Your Ultimate Guide To Mobile App Development In 2021

“Mobile is the future of everything.” – Forbes

Forbes is right on the money. Mobile is indeed the future of everything, from business and healthcare app development to gaming and all-things good in between. And industry by industry insights and overall usage numbers agree.

Mobile internet access has overtaken desktop internet usage big time. In 2018, more than 70 percent of all web traffic originated from mobile devices, up from 57 percent in 2017. Quartz estimated a jump of 80 percent in 2019.

Not just that, American adults are now spending an average of 3+ hours each day on their mobile gizmos browsing internet, and only 2.2 hours on a desktop computer.

Mobile app development refers to the process of writing software that works on a mobile device (smartphones, tables, wearable). But app development is not only about coding a native, HTML5 or hybrid app. It is about the strategic process of defining, designing, building and launching a successful mobile product.

In this article, based on our experience in building mobile apps for over ten years, you will learn everything we know about mobile app development.

We take you through every step of building a great mobile product: from ideation to market validation, persona definition to creating beautiful designs, creating a robust development architecture and writing clean code, followed by how you build a marketing plan to hit the ground running the day your app is published on the App Store.

But most importantly, read this article to learn from the mistakes of many app builders, investors and entrepreneurs. Building a great app isn’t cheap. We’ve seen people waste millions, literally, on building bad products or launching poorly designed apps. Don’t be that person.

Take the time to read this article, beginning to end, to make sure you build the best possible app that will do justice to your amazing idea.

Mobile app usage prove the business case for building a mobile app

In 2019, there were more than 5.11 billion unique mobile users, accounting for over 90 percent of all global internet users.

According to the State of Mobile 2019 report by App Annie, global app downloads reached 194 billion in 2018, with consumers spending a whopping $101 billion on app stores. In fact, companies leveraging mobile capabilities enjoyed a staggering 360 % higher IPO valuation in 2018.

The worldwide mobile app economy is expected to hit $6.3 trillion by 2021, and app revenue is expected to experience an uptick of 113 percent to reach $188 billion.

The worldwide mobile app economy is expected to hit $6.3 trillion by 2021CLICK TO TWEET

These numbers are loud and clear: it’s time you join the mobile app development train. After all, most likely, your competitors are already doing it.

On the other hand, research from Gartner estimates that fewer than 0.01% of apps were considered a financial success in 2018.

With an average investment of $270,000 to design, build and launch an app, it’s not a small project by anyone’s standards.

But the stark reality is that most mobile apps fail. So, it is very important to be clear about the strategy, plan and execution before committing time, money and resources to building an app.

The harsh reality – why mobile apps fail

This might be a hard pill to swallow, but it’s true, nonetheless. Out of every 10,000 mobile apps developed, only 1 will triumph while the other 9,999 will go puff into oblivion. As an entrepreneur, this means that the odds are greatly stacked against you.

But don’t let this big number bog you down. It is only ill-planned and ill-executed apps that are set to fail from the first day. That’s why you need to learn why apps fail in the first place. After all, why not learn from failures of others so you do not repeat the same mistakes?

No matter how you look at it, mobile app development is all about arming yourself with industry knowledge and having a solid go-to-market plan & strategy. It’s a prudent way to safeguard your app from becoming part of the 99.99 percent.

With that being said, here are the four key areas that make mobile apps fail. As a forward-thinking entrepreneur, it is critical to consider these pitfall areas as a wake-up call. And, more importantly, you need to find ways to turn them into positives.

1) You must have a robust mobile app strategy

Every successful product – no matter what it does, whom it is designed for or who created it – begins with a great strategy.

The same goes for a mobile app.

Mobile App Strategy refers to the creative effort required to translate consumers’ needs into an app that can be used seamlessly to accomplish a specific task. The goal of a mobile strategy is simple: to help a user ‘do something’, quickly and effectively, every time a mobile app can fulfill that user’s need.

