How to Develop an App in 9 Easy Steps (2023 Guide)

How to Develop an App in 9 Easy Steps (2023 Guide)

For a time, businesses generally outsourced mobile app development due to constrained budgets and extended timelines. However, between helpful development platforms and software programs that do much of the groundwork, many small businesses are developing mobile apps in-house.

As a result, more and more companies are embracing the utility of mobile app development for internal purposes or customer use. Although developing an app for the first time can be daunting, it can also be an incredibly rewarding experience. This comprehensive guide will take you through the app development life cycle to help you develop a successful app.

What to identify before developing a mobile app

There are a few considerations to go over before investing time and resources into creating a mobile app. While developing an app is pretty straightforward, planning a strategic digital solution can be complicated.

1. Decide on your operating system

Currently, there are two primary operating systems: iOS and Android. Will your app be a native app, meaning it’s developed specifically for a certain OS? Decisions on software compatibility will directly affect app functionality.

A cross-platform framework or an app that works for both iOS and Android will generally be best for future development goals. It’s a simple way to set your app up for sustained success, as more users will be able to access it. To help you decide, consider your goals for the app’s development.

2. Know your target audience

Make sure you have a good understanding of your target persona. Understand who your target users are, their goals, their behaviors and preferences, and the platforms and mobile devices they use. This is where your app marketing may come into play. Cater the app to your target audience, to help them enjoy using it and continue to do so.

3. Concept proof your app idea

Before diving into the nitty-gritty and taking those first actionable development steps, consider whether your app is a solution to an existing problem. If it is, think about how it will help. Or, if your app is specific to your organization, consider how the digital solution strategy will help your company’s goals.

Pausing to reflect at this stage in the development process can enable you to preview your app’s future roadmap. Finalize your highest priorities for the app, and make sure you and your team agree on the top goals. From there, you’ll know where to start with a strong footing.

4. Know what’s out there

Do your research to make sure your idea isn’t already on the market. You don’t want to develop your own app only to find that a similar one already exists, rendering yours as less of an original idea than you had hoped.

Make sure your app strategy is unique to you or your company and user-friendly for your target users. For apps that are specific to a business, make sure to check out the competition to grasp an understanding of how your app will stack up against others already on the market.

5. Plan your app design and security

Your app design is key to its success. The program design must have a friendly user interface. The easier it is to use, the more inclined users will be to download the app. Content should also be a top design priority, as should security. People have valuable and potentially sensitive information on their phones. Make sure you consider data protection features and privacy settings. The more advanced your app’s security protocols are, the better.


Browse Project Catalog for more mobile app development services.

How to develop an app in 9 steps

Building an app isn’t something that can happen overnight. There are many steps your development team should take to ensure your app launches properly. Keep reading to explore our easy nine-step guide to get you started on developing a new mobile app:

  1. Establish a team
  2. Conduct competitive research
  3. Outline core features
  4. Create mockups
  5. Plan app security
  6. Begin coding
  7. Perform multiple tests
  8. Gather and implement feedback
  9. Launch in the app store

1. Establish a development team

Developing an app has become easier with the help of various software programs and online tools such as app builders. However, any programming language is just that—another language. The app development process is still a real undertaking that is best done with a group of people. A mobile application has a lot of complicated elements that have to come together.

For these reasons, the first step in developing a mobile app is establishing a talented team. To successfully develop an app, you’ll greatly benefit from a team of individuals with various backgrounds and expertise.

Building a distributed team can help you develop an app with top independent talent. Instead of being limited to your knowledge or confined by geographic lines, you can pick independent professionals with unique skill sets. To get started, look to Upwork to find the best mobile app developers for your project.

At a minimum, your app development team should include a:

  • Product manager: Develops technical spec documents, roadmaps, deadlines, requirements and guides the team.
  • UX/UI designer: Designs the graphics, icons and animations. They ensure the app is both engaging and highly intuitive.  
  • Mobile developer: Codes functionality and integrates APIs, databases and more.
  • Quality assurance analyst: Tests the app to make sure it runs smoothly on every device. They’re in charge of finding any bugs, UX writing errors and more.
  • Digital marketer: Help your app launch successfully by using search engine optimization (SEO) and setting up mobile analytics.  

App development teams may even include additional members. For instance, larger teams might have a UX writer, software developer, software engineer, web engineers, and technical writers.

