Traditional development practices don't work for mobile apps

Software development

As IT teams face more demands from business units for new mobile applications they'll need to adopt practices that are different from traditional development techniques.

This is according to IT research company Gartner which says that users find it challenging to effectively describe what a mobile app needs to do and therefore the approach of sitting down with a business analyst to define requirements doesn't work.

Speaking at a presentation to IT leaders in China this month, Van Baker, research vice president at Gartner said, "There are several reasons these efforts don't succeed for mobile applications, even though they've worked historically. Firstly, mobile apps are a new category for most users and secondly, mobile apps are constrained by the nature of the platform and the size of the screen, so porting the workflow of a mature desktop app is not viable. Finally, the experience associated with mobile devices is significantly different from that of desktop devices, including shorter session lengths and limited presentation, due to screen size constraints that affect how mobile apps need to function".

Most complaints about mobile apps arise from bad user experience and this can be down to bad interface design, poor workflow or lack of responsiveness. To avoid this developers need to focus on the user experience and creating a flow that reflects the way users actually work.

"Letting the users experience what the application will look like and building the screens on the fly with the appropriate tools will ensure that the initial build of the app looks familiar to the users and is close to what they'll need once the application has been piloted or deployed", says Baker.

Testing is also a challenge for mobile developers as different devices and OS versions can behave in different ways. Testing on simulators is a start but the most popular devices need to be used too in order to reproduce real-world user experience.

The process doesn't end after an app is launched either. It needs to be monitored to see if user behaviors change and this puts added pressure on development teams. This is compounded by a more frequent release cycle.

According to Gartner a typical desktop app has an 18-month development time and may be maintained for five years, but Baker says, "Mobile apps are different. They need to be frequently revised to meet end-user expectations, and this agile development process especially requires operations to be on top of infrastructure and systems to support frequent mobile app deployments and pushed updates".

The pace of change in the mobile market seems unlikely to change in the near future so developers will need to learn to adapt. You can read more on the Gartner website.

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