Mobile Development Best Practices: Strategies for Building Successful Apps for Android and iOS
Mobile development is exciting. It offers you the power to create something that potentially millions of people might use, right in the palm of their hands. But all this potential comes along with a challenging task. Your app must meet users’ needs and expectations, while running equally well on different devices and in regions.
You can use this article as a guide to ensure that your app meets the most important criteria to be viable. Mind you, this list is far from exhaustive; you can play with it and add some of your own insights.
To make a successful app, you need to understand who you are making it for. Start by creating user personas — semi-fictional representations of your ideal users, based on demographics, behavior patterns, motivations, and goals.
Perform market research to gather data about your audience. Surveys, focus groups, and one-on-one interviews are effective ways to understand what your users want. A behavioral analysis can reveal how they interact with similar apps, what frustrates them, and what delights them.
Knowing your users can shape your app’s design, functionalities, and even the marketing strategy. For example, millennials might prefer a modern, minimalist design with social media integration, while an older audience might value simplicity and clarity over aesthetics. Understanding this can be the key to making your app resonate with its user base.
The choice between native, hybrid, or cross-platform development is an important one: it can impact both the user experience and the development process. Native apps, developed specifically for Android or iOS, tend to have superior performance and can access all device features. It is also easier with them to adhere perfectly to the platform’s design guidelines, providing a seamless user experience. However, native development is resource intensive: if you’re developing for both Android and iOS, you’ll essentially be building two separate apps.
Hybrid apps, built using web technologies and wrapped in a native container, are quicker and cheaper to develop. A single codebase can run on both Android and iOS. But they may have limited access to device features, and their performance may not match that of native apps.
Cross-platform development tools like React Native or Flutter offer a middle ground. They allow development of apps that run on both platforms from a single codebase, with performance and capabilities closer to native apps.
Also worth mentioning are Xamarin and Xamarin.Forms. The first offers the ability for developers to write in C#, which is then translated into native code suitable for both Android and iOS. This allows you to achieve near-native performance levels. The second goes a notch higher by enabling developers to formulate user interfaces from a shared codebase. Still, you should keep in mind that while Xamarin.Forms promotes efficiency in development, it might not fit the bill for apps demanding intricate user interfaces or unique platform-specific functions.
Moreover, Microsoft’s .NET Multi-platform App UI (MAUI) is the next stage in the evolution of Xamarin.Forms. MAUI promotes a unified project structure that spans various platforms while still granting full access to native APIs. This approach streamlines the development workflow, yet it maintains the characteristic native appearance and functionality. All of this makes it a promising alternative for cross-platform app development.
The choice depends on your resources, app complexity, and performance requirements. Weigh the pros and cons to make the right choice.
Android and iOS have their design languages — Material Design and Human Interface Guidelines, respectively. Their goal is to ensure a consistent and intuitive user experience. Generally, people are accustomed to the specific behaviors of their platform, whether it’s the placement of the back button, the navigation style, or the touch gestures.
While developing your app, refer to these guidelines to understand how the design elements should look, what kind of grids, scales, colors, and images you should use. Plus, things like notifications, widgets, and even app installation processes can be different across platforms. Sticking to platform guidelines can help you make users feel at home while using your app, reduce their learning curve, and improve their satisfaction.
An app’s performance directly impacts the user’s perception and overall experience. Users expect instant responses and a seamless journey, so an app with poor performance may lead to frustration and get abandoned quickly. Ultimately, app performance depends on several factors:
Load times. This is the first impression users get of your app. A slow start can deter them even before they’ve explored your application. Strategies like “lazy loading”, optimizing assets, or asynchronous operations can help you improve load times.
Efficient use of resources. Poorly optimized apps can hog device resources like CPU, memory, and battery. Excessive battery drain, in turn, may quickly lead to uninstalls. Be mindful of resource-hungry operations, unnecessary background processes, or memory leaks. To optimize your code, you can use performance profiling tools like Android Profiler or Xcode Instruments.
Good UX and UI design are beyond important for a successful app. Ultimately, UX is about understanding your users’ needs and creating an app that’s easy and enjoyable to use. UI design, on the other hand, is about making your app visually appealing and intuitive.
Plan your app’s information architecture and navigation carefully. Your users should be able to perform their tasks with minimal effort and confusion. Use familiar navigation patterns and keep the interface clutter-free.
Don’t neglect aesthetics as well. Consistency in colors, fonts, and icons can make your app feel more polished. Use design to guide users, communicate functionality, and even invoke emotions. Well-executed UX and UI design can set your app apart in the crowded app market.
