Whether it is a utilitarian enterprise app, a beautifully designed meditation app or popular game, apps without a doubt are the best way to get the most out of mobile phones or tablets.
Nielsen's most recent analysis found that the average U.S. smartphone user accessed almost 27 apps per month. They also reported that over 70% of that total usage is coming from the top 200 apps. Considering the Apple app store grows by 1,000 apps per day, it's safe to say the majority of those apps developed flop.
The challenge of course is how to reach and maintain a top 200 status. While the user's threshold for how many apps they use at one time has increased, there are facets of the back-end of app building that make the biggest difference in success or failure on user adoption.
"The biggest challenge in testing mobile apps is the growing fragmentation of device OS versions and platforms," said Craig Lurey, CTO at Keeper Security. "Developers are strongly encouraged to support the latest hardware features and OS versions, but in many cases supporting the latest hardware and OS software requires major changes that drop support for legacy versions. Users must still be supported from a backend and support perspective."
Without this backend support, apps risk losing out on what Gartner estimates to be a $77 billion industry. With such competition in sight, developers and designers must speed up how quickly they create their initial version as well as maintain their app.
The Problem: Lack of Control and Feedback Cycles
As Lurey mentions, there is a severe dislocation in the app development process. The number of iterations it takes to make an app is severely fragmented and the time incurred in those updates is extremely inefficient. This lack of control leads to lengthy feedback cycles, making stakeholders feel disconnected from the process.
"Things are usually very clear as long as the concept lives as sketches or prototypes, but once the app leaves the comfortable sphere of 'idea' and enters the real world of implementation, it can all go pear shaped very quickly -- even in really disciplined and experienced organizations," says Anders Lassen, CEO of Fuse, a the native app development platform and tool suite. "Designers' ability to directly affect the final look and feel of the app is also greatly reduced once the app enters code form, which is something that can only be addressed by a new breed of development tools."
The Opportunity: Bridging the Gap
The opportunity for faster app development can be solved a variety of ways. But the most efficient is to 'bridge the gap' in app development. App developers should be depending on versatile development platforms to intuitively understand needs and therefore they write less and less code.
"A lot of the way that we build software for iOS is controlled around the fact that you have a one-week release cycle," a developer who has done work for Uber and Foursquare told Bloomberg. "It can now happen within hours of submitting them, which is really awesome because it speeds up the development cycle."
Even Apple understands that time can cost apps their livelihood - in the past year the app store has decreased the days it takes an app to be approved from 8.8 to 24 hours.
Takeaways for Staying Competitive in the App Marketplace:
According to Lassen, app development today is largely component-based UI: "The design tools people use, like Sketch, Adobe XD, Figma and others are finally starting to reach a point where they can be used to author basic, component-based UI elements. That, combined with more and more businesses either creating their own or embracing existing design systems, is now enabling in-house app developers to speed up their process of building and testing their on-brand apps."
Measure and Manage
Once you app is created, that is just the beginning. In order to stay relevant and competitive in a marketplace that grows by 1,000 per day, those that monitor, track and make changes swiftly will be more likely to succeed.
"Split test and measure growth attributed to metadata changes and app changes to see what drives the most growth," says Chino Lex, founder of over 50 top ranking apps. "Test often with your product, and test your metadata assets every two to four weeks."
Place Emphasis on the Team
Team and culture are important in any business. But particularly with app development, having a diverse, driven and empowered team will assist in creating sustainable growth. Teams can work together to quickly test out ideas and eliminate user experience designs and interactions that don't work well.
"A big part of that is creating an environment where the number of nuts and bolts required to put together the app is greatly reduced and the people who are doing the actual development work can cooperate much more smoothly with non-technical colleagues and stakeholders," says Lassen.