Mobile apps are everywhere.
Let’s be honest: There will be a demand for more mobile apps over the next few years, and if you’re a developer, you will probably be asked to build one at some point.
Whether you actually do build one is up to you, of course. You have the choice to remain a web-only dev.
But consider this: With the amount of front-end or web-only devs flooding the market, it will get harder to convince clients that you’re worth what you charge. Harsh, we know.
Unfortunately there are plenty of cheap, DIY options available for clients these days – WordPress, Wix, Squarespace, to name a few. You have to find ways to set yourself apart in the market and show that you have value beyond building pretty sites.
Enter: mobile app development.
Web Vs. Mobile Apps
If anyone can build a pretty site, the opposite is true of building a great mobile app. It takes skill to create the perfect app, and clients will pay hundreds of thousands to find the right developer.
So, if you’re thinking about adding “mobile app developer” to your skillset, here’s what you need to know…
Website and Web App Development
Web development is fairly flexible. You have more options when it comes to language and the device you build on is, generally speaking, irrelevant. Your main job is to make a website function, and while you may dabble in web apps that can also be used on mobile devices, you’re sticking with familiar territory that many devs have tread before.
Mobile App Development
On the other side of this is mobile-only app development. This requires a very specific knowledge base, and if you’re looking to develop the next big money making app, you will need to specialize and focus your skillset.
Your main focus as an app developer will be on user experience, because unlike generic websites, each app has a very targeted purpose and audience. You will also have the added pressure of keeping your audience engaged long enough to keep them from deleting your app.
Another big difference is that you can’t develop a broad app that works on multiple devices like you would when building a website. Mobile apps are device specific, so if you want to make one for Apple iOS you will have to learn a totally different language than you would for Android or Windows.
With that in mind, here is a breakdown of the languages you will want to familiarize yourself with should you choose to work with mobile apps…
Programming Languages for Mobile
Apple’s iPhone and Google’s Android platforms account for over 90% of the mobile market right now, and if you’re building for mobile, you will have to build for one or the other – or learn the languages required for both.
Over 9 million developers use Java worldwide, and while Android Java isn’t quite the same as regular Java, it’s pretty close. The good news is that Android currently runs around 60% of mobile devices, so if you were looking for the easiest way to start (and you already know java), this would be your first choice.
- Runs on nearly all platforms
- Object Orientated Language
- Rich Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) allow for tools for every imaginable task
- Open Source Libraries
- Strong community support for Java and Android
- Easy to learn
- Easy to read
- Powerful Integrated Development Environments (IDE) reduces errors and gives clear explanations and suggestions
Apple has a tendency to do things their own way, and keeping to that fashion, they released their own programming language for iOS and OS X called Swift.
While it’s a newer programming language, it has the potential to be invaluable. Like its similarly-named celebrity counterpart, if you know Swift, you’re in-demand. If you want a long-lasting career as a mobile developer, learn this language.
- Currently only compatible with iOS and OS X.
- Simplified form of Objective C.
- “Sugar” syntax allows for simplified code that’s easier to read and reduces errors.
- It’s the future of Apple’s development framework.
- Easy to extend and maintain with Dynamic Libraries.
HTML5 app development can be preferable to building native apps, however. You usually only have to code the app once, then you can bundle the code in different ways for for iOS or Android devices.
- Device agnostic
- Can be used for apps and Web pages
- Responsive design to fit any device or screen size
- Built-in media playback that requires no third-party tools
- Offline caching, which allows certain elements to be accessed offline
Once you’ve decided on a language (or let’s be honest, languages) you want to master, you will also have to know a bit about how the mobile app workflow works, since it’s a little different than a website workflow would be.
Embracing an App Workflow
There are five essential stages to an app workflow, from prototype creation to testing to launching and marketing your app. Some of these will feel familiar, as you probably do something similar for a live website. But the nuances of each step are important.
- Prototyping – This is where you create your mobile app screens in black and white to determine the best user experience. After the UX is validated, you will have to focus on the interface itself: effects, icons, transitions, and brand identity. If you are building an app for an ecommerce site, pay special attention to conversion screens like payment confirmations and shopping carts.
- Coding – Because there’s so much work that goes into creating a mobile app, the development doesn’t begin until after the prototype has been created and affirmed so that there’s less chance of re-doing the work. The use of agile methodology is recommended for this stage, as it can help you keep track of progress and meet deadlines.
- Testing – Once your app is built, it’s time to test for any bugs. Many developers create a beta app so that users can test out the features and find any bugs before the “official” launch of the app. This stage is about perfecting and correcting as much as possible.
- Launching – Publishing your app to the Android Play Store, Apple App Store, or Windows App Store is a big accomplishment. This means your app is in a good place, and it’s time to pay attention to things like listings, rankings, downloads, and user reviews.
- Iterating – Don’t stop with modest success. Introduce new features as often as demand requires, and watch for new demands made by your audience over time.
Continue and repeat this process until you’ve created the best app possible.
Mobile app development is a skill that will put you in demand in the years to come, and it should be something to consider for any developer who wants to be set apart from the competition.
With that in mind, if you are going to become a mobile app developer, you need to determine which apps and devices you want to build for, as well as choose the appropriate language to make the best app possible.
Don’t forget to create a good workflow to make sure your app is well received once you’ve started working on it, and remember, if you need help, there’s probably another app for that, too.