In mobile development, one size does not fit all. The Android ecosystem is particularly diverse. This OS runs on devices with various screen sizes, aspect ratios, and resolutions. iOS, while less fragmented, still offers various device sizes with more or screen space available.
Your app should look and function perfectly well across all these devices. A well-thought responsive design will ensure your app’s UI adjusts to the available screen space, maintaining usability and aesthetic appeal. This means your app’s elements (buttons, text, images, etc.) should adapt to changes in screen size and orientation.
You can use relative units for sizing and positioning, flexible layouts (like Android’s ConstraintLayout or iOS’s AutoLayout), and multi-pane layouts for larger screens. Additionally, remember to provide assets at various resolutions to prevent scaling issues that could lead to blurriness.
Users entrust your app with their personal data, and protecting that data should be among your top priorities. Think about security measures at every level of your app, starting from the code itself.
Use encryption for data at rest and in transit. Make use of secure and updated protocols for data transmission. Be aware of SQL injection or XSS (cross-site scripting) vulnerabilities and prevent them with appropriate coding.
If your app involves user authentication, think about measures such as two-factor authentication to enhance security. Store tokens and sensitive data securely and limit data exposure wherever possible. Adding compatibility for password managers like LastPass or Bitwarden to your app can improve its security and user experience. These tools offer a secure way to store and autofill passwords. But you need to implement this integration carefully, using secure coding practices and specific APIs provided by these services. When done right, it proves your commitment to data safety and adds a convenient feature for your users.
Ensure APIs communicating with your app are secure as well, using techniques such as API keys, OAuth, or JWT (JSON Web Tokens) for access control. Regularly update and patch your app to protect against vulnerabilities that are just discovered. Also, don’t forget that good use of refresh tokens is vital for app security. They generate new access tokens and allow users to stay logged in without needing to sign in repeatedly. You need to store these tokens safely to avoid unauthorized use.
Keep an eye out for odd activities, such as sudden location changes or multiple failed login attempts. In these cases, restrict API access immediately and ask the user to sign in again. Balancing convenience with strong security helps you build trust with your app’s users.
A well-built testing strategy is crucial to make sure your app is reliable and robust. Start with unit tests for individual components or functions of the app. This allows early detection of issues at a micro level.
Next, integration tests help verify that different parts of your app work together as expected. This might include testing database interactions, API calls, or user interface elements.
Functional testing focuses on the app’s features from the user’s perspective. Does each feature behave as expected in various scenarios?
Finally, usability testing gives you an idea of the user’s experience with your app. This can reveal design or flow issues that might not be obvious from a developer’s perspective.
There’s also a need for testing across different devices and operating systems to ensure your app performs well for all users. Automated testing can help cover multiple scenarios quickly, but manual testing is essential for checking visual elements and interactions.
Data is important. Gathering a lot of data helps you understand how successful your app is going to be. You can use analytic tools such as Firebase, Google Analytics, or Flurry, to gather information about user behavior and app performance. It will allow you to make data-driven decisions and improvements.
Watch key metrics like daily and monthly active users, retention rate, churn rate, and session length. Understand which features are most used, and which are ignored. Track the user’s journey to identify where they face issues or drop off.
Performance metrics like load times, crashes, or API response times can help you optimize your app. Event tracking can provide an understanding of how users interact with specific features.
Equally important is understanding the effectiveness of your user acquisition efforts. Track where your users are coming from and which channels are most effective. Measure the conversion rates of your in-app purchases or ads.
Use this info to improve your app and align it with your users’ needs.
Errors are inevitable in any software product, but how your app handles them can make a real difference to the user experience. Good error handling ensures your app remains stable and usable even in unexpected situations.
For example, unexpected shutdowns or freezes can frustrate users. When it’s possible, provide informative error messages that help people understand what went wrong and how to resolve it.
But error handling isn’t just for the users. You also need a good error reporting system to inform developers about issues. Tools like Crashlytics can provide real-time crash reports, which would help you identify issues and fix them quickly.
Keep in mind different types of errors your app might encounter: network errors, server errors, device errors, or even user errors. Plan for these scenarios and handle them appropriately.
Today, everyone is on social media. It only makes sense to integrate these platforms into your mobile application to enhance the user experience.
Starting with onboarding, integrating social media can make things easier for your users. They can use their existing social profiles instead of creating and remembering another set of login details.
Beyond convenience, this integration provides an avenue for increased engagement within your app. You can offer the option to share one’s in-app accomplishments directly to their social feeds, which, in most cases, helps improve user retention.
This organic sharing also serves as an unobtrusive promotional tool for your app, thanks to the power of word-of-mouth marketing through social proof.