Without a well-designed, researched and implemented strategy at every level of development, your app is poised to go down the drain. This is especially true if you are trying to get your feet wet in a new or an upcoming niche/industry.

That’s why it comes as no big surprise that a poor move at the strategy level is one of the key areas where most apps fail. Of course, there are more specific reasons why mobile apps fail at this planning phase:

Bad or lack of market research

How much do you know about your target market and the end user of your mobile app?

If your app does not address a market need or problem, then it will not get downloaded and, if it does end up on a user’s phone, it might not be used.

According to a report by SAP, close to 80 percent of mobile apps end up being abandoned just after their first use. Why? You guessed it right: they aren’t a good fit for the user, and lack a stellar mobile app strategy.

Considering the big bets everyone is placing on mobile, poor market research can quickly turn into a nightmare and lead to disappointment.

That’s why you need to kick off your app development journey with a thorough user/market research.

In other words, what solution will your app provide that your specific target audience needs?

Market research makes it imperative that you clearly define your target audience, and investigate further about them. What’s their core problems, needs, interests, and pain-points? By learning the ins and outs of the market, as well as getting an in-depth understanding of your specific users, you will most likely create an app that is tailored to what they are actually looking for.

But your market research doesn’t have to stop there.

Due diligence on your closest rivals can also come in handy. Do a win-loss juxtapositioning, and comprehensive competitor analysis to better inform your mobile strategy.

When all is said and done, your market research should act as a means of connecting your app idea with your target audience. And this should be your step #1 and an overarching aspect of your mobile app development at all stages.

Improper planning of app marketing activities

This one is a no-brainer, and yet it is still one of the most common reasons why mobile apps fail at the strategy level. If you don’t plan the execution stages in detail, your app will most likely flop.

For instance, how are you planning to let your target users know about your new app? Do you have plans in place for app-install campaigns?

Proper planning includes marketing and ranking factors like ASO, SEO, PR push, and so forth.

If you neglect them until the last minute, you will be caught in the motions of trying to execute an app that has low to zero buzz.

Even worse, you’ll have no avenue of getting preliminary user feedback and therefore can’t get your app truly ready for the market.

We’ve actually written the playbook on adequate app launching techniques.

Read: The 2021 Mobile App Marketing Guide with 25 Pro Tips

Lack of clearly defined goals

Goal-setting is a paramount step in the strategy and planning phase of your app creation. If you don’t hammer out clearly defined objectives, your app is set up to fail right from the outset. They are important in the grand scheme of things, especially when it comes to marketing your mobile.

With clearly defined goals on hand, you will easily map out your strategy on how to get there. When working on defining your goals, you need to ask yourself the following tough and important questions:

  • What issue(s) will my app hope to solve for target market?
  • What will be my app’s selling point or appeal?
  • What features should I incorporate into my app?
  • What benefits should my app offer the user?

2) You must invest in breath-taking designs

App developers are also faced with myriads of pitfalls during the design and software development phase. These failures and design issues can stall your mobile strategy even before your app makes it to launch date. They include but not limited to:

Bad design = bad business

Mobile app design refers to the process of ideating, defining, planning and building the user experience seen by a smartphone user while interacting with a mobile app. Mobile app design combines visual (colors, photography, animations) and graphical elements (topography, font, writing) into a unified user experience.

When executed correctly, a user will NEVER thing of the mobile design of an app. They would only think about how easy it is to accomplish a certain task on a specific app. Great design = happy customers.

When done poorly, users have only jarring things to say about apps with bad design. They will ditch your poorly designed app in the first crucial 8 seconds, and you’ll never see them again. That’s the harsh reality of app design.

While there are many elements that make for a pleasant user experience, at the very minimum, your app should be easy and intuitive to use. If users have a hard time finding or using some of the fundamental features/functions of your app, you have little to no chance of keeping them.