When establishing your team, consider your budget and which areas you need more help to tackle. Hiring freelancers for specific tasks is one way to ensure your app is intuitive while sticking to a budget.‍

2. Conduct competitive research

With more than 2.20 million apps available to Apple users and more than 3.40 million available to Android users, it’s important to fully understand what you’re up against when it comes to competitor features and customer requirements so you know how to make your product stand out.

Start by researching the market to find apps produced by your competitors. You can outline what your competitors have done right and where they’ve fallen short. Such research can help you gauge specific insights into what customers like and what you should do differently.

It’s also important to understand the market you’re joining. You should be able to answer why the market needs your app and what you do differently to solve problems. During this step, you may want to consider talking with potential users. Interviewing customers for user feedback can give you specific insights into their needs. It can also allow your team to develop features that other companies have neglected, giving your app an edge.

3. Outline core features

Next, establish core app features. Now that you understand what’s missing from the market and what your target users are searching for, you can develop key features that other development teams have neglected.

Most mobile app developers create a mobile app that’s intuitive, easy to navigate, personalizable, and simple to use. In addition to this basic foundation, list potential features that can set your app apart from your competitors. Some must-have features include simplicity, speed, and good image resolution. These are all essential features for ensuring a good user experience.

Another feature to consider adding is cross-platform functionality, meaning compatibility with both operating systems. Including a search option is another great utility feature to keep users engaged. While not as useful for game-based applications, providing the ability to search the app is an effective option for e-commerce apps and social media apps.

Finally, consider allowing users to enable push notifications or social media linking. These are other great ways to provide users with relevant and personalized information, keeping them active and engaged over the long haul.

While there are many exciting features to consider as an app maker, don’t forget to consider your business’s financial capabilities when outlining desired features. For example, while you might want to implement facial recognition for login capabilities, this might be expensive to develop. Don’t forget that you can incorporate new features or updates once the app is live.

4. Create mockups

Once requirements have been gathered and key features have been outlined, it’s important to have a user interface (UI) and UX designer develop a mockup,  template, and sometimes tutorial of what to expect from the app.

A mockup is a detailed outline of the appearance of the app. Typically, a mockup will follow a cohesive color scheme and typography and includes images, the basic layout and more. When executed correctly, a mockup should give the development team a glimpse into how the app should look and operate.

The advantages of a mockup include:

  • Allows the development team to revise the app’s appearance.
  • If you’re seeking potential investors, it shows them before the development team begins coding.
  • Explains the expectations for the development team.

5. Plan great app security

This next step in building apps is among the most important features your app can have: security. Preventing cybercriminals from stealing user data is paramount. A single breach of the app could cost your company a loss of users and potentially millions of dollars.

Ensure the mobile app and mobile platform are both secure through:

  • Encrypted data: It’s a good idea to use proper encryption of sensitive personal data scattered throughout your app’s software. Proper security steps include encryption of the local database, cache, or API communication.
  • Authorized APIs: Application programming interfaces (APIs) are an essential part of the backend of programming development. Make sure the APIs you use for your application meet the verification standards for the platform that your app is on.
  • Strong authentication: Ensure the app employs the correct cryptographic key management and appropriate user session authorization—or tokens. Tokens are often assigned to each device and contain different expiration times for sessions.
  • Tamper-detection software: To stop hackers in their tracks, consider including mobile-specific security features like tamper-detection software and other third-party software. For example, interprocess communication (IPC) is a safety measure that enables communication among other apps and systems. There are many other Apple- and Android-specific software and other UI security features that can help with anti-tampering tactics.
  • Constant testing for potential breaches: Most importantly, make sure to test for breaches constantly. Throughout the entire development process, consistently review your code. Identify potential security flaws before a hacker does when the app goes live.

6. Begin coding

There are a few components to consider as you start coding. First, there is both the front end and back end to code. Front-end development refers to the “face” of the app—what the end-user will see. Back-end development is about the “behind the scenes” code, which dictates how the app functions.

Suppose you’re coordinating a team of multiple developers (e.g., some working on the front end and others on the back end). You’ll want to coordinate work processes to ensure a cohesive end product. Using an Agile methodology of project management can be useful, allowing for efficient, adaptable and flexible coding.

Further, have your team code in a test environment. Setting up an appropriate test environment to check the software’s execution is critical to ensuring a successful final app. Test environment considerations include the database server, front-end environment, operating system and network. You can also designate a bug reporting tool to ensure accurate and granular test data.

