Thanks to technology, it has never been easier for businesses to connect with their customers than it is now. Mobile apps have become one of the primary touchpoints that help build a direct marketing channel, unlock additional revenue streams, and provide a competitive edge for companies.
At the end of 2022, the total time spent on apps increased to 5 hours per day, while consumer spending stood at $167 billion. These impressive figures prove a mobile app to be a commercially viable business asset in the years to come.
While the prospects of mobile app development are bright, how long does it take to make an app? Let’s go over the milestones of mobile app development and key factors that influence the mobile app development timeline. We’ll also share some time-tested tips to reduce your time-to-market.
Key Stages of the App Development Process
At Orangesoft, the mobile development process spans six key phases. These include research, planning, prototyping, design, app development and testing, and product release. Because we adhere to the Agile app development methodology, the development process is done in sprints that may simultaneously apply each of the app development steps listed above.
Stage 1: Forming app idea and researching it
All apps start with an idea. However, you first need to pare down your business idea and transform it into a clearer vision of a future mobile app. And that’s what the research phase is about. At this stage, you and your mobile app development team create a brief about your mobile app idea based on thorough research and analysis.
Your initial research should include the following areas:
- Market analysis: studying the market dynamics, saturation, and current trends;
- Competitor research: identifying your competitors and analyzing their products;
- Common features for the app category: core features present in the majority of similar mobile solutions;
- Target audience analysis: gathering data about the users who are most likely to use your mobile app;
- User persona: detailed description of a fictional someone who is a collective image of your target audience;
- Customer journey map: steps your customer goes through in engaging with your company; and
- Value proposition: a promise of value your app delivers.
The result of this app development stage is a short brief that highlights a general idea of the mobile application, target users, mobile platforms, and other prerequisites for a consistent app development process. A mobile app brief is among the pillars of a time-efficient development process. The more detailed your brief is, the easier and faster it will be to define software requirements and the project scope.
The research stage averages 1 to 2 weeks.
Stage 2: Planning it all out
At the next stage of our app development process, we take the initial brief and transform it into a workable strategy. Over the course of 2 weeks, our team develops a product strategy that outlines your mobile app’s high-level objectives, user personas, platform choices, monetization strategies, success metrics, and other components of a successful app.
Here, your team also plans out the app development process. The output of the planning stage manifests in three main project-related documents:
- Technical design document: details each aspect of the mobile app design, including system architecture, business logic, interfaces, and others;
- Product roadmap: a plan of action with short- and long-term goals tied to specific timelines and costs; and
- Technical requirements document: translates product requirements into technical requirements.
Stage 3: Prototyping and prototype validation
It may seem easy to generate a great idea, but it’s not guaranteed that everyone will agree that it’s great. Therefore, validating your product against real-world expectations is a crucial step toward a viable solution idea. The good news is that you can validate your idea without actually developing your mobile app. Instead, you can polish your vision by conducting interviews and surveys with potential customers, testing app flows, and revisiting your competitors.
On average, it may take you around a week to prove the viability of your app idea. During this stage, you update your user personas, adjust your marketing approach, and give your app developers more input for the upcoming app development process.
Rapid prototyping is another surefire way to validate your product vision. A prototype is a preliminary clickable mock-up that looks like a real app and demonstrates an app's design flow and function. It doesn’t contain code or full-fledged features, yet allows you to gather valuable feedback from real users.
Prototyping is an output of design sprints. It takes your UX/UI team around 1 week to build a prototype and another week to validate it.
Keep in mind that your focus group should include at least 3–5 users who provide feedback on:
- Relevance of app features,
- Customer journey,
- App usability,
- Navigation design and other aspects.
Stage 4: Design
After UI/UX designers have validated a solid app prototype and mapped the user flow, they create detailed design layouts to describe each screen of the future application. Your design team also develops a style guide, which outlines design guidelines for your product's user interface so that your UI is built consistently. A style guide lists visual elements like typography, colors, and other components, each aligned with your brand image.