The design is what the user sees when interacting with your app. But overall poor app usability can result from a number of other things like tediously long and complex sign-up process; lagging, slow or buggy features that affect the overall performance of the app; inaccessible features, and painfully long load times. When one or more of these issues come together, your mobile app will fail.

You need to take care of user experience issues during the design and software development stage. Another trick is to have the app tested for usability right from its infancy so that you can go back to the drawing board as many times as you can, make necessary refinements, and by the launch date, your app will optimally user-friendly.

Bad technology or improperly implemented technology will lead to epic failures

Not all mobile app development agencies are created equal. If your team isn’t up to date with the latest development standards, your app might not see the light of the day, or worse, it may be launched and never get any active users.

The same goes for developers who use substandard coding methods. The bottom line is that bad technology  has no room in app creation. That’s why you need to work with a team that stays on top of the latest app development best practices.

Lack of proper QA will ruin your app

Conducting several QA tests throughout the creation of your app will help you deliver a product that’s bug-free and user-friendly. Unfortunately, it’s hard to tell right from day 1 how much time you will require to test your app for quality, and what the QA test itself will entail.

Smart mobile developers usually take plenty of time to thoroughly QA test the app, which might end up costing more and consuming more time. However, not QA-testing your mobile app comes with dire consequences. And skipping the testing altogether is often the reason why some apps go to rack and ruin.

3) How to execute correctly on building a great mobile app

So you have come up with a great mobile app strategy and plan. It’s now time to execute the plan. Before we show you how to do it successfully,  there are still some potential app-killing problems and failures lurking around the corner. These include:

Too much competition or many similar products

There are over 2.2 million apps in the App Store alone, with another 2.6 million populating Google Play. There are thousands more entering the fray on a daily basis, not to mention that some apps are not listed on these two app marketplaces.

No matter how you look at it, you have some serious competition up ahead. If you don’t have an original idea or offer something appealing to your target audience, your app won’t cut it.

And so we are clear, a mobile app can succeed even if there’s a lot of other players in the field. You just need to have a unique value proposition, even if the core functionality of your digital product is similar to others.

The example I always give is this.

LivingSocial was launched in 2007 and became the biggest deals website in the world, once worth 6 billion dollars and considering an IPO. In November 2008, Groupon was launched with an identical business model. Even the two competitor websites did not truly differentiate themselves that much, outside of basic visual elements like colors and topography.

Yet, what Groupon understood better than anyone else was the power of compelling content.

They double-down and invested heavily in professional copywriters, recruiting every gifted writer they could find to provide deals listings that were compelling, funny, and long.

They were the first e-commerce site to understand, even before Amazon, the power of long-form copy. Fast forward to 2016 – Groupon buys LivingSocial for pennies on the dollar. Today, Groupon leads the market despite competing with other 600 daily deals sites.

Moral of the story. You can absolutely disrupt a crowded market. But you need to do one thing better than everyone else. And that comes from thoroughly studying your competitors.

Team issues & conflicting priorities

There’s a good chance that you are building your app with a partner or with the help of a team. Either, you should expect some sort of conflicting priorities from some key members. If your team of developers breaks down, the road ahead will be a tough one and your will app will likely flop.

When you move forward with building a mobile app, you need to make sure you do it with people you can trust. Because there will be conflicts. And you need to be able to work well with those you choose to build an app with.

At Digital Authority Partners, the most successful app we’ve ever worked was led by two brothers with incredibly complementary personalities. There were many issues along the way, by they sorted them all out and the app is now worth a bit over $50 million (and we continue to work with them!).

This isn’t to say you should only build an app with members of your family. It simply means you need to build it with people you can trust and who will be there when times are tough or when you’re dealing with a lot of uncertainty.

No idea how to monetize your app

Monetization woes cause most apps to fail.

After all, if you don’t have a well-defined road to profitability, your mobile app will sooner or later fail. Good thing, there are plenty of ways to monetize your creation.

You can run paid ads, offer paid subscriptions, provide in-app purchases/features or drive users to your e-commerce store/website.

