How to Make an App: The Ultimate Guide (2024) 

  • Brandon Boushy by Brandon Boushy
  • 2 months ago
  • Blog
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Kadama co-founder holding a smartphone with the words "Make an app step-by-step guide" hovering overhead

Everyone knows that tech companies are some of the most profitable. One of the best strategies for making a ton of money in tech is by making a mobile app.

We talked to Amin Shaykho and Marwan El-Rukby, who created their own app, Kadama, when they were just teenagers. They started as an app to link students with tutors, but when COVID hit, they had to convert to online tutoring.

Read our guide start to finish, or click on any of the links above to jump to the info you need right now.

Kadama cofounder Amin Shaykho pointing to the Kadama login page on a smart phone

Case Study: Kadama

Amin and Marwan were barely out of high school when they met and started discussing how much tutoring sucks. They got talking about their interests and realized that they were in the unique position to build their own app for tutoring students.

They realized:

You don’t want older tutors. You want tutors from people around your age because they become more like friends. That makes it more fun to learn.

They were both doing internships and earned the money for the original app development. Amin told us:

We paid a contractor $3K to create the first version of the mobile app. I learned the business side, my partner learned the app development process and took over as we learned.

They had to overcome numerous challenges including people using fraudulent tactics to get free tutoring, learning the trick to making videos that encourage users to join their app, the pandemic, and nearly running out of money.

Despite all that, they double to triple their income each year and are expecting to make between $20 and $30 million this year.

Now that you know a bit about their experiences, get ready to learn about the mobile app industry and A-to-Z development process.

Mobile app development industry outlook

When you create an app, the outlook will vary depending on the industry that you are in. For instance, Entertainment software tends to have higher profit margins than healthcare or information services; eCommerce apps are highly dependent on what products you sell.

Type of Company Gross Profit Net Profit
Computer Services 25.52% 4.40%
Entertainment 38.09% -0.23%
Healthcare Information and Technology 47.67% 5.72%
Information Services 32.72% 3.49%
Software (Entertainment) 63.43% 20.35%
Software (Internet) 59.11% -14.32%
Software (System & Application) 71.52% 19.14%

How to make an app

Mobile apps need to be developed strategically because they can be a source of useful information and fun, but also major cybersecurity issues. The mobile app development process will normally follow the steps below.

  1. Create design specifications for your app idea.
  2. Analyze the market for your app.
  3. Create a wireframe.
  4. Design the app.
  5. Choose your development platform.
  6. Develop the app.
  7. Test the app.
  8. Publish your app.
  9. Measure performance.
  10. Market your app.
  11. Regularly update the app.

Get ready to learn how each step plays a part in the mobile app creation process.

Create design specifications for your app idea

Like any business, a successful app starts with a good idea. Effectively, you want to establish what problem you will solve and how you will solve it. Amin explained:

First to market is a huge advantage. If you can get in first and dominate, it will be hard for other mobile apps to catch up.

According to Apple’s app store, the 15 most popular types of mobile app ideas that are downloaded include:

  1. Photo & Video
  2. Entertainment
  3. Social Networking
  4. Health & Fitness
  5. Lifestyle
  6. Productivity
  7. Business
  8. Developer Tools
  9. Apps for Watches
  10. Graphics & Design
  11. Music
  12. Shopping
  13. Education
  14. Finance
  15. Navigation

Once you’ve identified a problem and come up with an app-based solution, you need to specify the requirements for a minimum viable product before you build an app. A minimum viable product is simply the features that will be included in the app to make it useful and earn money.

Analyze the market for your app

Smart phone with an analytics page loaded next to a stack of cash topped by a miniature storefront

Like any other business, mobile apps need to make money. That means you need to research the demand for your service, the target market, and how competitors make money. You can use this tool to help document your research.

Competitor Analysis Research Tool

How to make money with an app

There are numerous ways to make money with an app. Some of the most popular ways to generate income as an app maker include:

  • In-app advertising: You can sell advertising space to other businesses and earn revenue from it. You’ll want to track frequency and length of ads to establish optimal lengths and frequencies for customer satisfaction and revenue. You can also sell an upgrade to an ad-free experience.
  • In-app purchases: Offer your app for free and create opportunities for users to make in-app purchases. This is particularly popular with eCommerce, restaurants, and game creators. It is most beneficial with depletable items.
  • Subscriptions: Charge users to pay regular fees in exchange for access to the app or its features. Many apps use subscriptions along with in-app advertising to get people to spend monthly on their app.
  • Freemium: Offer a free version of the app that is very usable but is lacking a few features that a user can unlock for a one-time fee.
  • Crowdfunding: You can ask for donations from users to support your app. Wikipedia is probably the best-known app maker that uses this strategy to earn money from its app.
  • Affiliate marketing: You can include links to products or services from other companies in your app. When a user clicks on the link and makes a purchase, your business will earn a commission.
  • Collecting and selling data: You can sell your databases to third parties, but many people view this as a poor business practice. The Apple App Store requires disclosing when you track any person or device “across apps and websites owned by other companies for ad targeting, for ad measurement purposes, or to share your data with data brokers.”
  • Paid apps: You can charge to download an app, but you’ll drastically narrow your target market. Most mobile applications that use this model are either highly successful or for business purposes.
  • Sponsorship: You can have companies sponsor your content. This strategy will require an audience that the sponsors can benefit from.
  • Selling merchandise: You can sell products in an app to make money.
  • Transaction fees: Financial services often make money in a mobile application through transaction fees. Companies like Uber and Kadama also use this model.

