Application Development: Definitions and Main Approaches

In today's digital age, the demand for software applications is skyrocketing. Whether it's a mobile app, web app, or enterprise software, applications have become essential tools for businesses and individuals alike. However, the process of application development is not a one-size-fits-all approach. It involves careful planning, programming, and implementation.

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What Is Application Development?

Application development is the process of creating software that supports a business function.

It consists of tasks relating to each of the seven stages of the application lifecycle. This starts with planning and gathering business requirements; continues with designing, development, testing, and deployment; and ends with the maintenance of your finished software application.


7 Stages of an application lifecycle.

Traditional software was hosted on hardware devices owned and managed by the enterprise using the application. Today, firms are increasingly turning to the software-as-a-service delivery model in which the application is hosted on the cloud and accessed via a browser: with SaaS, the enterprise typically pays a per-person, per-month fee, and all ownership and maintenance costs are eliminated.

What Are the Main Steps in the App Development Process?

The app development process typically involves several key steps. Here are the main stages involved in app development:

  • Conceptualization and planning: this initial phase involves defining the app's purpose, identifying the target audience, and determining the app's core features and functions. It also includes market research, competitor analysis, and creating a rough app development roadmap.
  • Gathering business requirements: the primary objective of this phase is to gather a comprehensive understanding of the needs, objectives, and expectations of the stakeholders and users. This phase lays the foundation for the development process and ensures that the resulting software meets the desired functionality and addresses the business.
  • Design: this phase involves the actual design of the user interface (UI) and user experience (UX). Designers work on creating visually appealing and intuitive interfaces, selecting color schemes, typography, and incorporating branding elements. The design should align with the app's target audience and purpose.
  • Development: the development stage involves writing code to bring the app to life. Developers use programming languages and frameworks suitable for the target platform (e.g., Swift or Objective-C for iOS, Java or Kotlin for Android). They implement the features, integrate APIs and services, and handle data storage and retrieval.
  • Testing: quality assurance is crucial to ensure the app functions correctly and provides a seamless user experience. Testing involves various levels, including unit testing (testing individual components), integration testing (testing how components work together), and user acceptance testing (testing with real users). Bugs and issues are identified and fixed during this phase.
  • Deployment: once the app passes the testing phase, it is ready for deployment. App deployment involves preparing the necessary files, certificates, and app store guidelines compliance (e.g., Apple App Store or Google Play Store). The app is then submitted to the respective app store for review and approval.
  • Maintenance and updates: app development is an ongoing process. After launch, it's important to monitor user feedback, identify areas of improvement, and release regular updates to fix bugs, introduce new features, and enhance the app's performance and security.

Application Development: Build or Buy

Should you build or buy software?

Many off-the-shelf applications provide all (or, at least most) of the functionality needed to implement all the business processes you might wish to support. On the other hand, if an organization has unique requirements (or uses digital technology to generate business advantage), creating in-house software is a better bet.

However, US Labor statistics suggest the tech talent shortage amounts to 40 million skilled workers globally, so software engineers are a scarce and expensive resource.

To learn more about when you should build versus when you should buy software, take a look at the blog post Build vs. Buy in a Fast-Changing World.

Main Application Development Methodologies

The next challenge is to decide what application development methodologies you should use.

1) Waterfall development


Waterfall development.

Traditionally, all organizations deployed the waterfall approach where teams would define everything at the start of a project, then build it, then give it to customers.

The waterfall approach has pros and cons. It is meticulous: a lot of work goes into defining and scoping projects requirements, and a project manager oversees the entire process. But it also requires large teams and is slow: long lead times mean that business requirements or the competitive environment might have completely changed by the time the application is launched.

2) Rapid application development (RAD)


Rapid application development.

Rapid application development was created to address some of the problems of waterfall development. It emphasizes rapid prototyping and the creation of a minimum viable product: this is then rapidly iterated to add features and functionality and address any issues. This approach gets software to market quickly, requires only small teams, and enables those using it to pivot quickly to respond to changing requirements.

On the downside, RAD relies upon highly skilled and adaptable software developers who, as we’ve seen, are in short supply. Additionally, the small team size means it’s difficult to apply RAD to large projects. It also requires a lot of input from end-users. While this makes it ideal for software that is driven by the desire to create a great user interface, these customers may be hard to find or may not have the expertise to provide the necessary information.