Whatever it is, make sure to have a definite road-to-profitability strategy right from the outset. This will make your execution-level progress without any hitch.

Cash shortages to take the app to the next stage

Your app will cost money to plan, design, develop, launch, market … the whole shebang.

If you run out of cash at the beginning, in the middle or even near the end, you are in for a big surprise.

Even after building and launching your app, you still need some money to tide your company over until profitability. That’s why it is important to have a conservative budget that’s well planned and generously funded.

Here’s a real life example. A client of ours spend 1 million on building an app. Thenthey came to us to market it. But they completely missed the market. He tried riding on the hype of mobile app development, without proper market research. In his industry, the majority of people using an app, did so to research the topic at hand, NOT to buy. The client went against our advice and launched the app. It tanked.

He then scrambled to find money to build a website. Eventually he did. But then he ran out of money to market the product.

The rule of thumb any investor will tell you is this: whatever your budget is, reserve 30% of it to marketing and growing your app. I would say 90% of our clients fail to do that and then they launch a great product but fail to market it adequately. The lucky ones secure funding from investors and they course correct the ship. The unlucky ones abandon the project. Always plan for a robust marketing budget or you won’t be able to take an app to the next stage.

4) Let’s talk about mobile app marketing

You have built an incredible app that’s capable of raking in money.

That’s all good and dandy, but if you don’t market it rigorously and offer effective support, it might still fail.

Typical app marketing failures that you need to avoid include:

No clear cut marketing message

You should have a crystal-clear marketing message for your app.

Your marketing message, most notably the description copy, should tell your app story, highlight its best features, and how it stands out from the crowd.

If your marketing message isn’t clear enough, users will move on to the next app, leaving you high and dry. How to keep your marketing message on the up-and-up?

  • Aim the message directly at your target customers
  • Keep your message clear, concise and to the point
  • Focus on the solution that your app offers.
  • What’s in it for the target user?

If you are interested in mobile app marketing, you may also want to check out our comprehensive guide titled: A Step by Step Guide for Driving Android App Downloads

Lack of reviews and ratings

It is customary for users to dig into reviews and check out user ratings before downloading a mobile app.

It makes sense because why would you want to download an app that hasn’t been tried, tested, and rated?

This can be particularly painful if your app is competing with other apps with lots of ratings and reviews.

Having many poor reviews and bad ratings can do you more harm than good.

It is not even uncommon for some apps to fail just because they could not garner enough ratings quick enough. To avoid this, start your app-install campaigns on a high gear and don’t be afraid to ask for reviews/ratings and make sure you have features that encourage users to share the app with their friends and family, rate your app in the app store and more.

Unclear branding and differentiation from competitors

Your app needs to pop up in a crowd. It needs to differentiate itself from those of your rivals. If it is just another run-of-the-mill app on the market, you will be put in the back burner.

The same is true for unclear branding.

If you don’t have a well-defined and stand-out brand, your app will be at risk of failure. As such, you need to polish your app’s brand by defining your core values and principles that differentiate you from your rivals.

Why build an app? – Top reasons

Now that we’ve walked you through the main reasons why mobile apps fail, you may even be inclined to ask yourself: should I even build an app?

If you just look at the high costs and low success rates you may feel discouraged. So, why even build an app? There are plenty of reasons. Here are some of the top ones:

1) Improve & increase sales through mobile app development

In the digital age and era of instant-everything, the case for developing an app for your business is strong, but knowing that it will help you increase sales makes it even more appealing.

Developing a well-designed and user-friendly mobile app allows businesses to digitize their services and make them readily available on any mobile device.

If you own a brick-and-mortar or e-commerce store, for instance; it is a no-brainer to build a mobile store app. The app will provide you with yet another direct marketing channel. It would allows allow you to run geo-location based campaigns. Check out Sephora for example. They’ve built a companion app which users can take advantage off while inside the store. The app shows them past purchase history, provides product recommendations, limited offers only available on the mobile app and a lot more.

