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Three questions to fuel a mobile app development project

It's not cheap to build a mobile app, so IT pros should do their research first. Here's how to determine the cost and discover which tools and trends your organization should adopt.

Organizations that decide to build a mobile app -- either for their employees or external customers -- have a massive undertaking, but tools and services can help ease some of the challenges.

Here are three questions that IT pros should ask themselves before making the leap into a mobile app development project.

Do we have the budget for a mobile app development project?

Mobile app development can be a costly endeavor, especially if IT involves a lot of features and integrations with other systems. IT can expect mobile development costs to range from $100,000 to $500,000 -- and if organizations pay less than $100,000, they can generally expect an app on the low quality side of the spectrum.

There are many factors that IT should take into account when estimating mobile app development project costs. Licensing fees, employee training, DevOps resources and hosting services are just a few examples. First, the type of app that IT plans to create will be the most significant cost factor. IT should decide whether the company will support Apple iOS, Google Android or both, and whether the app will be native, hybrid or web-based.  Then, IT should decide whether the development will take place in-house or externally.

There are many factors that IT should take into account when estimating mobile app development costs.

Once IT decides on the logistics of the mobile app development project, it should evaluate every aspect of the app development lifecycle -- from planning and design to testing and rollout -- and tally up the costs of each stage to determine an accurate estimate. For example, IT pros should select features that the app will include, such as geolocation and offline access. They should also know which back-end systems will integrate with the app.

When IT lands on an estimated cost, a qualified analyst should perform a cost-benefit analysis to determine whether the app's costs will be worth it. There are many benefits to an internal mobile application, for example, such as improved employee productivity and communication. The costs are high as well -- but if the calculated ROI is serviceable, then IT should begin the app development process.

Should IT use rapid application development tools?

One way that IT can reduce mobile app development costs is to use a rapid mobile application development (RMAD) platform. It can help businesses develop mobile apps more quickly and easily by using preconfigured components -- and it also cuts costs by requiring less administrative and development resources.

RMAD platforms enable IT admins to easily integrate the app with existing enterprise services such as identity management platforms or directory services. IT doesn't need to create custom APIs to do this; instead, RMAD relies on standards-based technologies.

low-code mobile application
How exactly does a low-code mobile application work?

A key facet of RMAD is that it supports individuals without development expertise -- also known as citizen developers -- by relying on low-code or no-code development techniques. But with this comes a lack of control that many organizations need, especially if IT wants to develop a customized native app or customer-facing app. With the rise of HTML apps and other mobile app development trends, the concept of low-code and no-code development is declining.

Should IT consider a progressive web app or an instant app?

Progressive web apps are driving an alternative method of mobile app development. Progressive web apps (PWAs) are web-based, but act like native mobile applications and share many functionalities with them such as offline access, home screen presence and push notifications. From the user's perspective, there isn't much difference between a native app and a PWA in terms of the app's look and feel.

Many B2C apps are a good fit for progressive web development, but they can also work for internal apps; the offline capabilities of PWAs are especially useful for field service workers, for example.

It may be increasingly common for IT to develop PWAs because they're a relatively simple mobile app development project and don't require separate code for iOS and Android. They also offer increased speed and performance in comparison to traditional web apps. But IT still faces a major hurdle: PWAs are only available on Android.

Instant apps are another Android-specific option. They are small segments of a native mobile app that users can access via a Google search or through Try Now buttons in the Google Play store. Once a user accesses an instant app through a link or button, the instant app will automatically run by using the small fragments of code necessary to run that portion of the app.

Like PWAs, instant apps are blending the capabilities of mobile with the accessibility of the web. Many companies with instant apps report that the adoption rate of their apps increase after using them. And like PWAs, there's no need to create separate code or hire a specialized team; developers can convert an existing app into an instant one through Android Studio.

One challenge with instant apps, however, is that developers must refactor code into specific feature modules, which goes against the traditional development of mobile apps that often relies on a single module.

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Unified Communications