functionality, performance, design, usability, and many different factors.
It can happen that after reading about the mobile app development process I’m about to present below, you’ll decide against making an app that’s exclusive to mobile devices. It’s a valid option depending on your case and it may save you the costs of developing and maintaining the other versions of your product. The alternatives are also ideal if you already have said versions and want to build a mobile app quickly.
Luckily in 2023, there are a few alternatives to native mobile application development:
If you want to build a compelling mobile app in 2023, a bold-yet-vague statement such as “I will launch the next Udemy“ or “I’m disrupting the food delivery market” is not enough.
You need a plan - here’s how to do it:
Before you dive headfirst into mobile app development, it’s important to establish your ‘why’. To do that, ask yourself these questions and preferably respond in writing - you would then be able to use the responses to draft your next steps:
If you are not sure how to answer these questions, connect to a group of users who have a certain problem and test your hypotheses and app ideas by conducting in-depth interviews with them.
This approach will help you better understand their needs and the issues they face, and give you ideas on how to proceed with the development, what security measures to take, what would be the best channels to market the app once it’s built, and what should be your monetization model.
Please note that an app idea that will come from these activities does not have to be explicitly unique. While it may be your goal, you may also discover that users are unsatisfied with the apps they already use, and improving their experience would be exactly what they need.
Another piece of advice here is that this stage is where you want to experiment as much as possible and test as many ideas as you possibly can. Keep your mind open to user insights and new perspectives, and listen carefully to this initial group of potential users for your mobile app.
Be prepared to move quickly with the development if users respond well to what you presented to them, pivot your plans, or even abandon the idea of developing a mobile app altogether. The observations that you’ll collect now will come in handy at any of the later stages and/or when your mobile app development will meet unexpected stumbling blocks.
Once this phase is completed and your ‘why’ has been firmly established, it’s time to move to the next stage.
Once you know why you want to create a mobile app, there’s another important step in your planning that will play a crucial role and that will inform your business decisions down the line.
If you know your potential audience throughout, you ideally want to focus on ensuring that your product can empower and support them, but there are also some - bigger and smaller - goals you may want to achieve while you work on your app.
So, what does ‘success’ mean to you and what would make your application successful from your personal perspective? Some of the goals to consider here:
Please note that you can also focus on more industry-specific metrics that are centered around your service or product. According to Katarzyna Lorek who works as a React Native Developer at Monterail, technical elements to check for when measuring the success of your app are:
One of the examples of such an approach is our client, ELISA - Easy Live Sales, with their focus on the impact their eCommerce platform has on the sales results of their users - small and medium-sized stores. Ensuring that these stores double their revenue by hosting live shopping events once a week is what Elisa founder and Product Developer, Nikolai Aas Pedersen focuses on in his day-to-day work - in his own words: ‘I’m proud to make this software meaningful - it was the intent behind ELISA in the first place and I’m happy we can make it happen.’
Another company that we collaborate with - a car parking management system, Admyt - zero-ins on the ‘product stickiness’ instead. As Jaco van der Merwe—CTO, and Devon Beynon—COO at Admyt told us in this interview published on our blog, measuring how many people sign up for their application and how many of them then continue to use it. Tracking this one metric helped them determine that on average, 30,000 of the Admyt users go back to their parking app 4 - 5 times a month.
What’s important from these insights from our customers is that you need to start collecting data as soon as possible, preferably even before your app’s beta launch, so you can make changes based on these insights. Some of the app analytics tools you may consider include Amplitude, Mixpanel, and Google’s Firebase.
Please note that it’s crucial to implement just one essential analytics tool into your application in its first versions to not interfere with the product’s performance as well as traffic and download time rates. When adding any new features that can be used to optimize your app, always consider usability factors.
At this stage, the groundwork has been completed and you’re ready to start digging deeper. Now, it’s time to analyze the market you’re about to enter with your app, check what your competitors are, and see how your product will fit into this landscape.
Here’s the list of market research tools, techniques, and platforms that you may want to use:
SWOT analysis - a simple yet powerful matrix that will give you a quick overview of your app’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.
Crunchbase - a one-in-all company database that will help you collect information about your competitors, including their size, targeted markets, and news about their growth.
Pew Research Center - a self-proclaimed ‘non-partisan fact tank’ conducting opinion polling, science research, and demographic research with comprehensive statistics about social issues, trends, and attitudes.
Think with Google - a set of free market research tools from Google, including Google Trends and Market Finder, you can check for consumer insights, new potential markets, and valuable sales insights.
