Here’s why mobile app development needs to speed up

By Dan Steiner

The mobile app market is expected to grow 270 percent — from $70 billion in 2015 to $189 billion by 2020, according to market researcher App Annie. With the average American spending up to five hours per day on mobile devices, businesses will need apps if they want to remain relevant. Of those five hours, 50% of user’s time spent is on social, messaging, media and entertainment applications. This growth has been fueled by Communitainment, a term coined by Flurry analytics to describe communication for the sole purpose of entertainment.

Many startups, small businesses, and C-suite executives realize the importance of comprehensive mobile capabilities, yet still struggle to make them effective.

For most companies, it takes too long to get the initial versions of an app out the door, and it frequently takes weeks to implement updates. These updates are imperative to any app’s survival because most of them are initiated by users who have identified glitches or offering ideas for improvements. When their feedback is not quickly incorporated, users will flock to other solutions, and competitors.

Web developers have been trained to iterate fast, deploying updates multiple times per day. For example, Facebook rolls out updates twice per day with nearly 600 developers. However, mobile has yet to develop the same kind of best practices for rapid updates.

In the product development process, brands must ask themselves where the real bottleneck is happening. “The lack of control and efficient feedback cycles can be deadly for app designers and developers today,” according to Anders Lassen, CIO of Fuse, a toolkit that developers and designers use to create native, cross-platform mobile apps. “The best way to execute a good quality app quickly is to create a polished product with a limited featureset. While things are usually very clear when a concept lives in sketches or prototypes, once the app leaves the comfortable sphere of ‘idea’ and enters implementation, things gets more complicated.”

Even the most disciplined and experienced organizations should look under the hood to see what improvements they can make in order to get to market faster with an app.

App development is still in waterfall style development

One of the reasons app development still takes so much time is that a majority of developers are still stuck in the waterfall development cycle. This traditional approach to software and app development breaks down steps to outline a process that must be completed in a distinct sequence. While this method may provide more structure than an agile workflow, more developers are finding that it slows down productivity in nearly all aspects of modern project management.

In this sequential structure, developers cannot simply go back to the previous step without completely starting over. Alexis Piperides, CEO of explains, “While perhaps a boon for tech writers, waterfall wasn’t a great fit for software developers or their managers, who found that project needs were sometimes difficult to predict at the beginning of the engagement and that the rigid structure made the improvisation and flexibility necessary for successful software development difficult to execute. As a result, the process took too long, client needs weren’t being addressed and communication was strained, all at the expense of the final product.”

Interaction and responsiveness

Interaction and responsiveness represent how quickly the application responds to inputs, moves between views, and how well the app can use the touch-based interaction model of mobile devices. Some cross-platform interfaces can cause delays because commands have to cross an additional layer. Additionally, some tools cannot utilize multi-touch functions without additional programming or libraries.

“As you design the user interface, it is important to keep in mind the interactions that take place between human cognition and the screen you are designing for,” says Euphemia Wong, UX Researcher, Designer and Strategist in The Interaction Design Foundation. “Making things easier for your users means, not forcing them to learn new representations or toolsets for each task. This further reduces the length of the thinking process by eliminating confusion.”

Companies must play to the end user

Whether you’re designing an enterprise or consumer app, which are becoming one in the same, users have an overall expectation of how an application should work. These expectations are a compilation of everyday experiences that happen outside of your product.

Lassen suggests one of the best ways to play to the end user is to allow more people to be part of the iteration loop. “Having a more diverse and empowered team makes sustainable growth more likely because they can quickly test out ideas and eliminate user experience (UX) designs and interactions that don’t work well. The quicker you can test your assumptions on a real scale, the better. Sketches, offline UX testing, and prototyping can only take you so far. We’ve seen time and time again that what seems like a good idea in the testing process, ends up falling completely flat when the app reaches real users.”

In our mobile-saturated future, year-long app development will be unacceptable. Whether you’re a startup building your platform, or a Fortune 500 undergoing a massive digital transformation, the importance of expedited app development should be a top priority. As tools become more visual and easier to work with for everyone involved in the app design and building processes, there will be far less friction, cutting the lag in app development.

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