Setting Realistic Expectations For Mobile App Development

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This article was originally published in the May issue of SmartCEO.
It was written by Mike Rappaport, CEO of Chariot Solutions.

One common misconception about mobile application development is that it’s much easier and less expensive than traditional software creation.  We’ve all heard stories about an app that was developed overnight, released in the app store, with the app quickly becoming a big success. This is usually not the case.  In reality, developing a mobile solution is sometimes more costly and difficult to implement for most businesses.

Since mobile applications are delivered on smaller screens and tend to have a more focused purpose, the thought is that they should be less expensive to develop than traditional applications. So why isn’t that the case?

The main reason is that mobile application development still needs to adhere to the same processes as traditional software development. All software development should include planning, requirements definition, design, development, testing, delivery and support.  Along with an effective development process, delivering a quality solution requires having the right people in the right roles.

Since mobile applications have a more focused purpose than traditional applications, it is even more important that business, creative and development resources work together to clearly define and deliver a successful application.

Moreover, mobile development faces additional challenges that most traditional applications may not experience.  The most significant challenges include: variety of devices, user interface paradigm shifts, network connectivity, testing and distribution.

Mobile devices come in a variety of sizes, shapes, and platforms.  The type of devices to be supported will have a direct impact on the cost of development.  The major platforms are iOS (iPhone and iPad) and Android. But what if the user base includes Windows Phone or BlackBerry? What about tablets versus phones? Even within tablets or phones, device sizes can vary from a design, development and testing perspective.

User interfaces on mobile devices rely on the user touching a small screen with their finger or thumb.  This is a very different experience from traditional applications.  This not only forces designers to rethink how users interact with applications, but it requires a design that is intuitive.  These designs also need to adapt to varying screen sizes and take into account the size of a finger as opposed to the point of a cursor.  A poorly designed (yet typical) web form in a traditional application might include 15 or more fields with descriptions on what acceptable values might be.

How does that fit on a 3.5 inch screen?  Challenges like this require more creative solutions, which subsequently have a direct impact on cost.

Imagine entering 15 fields of data using thumbs, only to find that the network suddenly became unavailable during the submission. How does the application handle that? As with traditional applications, data integrity and security are a major concern on mobile devices. However, network availability is much more variable on mobile devices.  Also, data can be more vulnerable on mobile devices, simply due to the fact that devices are mobile. Accessing and handling mobile data introduces additional complexity into the design and implementation of mobile applications.

As features are developed, testing of mobile applications becomes even more important.  How a touch-based application looks, feels and reacts can vary significantly from device to device.  It is critical to get the applications deployed onto devices and in the hands of users early and often.  Depending on the size of the application, this can lead to longer testing cycles.

Finally, once development is complete, it must be distributed.  This process varies from platform to platform.  There may be additional effort required to prepare the application for submission to an App Store. The time for submission and potential rejection need to be accounted for when planning the project.

The bottom line is that developing mobile applications is much like developing software for other platforms, with some additional complexities.  But the recipe for success is the same: It takes the right people and an effective process to be successful.  When all of this is done properly, it has been proven that mobile applications have the ability to dramatically improve, and in some cases transform businesses.  Business leaders need to understand that though the cost of mobile application development may be high, the ROI can be much higher.