Defining the requirements of the application via a workshop between the team and the client is the first and key stage. This covers what the application needs to achieve and what features should be encompassed. The outcome from this session is agile documentation such user stories, detailing the key application use cases, user journeys as well as key functions of the application, along with a user experience and creative concept. It is prudent that the documentation is reviewed by business, user experience and technical teams, ensuring feasibility.
There are a number of streams within the design phase – the user experience design aims to document the application flow and structure via wireframes (akin to architectural blueprints). The visual design applies brand-led creative design to each screen producing pixel-perfect designs, bringing the application to life. The technical design documents’ the application architecture, integration points and solves potentially challenging aspects of the application via spikes (proof of concepts).
Once the designs have been approved, the development of the application can commence. Typically, the development team work in short iterations, delivering regular builds of the application to the stakeholders, demonstrating progress. The process demands problem solving as challenges arise, sometimes requiring minor design tweaks as the application takes shape into a living entity. It is essential that development is a collaborative process by all those within the team. Towards the end of the development phase Quality Assurance is carried out involving thorough testing investigation to ensure that all business, user experience and technical requirements have been met.
Once the application is development-complete and has passed the QA process it can be submitted for User Acceptance Testing with the client. This is a final sign-off, ensuring all stakeholders are satisfied with the output. Once approved, the applications are packages and submitted to the App Stores. Apple, Blackberry and Windows all have a set approval process, which applications must pass in order to feature within their libraries. If the application fails the approval process it will need to be optimized, tweaked, redesigned or redeveloped and then resubmitted. If the application passes it will be available for consumers to download and use. Android do not have an up-front approval, but rather a retrospective process, so they will look to have their attention flagged to sub-standard applications.
Ensuring an application performs correctly on a variety of devices is key to ensuring success within the application space. An application must be tested on a devices covering screen size, pixel density, processing power and operating system version. This challenge is less complex if developing on the Apple platform, due to the smaller number of available devices. However, the Android platform has high fragmentation of devices, requiring a significant QA effort to maximize compatibility with the platform. This function is often best outsourced to a partner with the necessary range of devices available, as the upfront costs of device procurement can be significant. Further considerations of mobile testing include catering for a variety of network conditions – this includes Wi-Fi, 3G, EDGE and no connectivity whatsoever. To complicate matters, Wi-Fi connectivity can vary in bandwidth significantly and the application must adjust accordingly.
Subsequent updates & road map
Once the application is in motion its purpose should be continuously challenged and optimized. We recommend the use of analytics packages, such as Flurry and Google Analytics, to analyse the usage of the applications. It is often prudent to perform an analysis of feature cost vs. usage – as often high-cost features are under-used and ancillary features can sometimes be the most popular. These metrics can help contribute to the application roadmap. A vision should be in place for the application, tied down by a roadmap with planned iterations indicative of progression. As tablet manufacturers are consistently innovating the platforms, a sustained effort in leveraging these new features should be considered where appropriate. The tablet device lends itself well to phased developments and continued improvements, allowing flexibility, establishing it as a progressive and innovative technology choice.