Kadama is free to download. Then users pay for their tutoring sessions. Amin explained how Kadama makes money:

Let’s say they spend $100: We take $30, and $70 goes to the tutor, which is higher than people taking a salary.

He went on to explain how much Kadama makes with this method:

We made about $10 million last year from the 30% commission. About 80% of that is gross profit, while the other 20% goes to servers, advertisements, and to create application improvements.

Once you have established that there is a market for your mobile application, it’s time to build a prototype.

Get the funding

While the costs of making an app have gone down, part of learning how to create an app is figuring out how to pay for it. Some of the common ways to fund an app are:

  1. Pay for it yourself
  2. Borrow money from friends and family
  3. Get a business loan
  4. Raise funds with crowdfunding
  5. Venture capitalists

Amin told us:

Be excited for nos. We got 70 nos before we got a yes. If we had stopped any earlier, we would have failed.

He went on to explain that app developers should be careful when talking with venture capitalists.

Venture capitalists will try to scrape you for their data. There’s no such thing as an NDA in this world. Be careful what information you give them because they may be just trying to compare what you do to what one of their investments is doing.

How much does it cost to make an app?

Creating an app can cost as little as $60 per month and your time, but when you hire a designer and developer the costs can go up dramatically. Amin told us:

We paid a contractor $3K to create the first version of the mobile app.

While I (the writer) was working as the content writer for an Australian development firm, I was able to learn a lot about the app development process. Custom software design for fin-tech companies often runs between $9K and $100K per month between the original creation of the mobile app and the ongoing maintenance.

Create a wireframe

Mobile app development should start with brainstorming about a user interface, or what the customer sees when they use the mobile app. App makers normally create apps by starting with a wireframe, which is a two-dimensional illustration of a page’s interface. It shows your web page, app interface, or product layout.

Wireframes help programmers and designers think and communicate the structure of the software or website they’re building. These prototypes also help stakeholders or customers understand what each page of the user interface will look like.

There are three main types of wireframes, with increased detail:

  1. Low-fidelity wireframes: Just the basic blocks of where everything would be
  2. Mid-fidelity wireframes: These frames may be slightly more detailed and show how the user interface takes the user from one page to another
  3. High-fidelity wireframes: These are the most detailed and the best-looking wireframes, but the user interface (UI) and user experience (UX) features still aren’t actually added

What’s the difference between user interface (UI) and user experience (UX)?

A user interface is a front end and the navigational elements that a user can see. Meanwhile, the user experience includes both the UI and other aspects like whether transitions from screen to screen work well, speed of loading, and predictive text.

UX might also include decisions like whether to use dropdown, fill in the blank, or checkboxes to simplify filling out information in app stores.

Design the app

Apple’s Human Interface Guidelines page on a laptop

This stage of the app creation process turns the wireframe into a more functional-looking UI, but it still won’t have all the elements of the backend that require a programmer for the app development process.

You’ll basically be making the app visually appealing with smooth transitions and logical interfaces. There are some differences in the user interface requirements when you create Android apps and iOS app development. At the onset, it’s important to know:

When you create apps, it is extremely important to follow the appropriate guides because 6% of app rejections are because they don’t follow the different app stores’ design guides.

Choose your development platform

Once upon a time, you had to hire a development company to design and build an app, create the system architecture, create your own servers, and build your databases. Fortunately, there are no-code app-building platforms that work similarly to free website builders.

  • Appy Pie: $60 per month for a no-code app on both iOS and Google Play Store
  • Softr: Good for beginners
  • Bubble: A balance between power and ease of use
  • Glide: Good for creating simple mobile apps
  • Draftbit: Good for creating powerful mobile apps

Alternatively, you can use legacy app development strategies and host your app on AWS, Google Cloud, or Azure.

Develop the app

Once you’ve chosen what platform to use, you just have to begin app development. This can be as easy as using one of the no-code platforms listed above or spending thousands of hours on custom development. The app development will include:

  • Creating servers
  • Adding automations
  • Adding analytics software
  • Integrating cybersecurity features
  • Integrating payment options
  • Establishing whether storage is on-device or cloud (some decisions are stipulated by app stores)

Once you’re done with app creation, you’ll need to test everything.

