Are you considering iOS app development? Before you get started, it helps to be aware of the steps and requirements.

Currently, iOS is the operating system for both Apple iPhones and iPad devices. In the future, the devices will have their own operating systems – iOS for iPhones and iPadOS for iPads. They’ll sit alongside tvOS for Apple TV, and watchOS for Apple watches.

iOS app development – the low down

Developing an iOS app necessitates the use of specific tools and licensing requirements. An iOS app must also be certified and approved by Apple before you can put it into the App Store. The following process for iOS app development will guide you through the steps necessary to develop your idea into a published app.

5 steps to develop an iOS app

1. Come up with your idea

There are millions of apps already in the App Store. If you want your app to stand out, it pays to do some market research before you jump into development.

The first thing to know is that the total number of users across all apps increases every day because they’re seeking practicality, convenience and simplicity. However, users are increasingly selective of what apps they install. If the app doesn’t solve a problem, or help them achieve some outcome or utility, users will either not install the app, or will uninstall it after a short time.

You should be able to simply describe the purpose of your app: what is the user going to achieve by using it? For instance, Waze exists to take people from point A to B, whilst avoiding any incidents along the way.

What you think could be a revolutionary idea, might not be the case when you start to do some research. There may be other apps that already offer similar functionality; or it may be that you’re trying to solve a problem that doesn’t exist. You should expand your research to include competitor apps and products in order to benchmark what has worked for them or not. Whilst you can draw inspirations from your competitors, you still need to think ‘out of the box’ and be a visionary.

Brainstorming is a key phase in extracting the essence and developing the idea for your app. Don’t hesitate to include as many different stakeholders as possible. Let them express their thoughts, frustrations and feedback. Collate all this information and use it to help guide the idea for your app, the target market for your app and the priorities for development.

2. Design a good-looking app

After you checked to make sure your idea is unique or has some functionality to make it superior to those apps already available, the user experience (UX) should be the next thing on your list. The UX of the application should focus on achieving the purpose of the app in the most intuitive way possible.

When designing your app, it’s important to consider both the UX and the design of the app, as they go hand-in-hand. Create wireframes and mock-ups to help visualise your app. This will help you understand how your app will function, what features really matter and what features are less important but perhaps nice to have.

At the end of the design process you should have a clear idea of the minimum viable product – in other words, functionality that is essential to the first version of your app. Any features that you’ve considered but aren’t essential to the first release, should be included in the on-going roadmap for development.

Developing an app is an evolutionary process – the priorities for your app, will likely change over time and you need to be able to adapt as they do. However, make sure that you always update the whole roadmap so that you have a consistent plan for development.

3. Build your app

To get started with developing an iOS app, you will need a Mac, Xcode and the iOS Software Development Kit (SDK). Xcode can be downloaded from the App Store on your Mac and is the Integrated Development Environment (IDE) published by Apple for writing the source code, building, compiling and debugging app for iOS.

To get the iOS SDK you need to register (for free) as an Apple iOS Developer. This gives you access to download the SDK, documentation, templates and sample code.

iOS apps are written in Objective-C or Swift – Swift being the default programming language for iOS, macOS, tvOS and watchOS apps. Recently Apple have announced a new technology called SwiftUI which is an alternative way for the user interface of iOS apps to be developed.

There are many resources available online and offline to help you learn how to develop iOS apps, as well as app templates available in the SDK to get you started. However, self-learning can be tricky as you could miss out on some ‘best practices’. A good idea would be to join an online community for you to benefit from other developers’ experience.

Once you’re ready, you need to understand that your app should be divided in two categories when it comes to coding. First, you bring to life the great design imagined previously, by creating the user interface, which includes developing the logic for all of the different user interactions. Then, you need to concentrate on the back-end of your app. Even if it’s the part of your app that users can’t see, it is no less important. It includes networking, user management, data storage and data synchronisation with the cloud.

4.Test your app

The iOS SDK comes with iPhone and iPad simulators, so the first step is to test your app and make sure it works using these simulators. It’s also recommended to test frequently on actual devices, as the app may behave differently than on the simulators. A real device also allows you to test of the device’s specific functionality such as accessing the GPS or taking a photo with the camera.

Once you’ve tested your iOS app, you need to pay an annual fee of $99 USD to Apple which gives you developer access to the App Store. This makes you a member of the app community where you can have other people test your app. This program is referred to as TestFlight and allows you to distribute your app to a set of internal testers (up to 25 of your team members) or external testers (up to 10,000 people that are invited via a public shared link). You can also divide the testers into groups, allowing you to distribute different versions of your app to different testers so that they can give feedback on specific features of your app that you might be working on.

5. Submit to store for certification

Once you’re satisfied with your app, you’re ready to submit it to the store for approval. The certification process checks that your app adheres to the App Store review guidelines. Apple has quite prescriptive guidelines with regards to how apps are built. They used to ensure apps were styled according to their guidelines but they are now more relaxed, giving you more freedom to define your own branding and style. Most apps take between 24 and 48 hours to go through the certification process but can take longer depending on the complexity of the app.

Your app is now ready to go live! One of the most common mistakes is to think the development work can stop here. After a few days, or even a few hours, of being live, the first users of your app will already have some feedback. You need to integrate the feedback into your priority backlog and go back to work to improve your app.

Another aspect that can influence the success of your app is how it is marketed. If people don’t know your app exist or don’t understand its purpose, they simply won’t use it. Go heavy on the promotion!

What about cross-platform development?

Developing an iOS application can be quite a complex and long process. Then, if you want your app to be accessible via multiple platforms, you’ll need to rebuild your app for each platform. For example, if you want to publish your app on Android , you’ll need to use a different language, reference different frameworks and work with different tools.

An alternative is to consider cross-platform development where you only need to develop your app once. The app is subsequently compiled for each platform you want to support, for example iOS, Android and Windows. There are cross-platform tools such as Xamarin.Forms, Uno or Flutter, that let you write the code for your app once and then compile and run it on each platform.

In the early years, cross-platform tools had some drawbacks and limitations with regards to performance and native platform integration. However, cross-platform frameworks have evolved rapidly to be a viable and in a lot of cases a stronger, more efficient, alternative to developing native apps. Development using a cross platform framework can reduce the total cost of development and can be quicker to develop apps across multiple platforms.

We’re with you for the long-term

At Built to Roam, we’re experts in cross-platform development, but we don’t just build your app. We partner with you to design a road map for the long term for ongoing development and management.

Want to know how we can partner with you for your app development?

Talk to us today.