Other companies use mobile apps to show in-store price information, product descriptions, user accounts, feedback functionality, search filters, and so much more. However, nothing beats the fact that you can make your app a great place for users to find sales, promos, discounts, and other exciting offers. They’ll all be right there at their fingertips.

When it comes to using a mobile app to improve sales, numbers don’t lie: a mobile app is a great sales tool.

The number of unique mobile users has increased from 122.9 million in 2013 to close to 200 million at the end of 2018. Even better, mobile apps enjoy a 3x and 1.5x higher conversion rates than mobile websites and desktop respectively.

mobile apps enjoy a 3x and 1.5x higher conversion rates than mobile websites and desktop respectively.CLICK TO TWEET

Mobile app users tend to view 4.6x more products than browsers of mobile websites. Talking of sales value, the average order value of mobile apps is 140 percent higher than mobile sites and 130 percent higher than desktop websites.

That being said, not having a mobile app could be hurting your sales. Given that mobile app users spend 2x as shoppers who make their shopping on mobile or desktop websites, this provides you with yet another chance to make more sales.

And you don’t want to ignore the fact that 19 percent of all online retail sales in the United States are made on a mobile device.

2) Improve customer experience

Customers are now interested in immersive experiences more than ever before, especially when they are shopping.

They want to feel valued and appreciated. More importantly, they want to know that the brand behind a service or product is worthy of their money and attention. That’s where a well-defined mobile app strategy can come into the picture.

There are a ton of reasons why mobile apps do a bang-up job when it comes to enhancing overall customer experience. Let’s look at a few ways mobile redefines how brands provide added-value to their users through amazing mobile app strategies.

A mobile app makes it possible to provide the customer with a seamless shopping experience. The purchasing process can be made effortless by using one-click payment options, SMS confirmations, push notifications, and other mobile elements that will deliver a best-in-class customer experience.

Mobile apps allow for next-level personaliz ation. Delivering a top-notch customer experience is all about personalization. This can be achieved by engaging the user throughout the purchasing process.

Loyalty perks: loyalty benefits like cash back, discounts, freebies, special promo codes, and flash sales are what make for great customer experience. All of these can be achieved with greater outcomes on a mobile app, encouraging the customer to keep coming back. Running a loyalty program easy and hassle-free on an app.

Leverage push notifications to the fullest extent allowed: this is the little-known secret to boosting user and customer experience using mobile apps.

However, you don’t want to bombard the user with constant pop-ups and push notifications. They can be annoying and might coerce the user to uninstall your app. Relevant push notifications can revolutionize how engaged users are with your brand. And don’t forget – push notifications are clicked on (technically tapped on) more than ANY other channel. The click through rate for push notifications is 7.9% according to a recent study based on notifications sent to 900 million users.

3) Become competitive in the market

65% of all small businesses (including your competitors) have already built a mobile app.

Why would you want to be left behind in an increasingly competitive business environment?

Mobile app development gives you a chance to either stay ahead of the curve (read: your slow-to-mobile competitors) or catch up with those who already have an app.

4) Create a direct marketing channel

It is always an excellent idea to have every potential strategy in your marketing toolkit – and having a mobile app is a good addition.

The odds are that you are struggling to show ROI for your email marketing, paid ads, TV ads, print, and other digital marketing channels.

Building an app helps you create a direct marketing channel. It’s, therefore, a strategy that will pay for itself sooner than later.

5) Engage customers better

Having a mobile-ready site used to be enough to keep mobile users engaged.

That’s no longer the case.

You need a mobile app to provide users with better engagement and communication avenues.

It doesn’t matter what you are products or services are, your customers must have an effective way of getting in touch with you. That’s exactly what a mobile app can offer.

Incorporate a help desk, feedback or live chat feature within your mobile app.