Overall, it may take your development team from 2 to 3 months to design the application. Volatile design trends, evolving technologies, and changing requirements may stretch the design timeline.
The layouts are then ready. And this is when development begins.
Stage 5: Development and testing
The app development process is one of the most time-consuming stages. The average time to set up the front- and back-end of your application is around 4 to 6 months. Before getting down to coding, mobile app developers will decide on the:
- Technical app architecture,
- Technology stack, and
- Development milestones.
Both mobile app development timelines and the choice of technologies vary based on the complexity of your digital product.
- A simple app is the least time-consuming to build and requires around 3 to 4 months.
- A solution of medium complexity calls for more input and averages around 5+ months.
- A complex app with rich features, advanced design, and a diverse tech stack needs 6+ months to be delivered.
The number of platforms is also a crucial timing criterion. An Android or iOS app is faster to develop compared to two native applications, one for each platform.
All features, code changes, and updates are validated by your QA and testing team. QA engineers act as your first users and approve the quality and performance of each software element.
Stage 6: Product launch
The final destination of the mobile app development cycle is releasing and publishing your application on app stores. Typically, the main release is preceded by a beta version. A beta application is a full-fledged product likely to include several known or unknown bugs. It allows your development team to get feedback from end users and polish the solution before the final release.
The detailed reviewing process is the main reason why a product launch may take up to 1 month. App stores first review your application to validate its conformance with guidelines and then accept your submission. Keep in mind that Apple App Store and the Google Play Store have different reviewing processes and guidelines.
The release stage should also include prerelease activities that prepare your application for the launch early in development.
Factors That Impact the App Development Timeline
The average app development time isn’t a hard and fast figure that stays true for all projects. Instead, it consists of variables that can either reduce your time-to-market or extend the deadlines. We’ve collected some of those variables below.
Very few projects get completed in line with original plans, as new insights may arise mid-development and call for some change of plan. That is why most development teams advocate for the Agile approach, which allows you to stay flexible and leaves space for changes.
However, there is a huge difference between incremental changes and a radical shift due to poorly defined requirements. Significant changes in scope, especially if they are unplanned and unapproved, can drastically change your timeline and incur additional costs. Not to mention that adding new functionality to a system may usher in new bugs.
To avoid that, your development team should pay due diligence to documenting requirements, analyzing your target audience, and selecting the right technology stack. Each change should be validated and approved by the project stakeholders to make sure the right resources are working on the right feature.
Experience of your development team
Adequate project planning, accurate estimates, calibrated processes, and technical excellence are the core ingredients of a project's success. However, teams with little to no prior experience tend to lack those fundamental skills just because they haven’t completed enough projects to form a solid vision of software development challenges and other specifics.
Moreover, a lack of domain knowledge may render your solution irrelevant to your industry or lead to penalties for your business. A healthcare app, for example, has specific security requirements stated in the HIPAA Privacy Rule, while a banking application is subject to completely different regulations.
To avoid domain misalignment and project management issues, make sure you choose a seasoned app development team with hands-on experience in the required industry and project type.
Complexity of the app
As we’ve mentioned earlier, the app development timeline is directly linked with the application’s complexity. A simple notes app with a few screens requires less time to be shipped than a live streaming application with third-party integrations and real-time data processing.
The type and complexity of technologies used are among the main criteria that may slow down or speed up the mobile app development process. For example, cutting-edge technologies like machine learning, artificial intelligence, virtual reality (VR), and augmented reality (AR) may stretch the timeline assigned to your app.
Below, you’ll find the timeline breakdown for sample projects we’ve delivered based on their complexity.
- Low-complexity app, like Voicelator. We spent approximately 4 months creating the iOS app to launch the product quickly.
- Medium-complexity apps like fresh connect for both iOS and Android platforms. This solution for smart offices took us 5 months to develop.