Apart from that, with user consent, social media can offer you a window into users’ preferences, enabling you to personalize their experiences within your app further. However, it’s important to tread carefully here, always prioritizing user privacy.
Now it’s time to think about money. How can you make your app profitable? There are several strategies you can use here.
Freemium. It’s a popular and simple approach: users can download and use the basic features of the app for free. To unlock additional premium features, they need to make a payment. This method works well when the app offers clear value in the premium version.
In-app purchases. Here, users can buy goods or services within the app. This tactic is often used in gaming apps where players can purchase extra lives, special power-ups, or cosmetic items. But it’s not limited to games alone. Other apps can also adopt this model to sell products or services.
Subscription. This is also quite simple: users get access to content or services for a regular fee. This works well for apps like news, music, video streaming, or cloud services.
Lifetime license support. A one-time solution, which gives your user a feeling that they truly own the app with all its features. It can come on the more expensive side, but generally it greatly increases users’ satisfaction.
Advertising. If your app attracts a large user base, in-app advertising can be a good source of income. You can display banner ads or rewarded video ads. Try not to disrupt the user experience with too many or intrusive ads though.
Sponsorship. This model, where the app partners with advertisers who provide users with rewards for completing certain in-app actions. This can enhance user engagement while also driving revenue.
Think which strategy aligns best with your app, your business goals, and your users. You can also consider a combination of these strategies.
To make a really good app, you need to think about all your users: including those who live with disabilities like impaired vision, hearing loss, or motor challenges. Add accessibility features — and will not only cater to these users but also enhance the overall usability of your app. Apart from that, such features can come in handy for all users, not just those with disabilities. Think about the “dark mode” in your smartphone and how convenient it is in poor lighting.
Both Android and iOS have their own guidelines and APIs to help you make more accessible apps. You can use a range of tools, like screen readers and adjustable contrast ratios, flexible text sizes and captioning abilities.
While designing your app, think about various interaction modes. Touch, voice, keyboard input, or switch control — all these different modes can be more or less helpful for people with various needs. You can also provide alternative text for images that can be read aloud by screen readers, and ensure your color scheme is friendly to those with color blindness.
If you plan to launch your app in multiple regions, you need to adapt it to the language, cultural, and other requirements of a specific region.
Start by ensuring your code can support different languages, date and time formats, number formats, and text directions. Externalize your strings and images so they can be easily replaced for different languages and alphabets.
Work with native speakers or professional translators to translate your app’s content. You also need to keep in mind cultural nuances, such as color meanings, visual metaphors, or social customs.
Ensure your app complies with local laws and regulations. Also, consider localizing your app store listing to improve discoverability and conversion in different regions.
Even in today’s world, Internet connection is not always guaranteed. Users may be in areas with poor signal reception or prefer to save data usage. Therefore, your app should function effectively even in offline mode.
Firstly, decide what features should be available offline. Not all of them may be suitable or feasible for offline use. For example, viewing and editing data is commonly made available offline, while features that require real-time interaction or data updates may not be.
Use caching strategies to store data locally. This could involve caching API responses, pre-loading data, or storing user-generated content. Technologies like CoreData in iOS or Room in Android, and libraries like Realm, can help manage local data storage.
Don’t forget to ensure the security of local data as well, especially if it involves sensitive information. You may think about validating or sanitizing data before storing it.
Next, plan for data synchronization once the device is back online. It should be seamless and efficient, minimizing data usage and battery drain. You will also need to handle conflicts where the same data has been modified offline on multiple devices.
Also, inform users when they are in offline mode and when their changes have been synced. This can prevent confusion and enhance trust in your app.
Apps are not static products, but dynamic entities. They live their own life and evolve over time. Regular updates will help you meet changing user expectations, fix bugs, improve performance, and stay ahead of your competitors.
Plan a roadmap for future features and improvements. Listen to user feedback and monitor app analytics to identify areas that need enhancements. Updates that provide noticeable benefits can improve user retention and engagement.
Also, be ready to adapt your app to technological advances and platform changes. This could include adopting new APIs, updating your app for new OS versions, or even optimizing for new devices.
While regular updates are important, avoid making changes too frequently or without real benefits. This can frustrate users and lead to negative reviews. Balance innovation with stability to keep your audience satisfied.
Building an app isn’t a sprint but a marathon that doesn’t end at the launch. Your product will continue to evolve, shaped by users’ feedback, new technologies, and changing trends. Keep it fresh, and keep it relevant.
The list above is just a blueprint. Ultimately, the power to create a successful app belongs to you. Happy coding!