How to solve the 6 biggest mobile development challenges
A decade ago, cell phones were mostly used only to make and receive calls. Today, even the less tech-savvy among us have started to use smartphones for all sorts of reasons like ordering a ride, making dinner reservations, reading a book.
Between 2016 and 2020, the number of app downloads grew from 140.7 billion to 218 billion. That contributes to a never-ending surge of new market entrants — but on the technical side of things, however, programmers still face many issues that can derail a high-quality application.
Below is a list of commonly faced challenges in mobile app development. Developers can follow the recommendations to circumvent these challenges and prevent their next mobile application from getting off track.
1. Design a user-friendly interface
An app’s interface should be intuitive for every user from the moment they begin to use it, without a hint of ambiguity. No matter how brilliant your application idea is, a confusing app layout and complicated navigation causes irritation and forces users to search for an alternative. Put simply, a user from your target audience should understand where they are in the application from a glance on the screen.
The app’s design should be clear and easily interpretable. Design for scalability with your target audience in mind. Make sure to “trim all the fat” and leave visible only the data that is absolutely necessary for the user. If you’re not sure which content should be prioritized, focus on the potential user goals and their expectations at each step of the user journey.
Lastly, avoid loading the idea with unnecessary gimmicks, from both a design and a functionality perspective. The expected growth of AI and ML seems tempting — Artificial Intelligence Market Size & Share Report predicts that the market is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 42.2% between 2020 and 2027. But these technologies are not necessarily the best solution in every case. If your app doesn’t process heaps of data at any given moment, and the cost of an algorithm mistake is high for the user, it’s better to avoid overloading it with trendy features.
Ask the expert
Why does UI matter so much when designing a mobile application?
A consistent and clear user interface is intuitive and doesn’t require any additional clarification. The faster a user can figure out the app navigation, the longer the user sessions will be, and the number of users will grow steadily. Concise navigation contributes to the application’s reputation, which in turn influences the conversion. It makes UI the crucial factor that is hard to ignore in any business that operates through a mobile app.
Is there more to creating an efficient UI than making a sleek look?
Simply making the UI look pretty and painting it with an eye-catching color combo isn’t enough. Understanding the needs of the business and its end users to the core is much more important. By continuously building up trust through a positive first impression and further interactions, a well-thought-out UI makes your mobile app desirable — and profitable.
— Nistor Zderciuc, UX/UI Designer at Forte Group
2. Ensure that the application interface is adaptive
Apart from being user-friendly, an app’s interface should be adaptive. The same page should look consistent on all devices, such as various smartphones and tablets with differing screen sizes and orientations. Making your application design responsive eliminates most concerns about content fitting the screen, but what about user experience (UX)?
For instance, the user interface (UI) might not blend with another device type, like a tablet. To optimize your app’s UI for different device classes, your application should provide alternative layout resources for each of them. It translates to more hours invested in app development and compatibility testing, which drags in additional costs. In this case, extensive target audience research might help to narrow down the list of device types and determine which devices and operational systems need to be taken care of first.
3. Plan for cross-platform compatibility
Since the “mobile-first” trend is here to stay, your mobile app is probably planned to run on more than one OS. If you use technologies that allow you to develop mobile applications for several platforms, avoid duplicating logic. With careful planning, you will be able to reuse most of your code. Put the general code into shared modules and use this code in your applications.
For example, if you are working on a mobile calculator, you may be tempted to take the easiest path and lay the logic of all computing operations into it. However, this approach will be more difficult to maintain in the long term and can lead to bugs and mistakes. To avoid this, write the logic of expressions construction, addition and subtraction operations, and so on in a separate module. If you work on a calculator for a desktop or web platform later, you only need to implement GUI (graphical user interface) logic, such as validations and design, etc.
A mobile development cross-platform framework is also a near-ideal option for B2B mobile solutions and business process automation apps. Since the value the application brings to the enterprise and allocation of the resources are more important than the way the user interface looks, companies opt for simple looks instead of sophisticating visuals.
4. Optimize the code for any conditions
Users want their app to load in a matter of seconds, so code optimization is not just a box to check on your mobile development list. You’ll benefit from the cleaner code base with better code readability and, therefore, more efficient debugging and refactoring. Here’s how to plan to achieve that.
Knowing the particular characteristics of your target platform is a must. For instance, if you create an application for Android, you need to have a thorough knowledge of the features and capabilities of the Android operating system. If you are developing an iOS app, you should have a deep insight into its UI and UX peculiarities, not to mention the acceptance criteria provided by official app marketplaces.
Since the mobile development landscape is incredibly crowded at the moment, app development best practices are long-established. Someone somewhere has already encountered the mistake you’re bound to make. Don’t reinvent the wheel — make use of other developers’ experience and apply common patterns. Leverage the features of the programming language you use. Make sure your application can run optimally in less-than-ideal conditions, but avoid going overboard: over-optimization takes a lot of time and doesn’t always produce beneficial results.
5. Select the right SDLC model and tools
A great product starts with a clear strategy. Before choosing a vendor or determining the budget, you need to take an overarching 360-look at your mobile application product. Start from an idea and expected design, and back it up with reliable market research. From there, you can actually start looking into the technicalities of mobile development architecture and finally write the code.
If the hypothesis you want to bring to life through an app is complex, the best value for your time and money is building a minimum viable product (MVP) first. It will enable you to validate your idea early with thorough testing, and collect preliminary market feedback for improvements.
The next step is choosing how and with whom you’ll develop your app. Since no two software delivery projects are the same, selecting the right software development life cycle (SDLC) model is key to a high-quality final product. To learn more about the differences between models and how they influence the speed of delivery and its cost, turn to our expert’s guide to the top 6 software delivery models.
For the choice of the vendor, the number of options you have depends solely on your business and organizational context. If you’re considering outsourcing your mobile software development, look into a software delivery house that treats transparency as a top priority. Transparent and established processes, regular client-team communication, readiness to take ownership of the project, and extensive and verified customer reviews serve as proof of a trustworthy partner.
6. Remaining within deadlines and budgets
A low-cost developer will still get the job done, but the code behind it may be such a mess that it cannot be used again. Poor documentation and loopholes in the code will not only leave your users unsatisfied but will also require time- and resource-draining bug fixing. So, it is better to have well-documented code with fewer features, than a bug-filled application that will be a waste of money in a few months.
Having an idea for an application is often compared by entrepreneurs to having a child. Many startup founders develop an emotional connection with their product idea and find it hard to stop perfecting it forever. But in order to release an application, you only need it to be good enough. Later, you have all the time in the world to introduce new functionality. Going with the MVP approach will help you prioritize necessary product requirements without getting stuck endlessly improving every feature.
Your development budget as well as estimated time to market (TTM) will heavily depend on the mobile development approach you go for. Native development means hiring two mobile software development teams, pouring more time and money into two separate apps. A cross-platform approach is the second most expensive option. You can also opt for hybrid development, where you only need a single codebase for all platforms, which is preferable if your timeframes are tight.
The path to the perfect mobile app may be a rocky one, but keep in mind that overcoming challenges is a sure way to victory. As Molière said, “The greater the obstacle, the more glory in overcoming it.
Editor’s note: The article was first published on October 30, 2017, and was updated for relevancy and accuracy on May 21, 2021.