- High-complexity projects like MerryKitchen. This project included native iOS and Android app development, as well as the creation of a web administrative panel. The Instagram-like experience and content moderation features demanded more time, taking us nearly 9 months to complete.
Requirements management is a crucial aspect of a successful development process. Put simply, software requirements are the features and functionalities of the target system.
According to IBM, to be considered good, a requirement should be:
- Clear and concise,
- Feasible and realistic, and
It should be noted that sets of requirements should also articulate business needs and be nonredundant.
However, if your team fails to define accurate requirements, it may lead to unforeseen changes and uncontrolled growth in a project’s scope, also known as scope creep. In this case, the project’s new requirements will pile up, turning your ten deliverables into twenty.
To avoid that, make sure all software requirements are documented in a Software Requirements Specification and reflect the business, user, and software needs.
How to Speed Up App Development?
Evolving customer demands, fierce competition, and tech-sector volatility put high pressure on companies and make time-to-market one of the paramount success factors. If your product launch is delayed by 3 months, your competitor can grab first-mover advantages by shipping earlier.
Here’s how you can help your product hit the market faster and be the first to reap all the benefits.
Focus on core functions and start with an MVP
There’s no point in jumping at all features at once. Your idea may not pan out, thus making the whole development effort and time spent in vain. Instead, you should prioritize your product features and validate the core functionality.
A minimum viable product (MVP) will help you decide on the core value of your solution. It’s a skeleton of your application that includes a limited number of must-have features. The set of features should be enough to attract early adopters and gather feedback from real users. Once your MVP gains enough feedback, your developers can continue to polish the solution and add nice-to-have features.
Building an MVP helps protect your initial product from excessive features, reduces development time and app development cost.
Related: Full Guide on How to Build an MVP
Prepare detailed documentation
Documenting everything is the backbone of a controllable software development process with predictable outcomes. Software documentation ensures that project stakeholders, including investors, team members, and developers, are aligned and headed in the same direction. It means that less time is spent on syncing and more resources are dedicated to shipping a quality product in a timely and cost-effective manner.
Hire a professional developer
Attracting the right talent is another determining factor in your time-to-market. Coordinated, disciplined, and well-oiled collaboration is usually the legacy of experienced teams. Therefore, make sure your project is in the hands of experts.
In-house hiring, however, can slow down your development process due to long recruitment and onboarding processes. And with the rising talent shortage, your positions may not be filled at all. As an alternative, you can farm out the end-to-end development process to a mobile app development company with a larger talent pool and ready-to-go teams.
If you struggle to find the right app development team, we will help you rise to the hiring challenge. Orangesoft offers vetted mobile app developers ready to take over end-to-end development.
Follow the Agile approach
According to the State of Agile report, 64% of companies have adopted Agile to accelerate software delivery. The same percentage of respondents have reported that this approach has positively impacted delivery speed.
Sprint planning, customer involvement, and cross-functional teams are the pillars of the Agile philosophy, making it ideal for fast and quality release cycles. An Agile app development team builds software iteratively, adjusting to feedback throughout the development lifecycle. An Agile-focused team continuously builds app functionalities and tests them simultaneously, which naturally speeds up the development process.
Thanks to iterative delivery, your app features are shipped and validated early in the life cycle. This way, if anything needs to be tweaked, changes are introduced faster and with the least disruption.
Take a Quick Flight from an App Idea to App Delivery
All totaled, the average time to build a mobile app is around 7 to 12 months. This may seem like an eternity, but there are always workarounds that accelerate your time-to-market without sacrificing quality. Launching an MVP first, hiring an experienced team, and following best Agile practices lead to a shorter app development timeline and enhanced team productivity.
Well-defined requirements, validated changes and shared responsibilities further contribute to a best-grade product and fruitful collaboration. If you're looking for a professional app development company that knows the ins and outs of a successful delivery, contact us, and our team will take care of your project.