Mobile apps are endemic. So it’s no wonder that companies of all shapes and sizes—from one-person startups to monolithic enterprises—are building apps to engage their customers. They know that branded apps are a modern must-have for any business.
Yet mobile apps, like businesses, take different forms, too. They’re not one-size-fits-most solutions. That’s why it’s important for your team to understand two basic types of apps so you can streamline the overall Android or iOS app development and engineering process: the minimum viable product, or MVP, and the production-quality app.
Defining and Engineering Mobile Apps
The first of these two main types of mobile apps is the minimum viable product, or MVP. What is a minimum viable product? It’s a quick-and-dirty, proof-of-concept model that lacks bells, whistles, and sheen. Its purpose is to attract people’s eyeballs, get your brand out there, and see what works—or what doesn’t.
This isn’t to suggest that an MVP isn’t functional. It is. It’s just not flashy or overly complex from the user’s point of view. That’s why you should make it available to only a select test market or customer base. Let stakeholders test the app so you can ensure that it has the minimum functionality that would be necessary to grow into a mature, production-quality app, which is the second type of mobile app.
A production-quality app should be robust and have wide audience appeal because you’ve designed it to be a full-fledged mobile app. If a production-quality app were a wine, you’d probably say it has body. You’d also be willing to pay a lot more for it than you would for an MVP because production-quality apps require significant money, time, and effort to design and develop.
Both types of apps can work well, depending upon your organization’s situation and goals. A proof-of-concept MVP allows you to nimbly and affordably test niche markets without going too far down any rabbit holes. A production-quality app is necessary when you’re unveiling a comprehensive app that your team has meticulously designed and implemented—an app that is fully fleshed out.
Of course, you need to determine which type is app is right for your organization and its current needs. Analyze your goals and capabilities, then start developing your app. Base the development of your app on a few key software-engineering best practices.
Forethought and Foresight
Regrettably, many app-development teams think that building an app is an uncharted, undefined endeavor. It’s not. While you do need to move fast and sometimes break things when forging ahead with app development and creativity is key, you can’t leapfrog practical, well-established development guidelines that common practice has proven to work.
Instead, you should maintain a strong appreciation and respect for software-engineering best practices that have helped other app makers bring their innovative ideas to market. Sure, you can be innovative and bold in executing your ideas, but you can’t argue with the consistent, proven results that come from following certain best practices.
Although all professional app developers tend to have their own engineering methods—their own secret sauce—many leading iOS app–development teams follow the basic principles of Heruko’s 12-factor app methodology. It doesn’t provide a map exactly, but a way of maintaining quality whether you’re designing an MVP or a production-quality app. Heroku’s focus is on backend services and infrastructure, improving the chances of the app’s reaching scalability at some point in its lifecycle.
While this 12-factor app methodology involves many steps and considerations, a few of these are especially important to keep in mind. Let’s consider some of these now.
1. Scour your coding.
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the world has renewed its focus on cleanliness. Let this fact be a reminder to keep your code clean and polished. Without a doubt, sloppy coding leads to a product that crashes frequently and takes too much time to fix. In contrast, working to achieve quality coding from the start prevents glitches that impact both your organization and your users. With a focus on creating the most pristine product from the outset—whatever type of app you’re developing—you can ensure that your digital product is more stable—thus, saving yourself from enduring a number of frustrations and headaches later on.
2. Put your development efforts into test-drive mode.
Failing to test your app routinely, using a variety of automated and manual methods, can lead to sleepless nights, wasted dollars, and irritated stakeholders down the road. True, testing might not always be fun or immediately deliver the results you hoped to see. However, it’s a valuable and critically important effort. Integration testing, peer reviews, and performance testing can show you early on whether you’re barking up the wrong tree or are on the right track. It is always important to know your product’s weaknesses. Otherwise, you can’t iterate confidently.
3. Gather and curate key performance metrics.
Another essential element of building cohesive apps through a practical, 12-factor app methodology is instrumenting and logging data analytics. Many builders forget to include ways of capturing the necessary metrics. Even an MVP should provide you with some types of insights from data, as basic as they might be. Without data from crash logs, app-store analytics, and third-party user analytics, you’re out of the loop and potentially unaware of important information. As a result, you’re at greater risk of making incorrect assumptions. Even though it can be easy to become overloaded with numbers, it’s always preferable to have extra information rather than not enough.
4. Integrate collectively and continuously.
When you integrate systems, utilities, and features, reevaluate how they affect what you’ve already coded into your app. As every developer has learned, the integration of any platform service can have widespread repercussions. Usually, issues are fixable, as long as you stay alert to any blips and hitches. At the same time, integrations such as voice activation, universal links, shortcuts, and push notifications can boost your app’s usability and likability significantly. Ultimately, the difference between an MVP and a production-quality app could be the thoughtful integrations of services that occur after multiple iterations.
You want any app your team launches to have a strong foundation. By knowing the purpose and type of your app and applying the principles behind the 12-factor app methodology during its implementation, you can avoid many foreseeable challenges and, in the end, earn a higher return on investment from your decision to develop a mobile app.
Faith is an agile project manager at Atomic Robot, a digital app-development agency. She manages client relationships and provides leadership to product teams that build custom software solutions. She has a bachelor’s degree in strategic communications and interactive-media studies from Miami University. Read More