Test the app

When you build your own app, you’ll need to do application testing. The application testing process follows the steps below:

  1. Outline the process.
  2. Select test type.
  3. Prepare test cases.
  4. Perform manual testing.
  5. Perform automated testing.
  6. Perform usability and beta testing.
  7. Perform performance testing.
  8. Perform security testing.

You’ll need to perform this process for each of the operating systems before you submit your mobile app development project to the app stores, which we’ll discuss next.

Publish your app

Amin pointing to the Google Play Store and Apple App Store icons

Next, you’ll want to publish your app in each of the app stores. This part of the app development might be complicated for people who aren’t devs. An app builder will have to submit both iOS and Android apps to the respective stores for the operating systems.

Pro Tip: When many people create an app, they start with an Android app because the Google Play Store is not as difficult to get into as the Apple App Store.

Market your app

After your app development is complete and approved by the app store, you’ll want to market the app. While Amin is in app development, he is keenly aware of how marketing contributes to creating a successful app.

Amin warned:

Don’t be too married to an idea.

Use TikTok

The Kadama team markets their mobile app primarily on TikTok, which is what earned them a 30 Under 30 award. Amin explained:

You have to catch [viewers’] attention in three seconds. You have to add a twist that nobody has done before.

He went on to explain:

Research, post a video on social media that’s funny, and get them to download app.

It’s not without trial and error, though. They wasted a lot of money on ads before figuring out how to go viral. Then they changed their strategy to focus on content creation and only boost the content that had already gone viral. Amin explained:

It gets easier once you get to one million TikTok videos in a month. We started doing five videos a day. We just kept hitting more and more. You see a snowball effect.

Improve app store optimization

App development teams will have to submit information to the app store. Like other search engines, you can use app store optimization (ASO) to increase your app’s visibility, reach, and conversion rates. Some of the ways you can optimize your mobile app for ASO include:

  • Use a descriptive title.
  • Use keywords wisely.
  • Describe your app well.
  • Use high-quality screenshots.
  • Add an app preview video.
  • Pick the right category.
  • Focus on icon design.
  • Encourage positive reviews.
  • Optimize your app’s title and subtitle.
  • Add compelling visual elements.
  • Update regularly.
  • Monitor results.

ASO can cost up to $2,000 per month, and some ASO tools can cost more than $10,000 per year. Check out Velvetech’s reviews of some of the different tools.

Be wary of free trials

Many companies offer free trials, but you need to be wary of them as an app maker. Amin explained:

Free trials take a big hit. Overnight, we lost $30,000 and had to figure out how to [deal with] it. We also discovered that the people who used the promo codes never planned to buy and the people who would buy don’t care about the promo codes. So, we spent $50,000 to $100,000 to learn that.

This is consistent with my experience using apps. When I test a web app, I make it a point to use the free trials. Because I’m normally testing them to give my opinion on them in a blog, I have no intent of buying them.

An app maker should be looking for ways to identify the parts of their audience that spends money and focus on what is important for them.

Measure performance

App performance testing concept with a green-to-red meter on a smartphone

When you create an app, you’ll need to monitor both the performance of the app on operating systems and how well it is performing with your target audience.

Depending on mobile devices’ tracking policies, an app maker may be constrained by the amount of tracking allowed.

You’ll want to at least monitor:

  • Uptime and downtime: This helps you understand how well app users are able to access your app.
  • Number of users: The number of users that are using your app on a daily, monthly, and annual basis are an indication of your reach and where you should focus your marketing efforts.
  • User satisfaction: You want to track ratings, churn rate, and user feedback to help you understand whether your app design and business model are landing well with your target audience.
  • Revenue: You’ll probably want to track revenue, earnings per user, and number of users who are free versus paying.
  • Profit: You’ll need to track the expenses and profit margins.
  • Cost of customer acquisition: Measuring the cost to acquire new users is critical because it shows how much you need to make from each app user to become profitable. Amin told us Kadama’s cost of acquisition is $200.

Use data to improve your mobile platform

Your data can be a key component when you develop an app. It can help you find new features and even turn your mobile app from a money pit to a profitable app. Amin explained:

We launched in 2020 and we were profitable in mid-2022. We weren’t profitable, and we had three months of earnings before we would lose funds. We increased the profitability by raising our commissions from 15% to 30%.

I literally called our 200 best-performing tutors and convinced 99 that it would be better because we could invest in features that would make them more money.