Tableau - a low-code visual analytics platform that will help you present and understand any data you collect from your user research (and app analytics later down the line).
This is also where you go back to your potential users and conduct more rigorous user interviews and collect more feedback that would allow you to design and develop an outstanding mobile app.
Some questions that will help conduct these interviews:
Once you’ve conducted a more detailed analysis of who your potential users are, then you can use this data to create the so-called UX or User Personas using tools such as Make My Persona (an easy-to-use marketing persona generator that will help you pinpoint and describe the ideal user for your app) or the 3-step process from our article on UX Personas:
Focus not only on the quantitative user research methods such as close-ended user surveys and checking statistics for your targeted demographics, but also on more qualitative ones - open-ended questionnaires, in-depth conversations, and card sorting. They will help you understand not only who the potential users are, but also how and what they think.
Don’t forget to document everything to make sure that your team will stay on the same page down the line. This will also allow you to go back and review the research results at any time.
Please note that you should reach out and talk to your users as often as possible - preferably before and after each milestone in your mobile app development journey, including designing UX/UI wireframes, building a prototype, and your beta launch.
Once you’ve collected requirements from your potential users and you have a list of features that will be the most helpful to them, your future app can finally take shape. This list will inform your product development process and can be used to build wireframes and then your prototype/Minimum Viable Product (MVP).
Why build them in the first place?
A working prototype or an MVP will help you review your initial assumptions during live user testing sessions, and decide whether to expand or limit your scope of features and which ones to build next.
So, you’ve got yourself an estimate for your MVP, now it’s time to get back to researching - this time, focusing on the potential costs of your mobile app development. Information like this may be difficult to obtain, so the first thing you may want to decide on is the eternal question:
Is it better to hire an in-house development team or work with an external mobile app development company?
I may be biased here, but outsourcing your product design and development process may be the best way to proceed here as you will have external technology partners ready to support you and your team at any stage. Reaching out to these companies as you research the best one will also help you prepare a more detailed estimation of the costs you’ll need to cover when building your mobile app.
When you consider the costs and choose the best approach to app monetization (more on the available models below), it’s also important to decide on the platform you use for your app.
You can alternate between iOS and Android as they currently share the market 71.7% (Android) vs 27.57% (iOS), with iOS popularity growing rapidly in the last few years, but you can also go with developing a hybrid app, a PWA or a completely different platform (Windows, macOS, etc.) - check out my list of your options when you decide against the typical ‘iOS or Android’ setup.
Remember here that in the past, each OS provided its own challenges and no single stack could handle all cases adequately.
For example, when creating an Android version of a complex iOS application, it might have been easier to simply rewrite the whole codebase from scratch. Not to say it would likely involve multiple teams.
Nowadays, the situation is much more flexible. Developers can use technologies such as Kotlin Multiplatform, React Native, and Flutter to produce multiplatform apps with minimal work.
This - in turn - will make it easier for you to decide which business model to use for the product. In general, there are several monetization strategies that you can follow:
With the list of user requirements I’ve mentioned above, you can also start building user flows and design wireframes for certain in-app views you need.
If you’re already working with a skilled designer or a team of designers, this is where you want to meet with them more than a few times and deep dive into developing the structure for your app.
Please note that while using design tools such as Figma, Invision or Adobe may be helpful here, prototyping with just pen and paper is also viable. The process of building a prototype and the final result is far more important than the means you use.
Important aspects to include and consider in your wireframing process are:
This is also the perfect moment to review your UX personas developed at the planning stage and match the designs to these.
Another important takeaway here is: users reject bad User Experience very quickly, and alternative apps are literally a button away. So don’t let your great business idea get bogged down by misleading labels, confusing screens, or slow interfaces.
When you design a mobile app, base the designs upon the expectations and intentions of your target audience. Check where exactly they will be using the app and what their use conditions will be like - designing for an app that will be used on the go will be different from a product that they use at home and take time to do it. Take care of the contrast ratios and touch targets so users can tap them conveniently with their thumbs, even while moving.Agnieszka Kozłowska Senior Product Designer
The designs are ready, let’s set them in motion to see how users will move through the app. The result of this process can be either an app prototype or its more advanced version - a Minimum Viable Product.
Both of these can be developed by the design and mobile development teams you work with, but even if you build an application on your own, there are some very useful tools that you can use to put together a simple prototype, including Figma, Adobe XD or FluidUI.