These features can make a huge difference in the way your business interacts, connects and communicates with the customer.

A customer-centric mobile app is a phone, text messaging app, email, and chat box, all rolled into one.

6) Boost brand awareness and recognition

If done right, an app can do wonders for your company’s brand awareness.

Remember that your app is much akin to an empty billboard sign. You can perk it up with educative content, make it stylish or engaging.

Whatever the case, you want your app to be something that users will love and cherish. But, more crucially, make sure that your mobile app is superbly designed, stunning-looking, and well branded.

A good app can also take your recognition to a whole new and exciting level.

The more your app gets used and downloaded, the more familiar your brand/products/services will become among your ideal customers. In the ad world, this what is known as “effective frequency.” As a rule of thumb, if the users can see your product or interact with your brand more than 20x, they will become easily recognizable to them.

As a rule of thumb, if the users can see your product or interact with your brand more than 20x, they will become easily recognizable to them.CLICK TO TWEET

How to build a successful app. A 12-step process

So far in this article, we’ve talked about why apps fail and why you should build a mobile app. We chose this structure because I am a firm believer that this is how you should approach building an app.

First – understand why others have failed. When the knowledge on what causes failure, you are more likely to avoid it. I’ve built Digital Authority Partners from scratch with only two people around the dinner table. Along the way, I’ve made a lot of mistakes. Many of these mistakes would have been avoidable if I had known the pitfalls of running an agency. I didn’t know them – very few agency owners talk about lessons learned – so i had to make these mistakes on my own and then learn from it.

The first section of this article is nothing more than a collection of failures we have seen first-hand with many of our clients. Learn from them – and avoid them if you can.

Second – I walked you through the benefits of building an app. How an app can improve your bottom line is critical to your success. You don’t build an app just because everyone else does it. You build an app because mobile is a channel that can attract new customers, improve your relationship with your current customers  or it improves your operational efficiency.

Before you build an app – you need to answer that for yourself: which customer-centric key performance indicator will my app address? What is my desired reach in terms of current and potential customers? And will my app be better than the apps of all my competitors?

Armed with this knowledge, you can now begin the process of really immersing yourself in the twelve steps outlined below which all successful apps have in common!

Let’s get to them.

Section A: The fundamentals of an expert mobile app strategy

Step 1: Value proposition

Your app shouldn’t be an exact copy of your website or e-commerce store.

It should offer much more than information and run-of-the-mill features to the user. That’s because of a simple reality. Downloading an app is, dare I say, an intimate act. As a user, you take the time to download an app on your most personal device in hopes it can produce value to yourself in the long term. There’s nothing more personal than that!

Because getting an app download isn’t easy, you need to create a unique, simple and compelling value proposition for your new digital product.

A well-executed value proposition is what makes your app stand out in a sea of choice.

How is your app different from other similar apps?

What are the benefits that your app will bring to users?

How will the app make the lives of the user better, more enjoyable, etc?

You need to hold a brainstorming session with your partners or strategic consulting team to come up with your unique value proposition.

Not just that, you should write down exactly how your app will solve a specific problem, then move on to brainstorm about what makes your brand unique, who your target market is, and how you will position your app in the market to maximize downloads and engagement rates. Your value proposition statement should also touch on your niche and how you stack up against competitors.

While it might sound like it, your Unique Value Proposition (UVP) is not a statement, a catchphrase or a catchy slogan for your app.

The UVP must clearly and concisely describe what customers get out of using your app that they won’t get through any other channels. There are 4 core attributes of an amazing unique value proposition:

  • Clear – it should be free of corporate jargon
  • Benefits-focused – it should tell your app’s benefits
  • Unique – clearly lay out what makes your app different from your competitors’
  • Concise – a user should understand your app’s value prop in an explanation that takes no more than 10-15 seconds to present.

Still a little hazy? Here are some of the UVPs that will drive the point and truly inspire yours:

Let’s start with coffeeshop giant, Starbucks.

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