How Long Does It Take To Develop An App?

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Whether you’re a business looking to enhance your customer experience digitally or a startup breaking into the market, you may be wondering how long it takes to build a mobile application. The answer is: there is no simple answer.

The truth is that’s a loaded question, and while the average time to create an app can fall anywhere between 4 to 8 months, the timeline largely depends on a number of factors. Many aspects of your project can influence how long it takes to develop an app — its size, features and functionality are a few.

Think of it as building a house. There are several steps to construction and every one of them is essential for the success of the next step. From the market research and blueprints to the foundation and plumbing, you can’t start one without completing the other. Similarly, the size of the house, layout and materials you are ordering can all impact the timeline. For instance, a single family home may take around eight months, but a larger and more complex project will take even longer. The process of concepting, designing and developing a mobile app is comparable.

Every app has fundamental steps that can’t be overlooked, bypassed or rushed, and the more intricate it is, the longer it can take to complete each step. Understanding how to create a mobile application will not only help you estimate how long the entire process could take, but it will help you understand why it takes time.

Here’s a look at the key steps that can determine just how long it takes to build an app:

Step 1: Concept and Research

Developing a mobile app requires critical legwork. Sure, being inventive helps but coming up with a groundbreaking idea doesn’t necessarily determine the success of an app. It won’t speed up the development process either.

The first step is taking a step back and assessing the landscape — from defining the target audience and constructing user personas to conducting a comprehensive competitive analysis of comparable apps already in the market. Taking the time to conduct thorough research and a comp set analysis will help shape your app in the right direction, and gain clarity on any potential threats in the market.

This will also help you further flesh out the concept of your app, including defining which minimum viable features (MVF) to hone in on for the initial launch. While you may want to introduce a product with as many features as possible, the recommended best practice is to start with a minimum viable product (MVP) with just enough to attract early customers. Not only will this speed up the development process, but it will help you gain critical user feedback early on to continue improving upon your app.

Lastly, this stage also involves analyzing the feasibility of development and determining the best technical approach such as native or hybrid framework, iOS or Android, mobile or web-based. Ultimately, you walk out of this step feeling confident that your app concept is both achievable and aligned with your business objectives.

How long this step takes: The first stage can take several weeks to complete, longer if you’re trying to break into an extremely saturated market that requires deeper research.

By the end of this step you should have your:
Project brief complete with business objectives and budget
Clear vision on MVF such as geo-fencing, push notifications or social media sharing
User personas including their pain points, obstacles and values
Tech considerations that identify the best approach
A roadmap including functionality and initial launch plans

Step 2: Design and Test

Once you’ve completed the first step, it’s time to create your app’s wireframes and map out the design. While you may want to breeze right through to the development stage, taking your time to design the app and craft a blueprint that works is vital. In fact, it’s one of the most crucial steps in developing a mobile app.

In this phase, the user experience (UX) and user interface (UI) are established and built upon. The UX focuses on the app’s efficiency, ease of use and overall function, while the UI encompasses stylistic expressions such as colors, fonts and images. As an input from a later step may require going back to the drawing board and making adjustments, this stage is often the most fluid.

When the wireframes and design are approved, a prototype is created to allow for initial user testing. This garners valuable feedback and insight on any revisions that are needed before moving onto the development phase.

How long this step takes: Depending on the size of the app, it can take anywhere from 4 to 10 weeks to complete this stage.

By the end of this step you should have your:
Wireframe with an efficient UX and easy navigation
Visual concepts with an aesthetically-appealing UI
Final prototype to emulate what a fully-functioning app would essentially look like

Step 3: Develop

Here’s where the fun starts. Once you have a final prototype complete with an approved wireframe and visual concepts, it’s time to build the app. The development is best broken up into sprints, or two to four week periods, with each one focused on specific functionality. This guarantees seamless integration and transitions between coding and deployment.

After each sprint, the new functionality will be tested for any kinks or delays. Any kinks that are caught at this point may require having to go back to the foundation and make the necessary adjustments. The development stage is also key to ensuring the backend is secure, efficient and uses reliable data sources.

This stage involves technical architecture, UI coding, backend setup, functional implementation, integration, and more testing.

How long this step takes: Smaller apps may be developed as quickly as 3 months, while large ones can take up to 6 months. Generally speaking, the more complex the functionality or capabilities are, the longer it will take.

By the end of this step you should have your:
Beta version that has been tested extensively
First version of your developed app to push out on app stores or your website, or in other words your MVP

Step 4: Maintain and Update

Even when your app is released and live, it will likely go through several iterations and updates. Although you’ve gone through rigorous testing, there will likely be unexpected issues that arise. Whether it’s the lack of compatibility with an old mobile device or a bug, these will have to be addressed as they come up.

Ongoing maintenance will also involve regular updates that may have to be implemented as new major devices or OS updates are rolled out. While minor changes won’t always require updating, larger changes will require you to prepare and budget for updates in advance.

Lastly, keeping an eye on the analytics — like which features are being used the most — will help you plan for enhancements or implement new capabilities to keep your users engaged. You will also gradually begin introducing new features and iterations of your app.

How long this step takes: An app will always be a work in progress and is never truly complete. Maintenance and regular updates are an ongoing stage that help you perfect and improve your product.

Launching a successful mobile application is not an overnight process. While there are key steps and a standard lifecycle that every developer goes through, determining how long it takes to develop an app varies from project to project. However, with the right planning and the right developer, the process can be as efficient and smooth as you want it to be.