When Apple’s App Store opened its digital doors for business in 2008 to third-party developers, it launched with just 500 apps. In the early years of mobile, developing mobile apps was the domain of mobile app speciality studios. If your company had a need for a mobile app, and that was a big if, you hired a mobile app studio to build, launch and sustain it for you.
Fast-forward to 2022 and we have a vastly different mobile app landscape. With a bifurcated ecosystem (Android and iOS), smartphone users have more than 5 million apps to choose from. Organizations no longer ask if they need a mobile app, but rather how and where to leverage mobile apps to drive everything from cost savings and workflow efficiencies to engagement and employee satisfaction.
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What’s more, mobile app development is no longer the sole domain of mobile app speciality studios. If you are a CIO, and you have an in-house development team, there is an expectation that the team has some mobile capabilities.
- Not all software is created equal
- Apple computers are non-negotiable
- Android fragmentation is real
- Tools of the trade
- A well-rounded team
- Your mobile app pipeline
- Iterative development
Not all software is created equal
Building any kind of software application requires tool chains and processes. While developing mobile apps is definitely more accessible to IT teams and technology generalists in recent years, mobile app development does still have some special considerations.
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As a technology leader of an in-house development team, it’s important you understand those things unique to mobile application development, so you can set your team up for success.
Apple computers are non-negotiable
Unless you are strictly building a mobile-friendly web page, at some point your mobile project will get loaded into and compiled with XCode. And Apple’s XCode only runs on Apple computers.
Microsoft is the undisputed king of the enterprise, and many IT organizations have traditionally been hesitant to bring Apple Macs and OS X into the mix. If your team is going to develop mobile apps though, your hand will be forced.
Android fragmentation is real
There are 24K unique Android devices and counting. That’s an incredible number of different phones, tablets, screens and other hardware. The Android ecosystem is also notorious for having a lot of varied operating system versions in the field.
For the first half of 2022, less than 10% of Android users were on the latest OS. In fact, developers had to support four different versions of the Android OS to even get close to 80% coverage. For an in-house development team, this translates to a lot of different test devices, or access to a device test farm.
Tools of the trade
In some cases, the tools that your developers will use to create mobile apps, are the same tools they use for other types of work they are doing. In other cases they are not. It’s helpful to look at the tools that make up the mobile app delivery pipeline holistically across five broad buckets.
Project and product management tools
Like most software development workstreams, mobile app development requires a set of tools to manage the product and the project. These typically include a collaboration tool, like Slack or Teams, as well as tools to manage a knowledge base and the actual work items, like Confluence and Jira.
Design tools are useful in all types of software development, but they are particularly valuable as part of a mobile app delivery pipeline.
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Besides being able to drastically reduce documentation and rework with the introduction of clickable prototypes into your workflow, tools like Figma, Axure and Sketch can properly size the images and spit out actual code files developers need to layout the user experience on the plethora of different mobile device screens.
Software developers need tools to build and deploy their craft. For mobile, that means both Android Studio and XCode, as well as any framework if you are trying to build both applications from the same source code. There is good news for your budget here in that most mobile app compilers and frameworks are free.
Of course besides being able to build the apps, you will need to manage source code and your continuous integration and continuous delivery. There is a good chance that if you have an internal development team you already have tools for this in place. We’re talking about tools like Github, Gitlab and Bitbucket.
It’s worth mentioning that, while not required, there are some specialized mobile CI/CD tools that can streamline your process, particularly when it comes to making test builds accessible. Cloud-based tools like Bitrise and CircleCI are certainly worth a look if you find your team doing a lot of mobile work.
A lot of the test tools required for mobile application delivery are the same for delivering any type of software application. You’ll likely already have something to manage test cases, whether you are using something special-purposed like Testrail or the always-reliable Google Sheets.
Because of the variation and need to test mobile apps on mobile devices, it will be tough to make do without a handful of actual iPhone and Android devices. Considering the latest iPhone costs more or less a thousand USD, your arsenal of mobile test hardware can get pricey fast. What’s more is these have to be replaced every few years because of hardware obsolescence.
While not totally eliminating the need for some hardware on hand, some teams leverage a device cloud. For example, the AWS Device Farm gives your testing team remote access to the latest Android and iOS devices without having to provision and manage testing infrastructure.
Last but not least in the toolbox, if your team is developing mobile applications, you will need a way to get those applications on end-user devices. For some types of applications, you will be able to distribute the apps using Google Play and Apple’s App Store.
The advantage here is that the cost is pretty nominal. The disadvantage is that you have to go through the app store review process and will be subject to periodic mandates lest your app gets removed from the store.
An alternative route for some enterprises is a mobile device management platform. MDMs allow you to curate your own internal app store and vary quite a bit in price and functionality.
A well-rounded team
Of course no team is complete without people. And while it is possible to develop mobile apps in a silo, the best mobile apps come from cross-functional teams. Product owners, scrum masters, designers, architects, developers and testers all play an important role in the mobile app delivery work stream.
Your mobile app pipeline
The image below aims to demonstrate how the various tools and roles fit into the mobile app development life cycle (Figure A).
While all technology moves fast, mobile apps move faster than most. It’s a mistake to think your team will build a mobile app, then walk away. The more your mobile app pipeline can deliver value in short, iterative cycles, the more likely you are to delight customers and stakeholders alike.
Don’t let perfection be the enemy of good. Any in-house development team can become a mobile app delivery powerhouse with the right tools, commitment from leadership and adequate opportunity to practice the craft.