7. Perform multiple tests

Although it’s tempting to skip rigorous testing when the project is on a tight budget, quality assurance (QA) is one of the key pieces in developing a successful app. Since app development is so competitive, it’s important to perform QA throughout the entire development process. This way, your team can identify any bugs and quickly make improvements to the app before going live to customers.

Some things the QA team should think about when testing include:

  • Front-end vs. back-end functionality: For the front end, does the mobile app look like it’s supposed to from the user side of things? For the back end, does the app function as it’s supposed to? For example, if a pop-up message is supposed to disappear when the user clicks on it, does it? Is the little “X” to click it away properly displayed?
  • Device compatibility: The app needs testing on whatever operating system it’s meant for (iOS versus Android, or both). Further, the QA team should confirm compatibility with different versions of operating systems (e.g., Android 7.0 versus Android 10.0). There are also device-specific considerations, like if the app display fits the screen size.
  • App integration: If the app’s core function has interaction with other features, such as the phone’s camera or another app like Google Maps, is this integration functional?
  • Application type: If the app’s purpose is to work as both a mobile and web app (making it a “hybrid” app), it needs to be tested for the full range of functionality across both platforms.
  • Installation and storage: Does the app download correctly to the intended device and operating system? Also, keep an eye on app size. An overly large app will take up a lot of room on the end user’s phone and may deter them from downloading the app at all.
  • Security optimization: Mobile app security is a hot topic. Check safety by ensuring secure source code, performing penetration testing and conducting input validation. Additional steps like confirming the implementation of HTTPS and SSL/TLS security layers are also advisable.

All in all, the QA step helps teams ensure the app is ready to enter the market.

8. Gather and implement user feedback

After rigorous testing, the app should pass inspection by a test group user before launching the app. Although the development team should have based features on customer needs, having someone who doesn’t know the app can help provide invaluable user feedback to ensure it is ready for many users with different experience levels.

Testing the app with various users should give your development team a better understanding of what they want and if the app is matching expectations. It should help the team adjust key features to fit a diverse group of users better before the app goes live.

Once the app is live, it’s a good idea to continue receiving feedback so you can make necessary updates and adjustments as needed. One way you can gain feedback after the launch of the app is by looking at analytics. It can help your development team understand customer behavior and identify any confusing areas for modification. This kind of insight can also help the team make adjustments to the application before the market launch.

9. Launch in the app store

Lastly comes publication to the app store. The regulations that your app needs to follow depend greatly on the app store where you’re applying. Different app stores have different requirements for apps submitted to them.

Developers may only focus on releasing their app to the Google Play Store or Apple App Store. Focusing on a single platform can simplify the app development process because your team only needs to develop one app.

On the other hand, developing an app just for Google Play or Apple can limit your reach. Both app stores have drawbacks; however, developing a cross-platform app ensures good visibility and the potential for more users.

FAQs for mobile app development

How much does it cost to create a mobile app?

The cost to create your new app will depend on multiple factors, including the size of your team, the resources used and other overhead costs of app development. Outsourcing app development typically costs more than developing an app in-house.

How long does it take to create a mobile app?

On average, it takes about one to two months to develop a smaller-sized mobile app. The larger and more complicated the app design is, the longer it will take. App developers can expect bigger, more complex mobile apps to take anywhere from three to six months.

Can you make changes to a mobile app after its launch?

Yes, you can incorporate updates to fix minor bugs in the software and improve any app functionalities that may have become outdated since the launch of your app.

Can you receive payments through a mobile app?

You can receive payments through an app and enable users to make app purchases. If you’ve already developed the app, consider adding mobile payment functionality to the software.

Reap the rewards of mobile app development

Developing an app is not only rewarding but can also be incredibly lucrative. Following these nine steps can help you develop and publish a successful app.

Many companies and startups have found using remote talent to be a powerful tool in finding the industry’s best and brightest to develop a viable product. Let Upwork connect you with an independent mobile app developer today to get the process started.

Author Spotlight

How to Develop an App in 9 Easy Steps (2023 Guide)
The Upwork Team

Upwork is the world’s work marketplace that connects businesses with independent talent from across the globe. We serve everyone from one-person startups to large, Fortune 100 enterprises with a powerful, trust-driven platform that enables companies and talent to work together in new ways that unlock their potential.

Get This Article as a PDF

For easy printing, reading, and sharing.

Download PDF

Latest articles

Promote your job and find your best fit