Regularly update the app

Anyone wondering how to make apps might be surprised that when you develop an app, that’s just the beginning of your app-building journey. You should expect to keep building continuously. Some reasons you’ll want to keep building when you create an app include:

  • Improving the app’s appearance
  • Adding desired features based on user feedback
  • Eliminating bugs in the app’s functionality
  • Conforming to changes in the operating system and app store policy
  • Removing features people don’t value
  • Improving cybersecurity

Professional app developers understand all this, but many people new to app development are surprised at how often an app builder needs to update a web app to comply with the Apple and Android app development requirements.

At this point, you know how to create a mobile app, but there are differences in apps created for iOS, Microsoft, and Android devices. Let’s look at some of the differences that affect the entire development process.

How to create mobile apps for iOS and Android

Amin striking a thinking pose in front of a glass wall with the Apple logo and the Android robot etched on it

There are two main ways to create an app that will work for both iOS and Android users:

  • Cross-platform app: A development team will normally prefer to build in a way that ensures an app functions on both Android and iOS devices. You or your designer or developer will be able to use your coding skills to create the majority of the app, then you’ll need to make modifications for each of the platforms.
  • Native app: If you want to learn how to build an app that works perfectly on a certain device, your app development company will need to build a native mobile app. This means you’ll need to create native apps for each of the platforms you want to be on…and it means you’ll be doing more work to create an app.

Let’s look at how to make an iPhone app first.

How to make an iOS app

You’ll want to spend a lot of time on Apple’s developer site when researching how to make iPhone apps. They recommend using the programming language Swift and the software tool Xcode. Check out their tutorials on each to learn how to create an app for iPhone.

Once you’ve completed the app-building process documented in the sections above, you’ll need to:

  1. Create a developer account for $99 per year (or $299 for enterprise accounts).
  2. Submit your app and all documentation.
  3. Wait for approval or change requests.
  4. Make any necessary changes to the app.
  5. Optimize your app shop listing.
  6. Resubmit when you make updates to the app.

You might be wondering how to man an app for iPhone for free. Let’s find out if you can.

How to make an iPhone app for free

Sorry, everyone. Unless you already have a developer account, you can’t get into the Apple app store for free. It’s only $99 per year, but every app builder who wants to include their app design in the iPhone has to pay the fee even if you are building a free app.

Other than that fee, you can build your app for free if you have a server and the coding skills to be an app builder without hiring people.

How to make an Android app

To begin Android development, you’ll need to follow the process below:

  1. Download Android Studio.
  2. Create a project.
  3. Find project files.
  4. Update the text.
  5. Change the graphics.
  6. Add padding.
  7. Review the code.

Pro Tip: For a more in-depth walkthrough, learn how to create an app for Android in this tutorial.

After the Android application development is complete, you’ll need to:

  1. Go to Google Play Developer Console.
  2. Link the developer account with a Google Wallet Merchant Account.
  3. Create your application.
  4. Apply for an App Store listing.
  5. Upload app bundles or APK to Google Play.
  6. Wait for content rating.
  7. Fix app pricing and distribution.
  8. Publish the application.

You can learn more about how to make an app for Android on AppInventiv.

How to make an Android app for free

Like iOS, Android app developers also have to pay to list an app. It’s a $25 one-time fee for each app you add to the Google Play Store. That’s why so many people who start in mobile application development choose to go with Android before building an iPhone app. Just follow the steps in the previous section.

How much does it cost to publish an app on the app stores?

Google Play Store requires a $25 one-time fee, while Apple charges $99 a year for individual app developers or a $299-per-year fee for your development team.

How to validate app ideas

Amin striking a thinking pose in front of a screenshot of UpFlip’s Market Validation blog

There are numerous ways to validate app ideas. Some ways to validate your app ideas include:

  1. Survey your target market to find out what they want.
  2. Use wireframes and prototypes to establish whether people like the design of the app.
  3. Use the beta testing functions in the app stores to detect bugs.

Pro Tip: Check out some of the best ways of validating ideas.

How long does it take to create an app?

The average time to develop a mobile app is six to nine months. The app design process will vary depending on the programming language, desired features, operating system, and skill of the development team. Expect the mobile app development timeline to look something like this:

  • Ideation and validation: 2–3 weeks
  • Design and pre-development: 5–7 weeks
  • App architecture: 6–7 weeks
  • App development: 3–6 months
  • Testing: 2 weeks
  • Finalization and launch: 1 week

You can use automated testing to improve the time for testing and ensure the code is free of errors. If you’re set on learning mobile app development yourself, know it could take two to three years of training before you are up to the level of an experienced app builder.

Are you ready to build your own app?

We’ve broken down a complex concept by taking inspiration from Kadama’s success. While I, the author, am not a developer, I recommend starting with a no-code app builder to get an understanding of how to develop an app, then when you get stuck, hire an app developer to take your project to the next level.

What’s your app idea, and how do you envision making it profitable?

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