Live Chat Now
Give us a call

Send us a text



How a Mobile Application Works and How They are Built

Classes Start Every 8 Weeks

Whether you know exactly where you're heading, or you're still planning your next steps, it all starts with a simple conversation. Let’s talk.

If you own a smartphone, and chances are you do, you've likely used a mobile application, also known as an app. Apps can be anything from a GPS navigation service to a social media platform. Regardless of what an app does, mobile applications are one of the many ways platform users maximize the functionality of their device.

With so many apps providing services that can be easily accessed through a web browser on a smart phone, one might wonder what purpose an app serves, or even how a mobile application works. In short, an app isn't a website, even if it provides a similar service. It's a deliberately designed piece of software that provides value to both the user and the company that owns the app.

In this article, you'll learn about the differences between mobile and websites/desktop applications, find out how the mobile platform affects the app experience and discover how apps are developed, plus answer more detailed topics and questions such as:


The Differences and Similarities of Android and iOS Applications

Today, there are two primary mobile operating systems most apps are developed for: iOS, used by Apple devices like the iPhone, and Android, developed by Google and used by other phone hardware makers. These two operating systems have several differences at both the end user and development levels that often lead developers to specialize in one platform over the other.

Similarities between iOS and Android Applications

As operating systems, both iOS and Android support a core set of basic functions. These include:

  • Phone calls

  • Text/SMS messages

  • Touch inputs (tapping, swiping, pinch-zoom, etc.)

  • Cellular access (4G and 5G)

  • Voice commands

Most applications for either platform use a combination of these features. For instance, many social media applications use the phone's basic features for internet access, touch input and voice commands.

While the platforms are quite different and the development processes for the operating systems are distinct, many apps often end up functioning similarly. This helps ensure cross-platform compatibility and makes it easier for people to stick with the apps they know and love should they ever switch operating systems.

Differences between iOS and Android Applications

Despite similar end results, the development process greatly differs between iOS and Android applications. There are aspects of each platform that may lead developers to specialize in one operating system over another.

Android apps are made using Java, which is a more code-intensive language than Objective-C or Swift, which iOS uses. Android's use of Java raises the bar in terms of the development skill level required to make an app, and the language allows for deeper customization of the application. However, Swift tends to offer a more user-friendly experience.

Android’s greater potential for customization results from running on a variant of Linux, which is a highly customizable operating system used primarily by technology professionals and enthusiasts. Developers might prefer the level of freedom this development style allows. However, they may have to take additional care to ensure that the features of the app don't get in the way of its ease of use.

Conversely, iOS development is a more intuitive process that requires less coding knowledge but comes with some advantages and disadvantages for developers that specialize in apps for the operating system.

One major advantage with iOS is the ease of assembling an app. Instead of having to spend time getting comfortable with a coding language and its logic, you can dive right in and start by learning some of the basics of Swift and Objective-C.

However, some may dislike the limitations of the iOS coding languages being less customizable than Java, particularly developers who are building apps with a large range of features. That said, the relative simplicity of the iOS development process makes it easier to put together an app with an intuitive user experience, making it more accessible.

How an App is Developed

While the details of app development differ depending on both the platform and the app itself, the general development flow remains virtually the same.

Most apps go through the following steps during the development process:

  1. Conceptualization

    Like most things, an app begins as an idea. Once you have an idea, you need to spend time conceptualizing how the app will work and what problems it may solve, creating a list of features the app will contain, and the general look and feel of the app.

  2. Wireframe build

    Once your concept is sturdy, it's time to build a wireframe. Most wireframes start as a user experience flowchart that details the paths that navigate through the app. After coming up with the general flow, you need to build rough conceptualizations of the pages or areas of the app that a user will interact with and design their basic functionality.

  3. User testing

    This step is often performed by other members of a development group or by trusted internal parties. During user testing, the app wireframe will be sent to several testers who check the app for basic functionality and user friendliness. This step helps uncover any dead-ends or broken areas in the application that may have been overlooked during the wireframe build.

  4. Initial build

    The initial build is the first truly functional build of the application. It should contain all the features outlined during the conceptualization process, is created through a full programming and coding process and should be usable on the designated platform it’s been built for.

  5. Alpha and beta testing

    Alpha and beta testing is a form of soft public release. Companies often allow users to serve as testers for software that is currently being developed. This process is crucial for uncovering bugs and gauging user experience.

  6. Live release

    Once you've fixed all the bugs, it's time to release the app. This is done by uploading the app to the appropriate app store (Google Play store on Android, App Store on iOS) and running marketing campaigns to boost downloads.

  7. Subsequent updates

    After initial release, you'll want to monitor support requests, social media engagement and any tip lines for reported issues with the application. While alpha and beta testing should have eliminated most of these, the higher user volume with a live release may uncover new areas for improvement.


How Do App Developers Get Paid?

There are a few different ways that developers negotiate payment for their work:

  • Flat fee or hourly

    These are both common options for situations where a company hires a developer to create an app for them. For a flat fee, the company will negotiate a set fee with the developer to cover the cost of developing the app, no matter how many hours are worked. If the company hires an app developer on an hourly rate, they agree upon a set cost per hour and pay according to how many hours it takes to build the app. These hours may also be negotiated.

  • Subscription

    If the app is developed in-house and released by the developer or development firm, payment is secured by charging users a monthly or other type of fee to use the application. This is the Software as a Service, or SaaS, model.

  • Ad revenue

    Some apps run ads to keep apps free to use. Advertisers pay to run ads on the application in order to reach a new or more targeted audience. If the app has a high user count, this can be an effective way to generate income over a long period of time.

  • Download cost

    Some app developers choose to bypass subscriptions and in-app advertisements by charging at the point of download. This method is commonly used for gaming apps or to purchase the premium or ad-free version of an app.

  • Micro-transactions

    This method of revenue generation is most common for mobile games. It relies on unlocking content, such as a cosmetic upgrade for a character or additional lives, behind a paywall. Micro-transactions, also known as in-app purchases, are an effective way to continuously generate revenue. This method gives users the opportunity to play the game for free or improve their experience by paying.

Build Your Development Skills at DeVry University

If a career in app development sounds exciting to you, DeVry University has courses and programs designed to help you acquire the skills needed to start you on your journey. You can choose to prepare to pursue your career with either our Online Undergraduate Certificate in Web and Mobile Application Development or through our Online Bachelor's Degree in Software Development.

Explore these and other online programs to see how DeVry can help you take the first steps toward pursuing a new career.

Reference in this publication to any specific commercial product, process or service, or the use of any trade, firm or corporation name is for general information purposes only and does not constitute an endorsement, recommendation or certification of any kind by DeVry University. Persons using such products and services assume responsibility for their use in accordance with the provider’s current terms and conditions.