Agile app development


Agile development.

In many ways, RAD is the forerunner of the Agile development methodologies now used by more than 70% of companies.

Like RAD, Agile is highly iterative, but rather than focus on complete applications, it concentrates on creating functional capabilities that can be aggregated together to fulfill business requirements. Agile is based on 12 principles, including simplicity, customer focus, and embracing changing circumstances.

A popular agile framework is Scrum. It guides application development and utilizes ‘sprints’ in which a diverse team focuses on delivering a particular function within a finite time. Agile is closely associated with DevOps: more than a methodology, DevOps is a mindset that seeks to accelerate application delivery by breaking down the barriers between the development function and the users it serves.

Low-code/no-code development

low-code vs no-code

Low-code and no-code development.

Low-code and no-code are software development approaches that enable the delivery of applications faster and with minimal hand-coding by providing a visual development environment.

Although they use similar approaches, low-code and no-code are slightly different.

Low-code is good for developing standalone mobile and web apps and portals that require integration with other systems and several data sources. It can be used for just about anything. The most advanced low-code platforms are catered to pro-developers while promoting collaboration with business users.

No-code tools, by contrast, should only be used for front-end use-cases and are usually associated with citizen developers. So, unless you’re developing only the simplest applications and require little in the way of customization, low-code is likely the better option.

Mobile application development


Mobile app development.

Mobile app development is the process of creating software applications specifically designed to run on mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets. It involves a combination of technical skills, creativity, and problem-solving to transform an idea or concept into a functional and user-friendly mobile app. Companies that invest in the development of mobile applications can tap into the vast potential of the mobile market, reach a larger audience, and provide customers with convenient and personalized experiences.

How Can OutSystems Low-Code Support App Development?

OutSystems is a high-performance low-code app development platform that combines visual, model-driven development with AI, DevOps, and cloud to address your needs for enterprise applications and software that makes the difference in your business.

Our platform empowers developers to build robust and feature-rich applications with reduced development effort and time. It enables faster time-to-market, promotes collaboration, and supports the development of both web and mobile applications.

The OutSystems visual development environment, extensive component library, integration capabilities, and application lifecycle management tools make it a powerful solution for accelerating app development.

If you’re looking for a platform to deliver your application development needs, why not take OutSystems for a test drive? Check out our free edition to learn more.

Frequently Asked Questions

The cost of developing an app varies significantly depending on various factors, from the complexity of the app to the platform you’ll use to develop it and the level of experience and expertise required. If you’re looking into OutSystems as your app development platform of choice take a look at the pricing page.

The best programming language depends on several factors, such as the app requirements, your development team expertise, and the ecosystem and tools available for that language. If you’re looking for software development solutions with higher user satisfaction, take a look at our article, Best Software Products 2023 (According to Users).

Backend app development is a part of the overall app development process, but it is not the same as app development in its entirety. App development encompasses both frontend (the user interface and user experience components of an app) and backend development (the server-side implementation and logic of an app).

Enterprise app development refers to the process of creating software applications specifically tailored to meet the needs and requirements of large-scale organizations or enterprises. These apps are designed to address complex business processes, enhance productivity, improve efficiency, and support collaboration within an enterprise environment. Enterprise apps often integrate with existing systems, databases, and workflows to streamline operations, manage data, automate tasks, and facilitate communication and decision-making. They may include features such as user access controls, robust security measures, scalability, and integration with enterprise-level software solutions. Enterprise app development focuses on meeting the unique challenges and objectives of large organizations, aiming to optimize their internal processes and drive business growth.

By default, OutSystems customers activate their subscription on the OutSystems Cloud and start developing and delivering applications immediately. But OutSystems was designed also for other clouds (private or public), on-premises or hybrid deployments. The OutSystems architecture guarantees that there is no loss of functionality and enables developers to move from the public cloud to an on-premises installation if need be. Additionally, in early 2023, OutSystems released the OutSystems Developer Cloud, its cloud-native, low-code application development platform that supports Kubernetes, Linux containers, microservices, all on a foundation of Amazon Web Services (AWS) native cloud services. To learn more, visit OutSystems Documentation.