What you will end up with is a simplified version of your application, that can be easily used to further test it with your potential users/target audience, or to present it to co-founders or investors if you are looking for additional funding for your mobile development.
Beta and alpha launches are both considered to be the best testing strategies for a mobile application. With the MVP and another round of user feedback collected, you can consider releasing a beta version of your app, where it’s in its non-public form with limited access given to your test group only.
This is also when a Test Engineer’s input may be necessary as they will help you set and implement tools to collect not only the qualitative/declarative feedback from the group but also the quantitative data on how they actually use your product. Also, look out for things such as app performance (including speed), any UX/UI mishaps, or product bottlenecks.
Important note: while the beta testing phase can be easily omitted, it’s not recommended to do so as it gives you valuable insights before you share the app with a wider audience and buys you time to work out what’s not working in the current version.
As it’s with almost every stage of the mobile app development process, choosing the right marketing strategy for your product will include weighing the pros and cons. The most important thing to remember here is that there’s no one way to market your app - your approach will largely depend on your target audience.
Before we’ll look through your possible option, make sure you know the answers to these questions:
These responses will guide you through the decision stage and will help you pick marketing methods that are best for your product. Here’s the list of a few promotion formats to consider:
Influencer marketing is defined as a type of marketing where you advertise your product through social media personalities - also known as influencers - who already have a huge following on the social media platforms and therefore, are able to help your product reach a larger audience. The most important thing to keep in mind here is making sure that the influencers you decide to cooperate with are genuine people whom your potential customers follow and take advice from.
The premise of content marketing is always providing value and building knowledge-sharing resources for the potential users of your product or service. That’s also the case when promoting the application you work on - what topic and formats they would like to see and learn more about? What platforms do they use when looking for information? Make sure that you meet them where they are and you have content at the ready that they may be interested in.
You’re probably no stranger to social media marketing where you promote your app using social media platforms with established communities such as Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook.
As a marketer with 8+ years of experience, I’d say that my advice for you when you build your brand and try to reach potential customers is to stay authentic and transparent about what you do, who you want to connect with, and the reasoning behind your product.
Please note that regardless of which elements of the marketing toolkit you decide to use, you will also need a compelling website app where users will be able to get more information about your product, check what their problems (or pain points in marketing jargon) it will help them solve, and then, of course, download the app.
Once you are ready to launch your application in Apple and Google Play app stores, you also need to master the art of app store optimization. I’ve linked the app submission guides in the previous sentence, so follow these rules to avoid getting your product rejected or its release delayed.
Mobile app development may seem like a straightforward process with isolated stages and a tried and tested methodology, but here’s something that you don’t hear often enough: it’s not linear and you may stumble upon some setbacks or things that will force you to reconsider your approach and pivot.
It’s also a never-ending feedback collection practice, and with your application finally released and used by people outside of your initial test group, you will find yourself receiving feedback and hearing about perspectives and uses for your app that may make you think differently. This feedback will be crucial for developing new features within your product that will keep the users coming back to your application.
Once you start receiving these insights, make sure that you have a way to store them and then use them as a starting point for your next development phases.
Another aspect to consider for this post-launch stage is what third-party applications could you integrate with your product.
This can be seen as a useful marketing tactic as well as when deciding on integrations, you should - as always - focus on your users. What tools do they already use? What would make switching to your app easier for them? What applications can be used in sync with your product? Consider these before you start developing new integrations.
One of the examples of a successful integration strategy is from our customer, Easyship. Their user-friendly shipping software is integrated with both technology partners such as eCommerce platforms - including BigCommerce and Etsy - as well as shipping carriers, i.a. Fedex and DHL. This way, they make it easy for anyone using their product to connect it with any tools that they’re already familiar with.
Phew, hope you’ve enjoyed reading this guide as much as I did collecting all these insights for it! If you’re still with me, I have a bonus segment of this article - the examples of mobile applications that we successfully built and launched here at Monterail:
As you can see, developing a successful mobile application in 2023 is more challenging than ever. It requires a fair amount of planning as well as a 360-degree approach where you define your ‘why’, choosing the best design and software development teams, thinking about your marketing strategy, and reaching out to beta users and communities that may be interested in your product before the actual development work and your app release.
While it may appear next to impossible, I strongly believe that with the right approach, you can still build a great application - it’s important to remember here that the number of mobile app users is and will continue to grow and there are still some untapped areas and problems that need to be urgently solved with no other way than technology.
If you need support in developing an outstanding mobile application, reach out to our mobile app team, and we will be happy to answer all of your questions: