laptop displaying code for app

How to Code an App: Your 2024 Guide to Mobile App Development

Writing code for apps is one of the most practical, efficient, and lucrative things you can do to enhance your developer skillset. After all, learning how to code an app is an ideal introduction to common development skills like problem-solving, critical thinking, and UI/UX design. Knowing how to code an application is a solid indicator that you’re ready for high-paying tech jobs.

However, even if you technically know how to write code for an app, it doesn’t mean you’re ready to start creating popular mobile apps. The particular challenges of app development have inspired developers to create a special process for bringing apps to market, which you would be well advised to follow. In this guide, we take a detailed look at how to code an app.

What Is App Development?

App is short for application, which is a piece of technical software that enables you to complete computer-related tasks more efficiently. App development is the process of writing the code and deploying all the resources necessary to build and publish an app, whether for Android, iOS, or both. 

Coding an app requires not only the ability to code but also the ability to use an app development platform. The coding language and the development platform you use depend on the type of application you want to develop, as well as how complex you want the final product to be. 

How Hard Is It to Make an App?

Programming an app can be one of the hardest things to do in software development, though it depends on the type of app you’re working on. If you wish to code an app that’s as sleek as your favorite app on your phone, you need to have skills in the entire development process, from front end development to app design to backend development to database management. 

On the other hand, mobile app development is a valuable part of the learning process for anyone studying how to program applications. Coding the simplest apps can be relatively straightforward, which makes them the perfect project to assign in a coding bootcamp. Building an app from start to finish is a great way to harness your app development skills. 

How Long Does It Take to Code an App?

It can take anywhere from 250 to 1,500 hours to develop an app, depending on its complexity. The simplest apps can be written from scratch in just a few weeks, while the most sophisticated apps can take months or years to build. The coding process is often slowed by the extensive planning required to coordinate the front end, backend, and user testing elements.

Best Mobile App Development Tools

man working on a laptop with one hand and holding a mobile phone in the other
Full-stack development requires knowledge of both the front-end and the backend.

The process of coding for an app requires a specialized set of skills. Outside of the top programming languages for app building, there are a few tools you should consider adding to your mobile app development arsenal. By mastering the five tools below, you will gain the confidence necessary to code mobile apps like a pro. 

  • React Native. A derivative of React, React Native is a robust user interface framework that can be used to build native apps for numerous operating systems. Since it’s open source, learning React Native is easy. No matter your project, you can easily integrate its design tools into your app development process. 
  • Flutter. Developed by Google, this app development kit is technically a rival to Meta’s React Native. Its compatibility with Android means that, if you plan on working more with Android than with iPhone, you especially need to learn Flutter.
  • Xamarin. Arguably more difficult to use than its peers, Xamarin is a Microsoft app development platform that works seamlessly with C#/.NET. It’s recommended that you learn Xamarin if you’re interested in building apps not just for mobile but other types of devices as well.
  • Unity. If the apps you’re interested in coding are games, you can’t do without Unity, the leading game development platform. Seventy percent of the most popular mobile games use Unity, meaning that learning Unity and learning game development go hand in hand.
  • Xcode or Android Studio. Your app development journey won’t be complete until you’ve gotten yourself set up with an integrated development environment, and Xcode and Android Studio are the standard ones for iOS and Android respectively. 

How to Program an App in 7 Steps

App development is a desirable skill in today’s economy. Without adequate guidance, however, it can be tedious and hard to master. The roadmap below will set you on the right track. While there are many viable ways to learn how to code an application and become a mobile app developer, the most effective and rewarding path follows these seven steps: 

  1. Build a Technical Foundation
  2. Brainstorm Ideas and Conduct Market Research
  3. Plan Your App’s Features
  4. Prepare a Prototype for Your App
  5. Start Developing
  6. Test Your App and Deploy
  7. Promote Your App 

1. Build a Technical Foundation

For most apps you build, you’re going to need to access a database of some kind, so you should probably learn a database query language. Depending on the size of your operation and the number of moving parts, it would also be good to have knowledge of DevOps.

If you’re interested in developing the front end of an app, you should enhance your HTML, CSS, and JavaScript skills. If you’re only familiar with JavaScript, you should explore Node.js or MongoDB, which are standard backend environments for JavaScript. You should also gain proficiency in Lua, C#, or C++ if you want to create gaming applications.

For Native apps, you can choose whichever programming language is most compatible with your favorite app-building platform. The best languages for coding mobile apps for Android and iOS are covered later in the article. 

2. Brainstorm Ideas and Conduct Market Research

While knowing how to write code for an app is essential, the best programmers in the world can’t get anywhere without a killer idea. That’s why, once you have your coding languages and app development tools sorted out, you need to brainstorm a product that doesn’t already exist and that real users will want to buy.

Whether the product you end up deciding to create is a gaming app, a productivity app, a social networking app, an educational app, or some other type of app, the next step is to explore what’s already out there. You have to research your main competitors, identify a gap in the market, and then build your app in such a way that it will appeal to users of similar products.

3. Plan Your App’s Features

Now it’s time to assess the key aspects of your application and create a checklist. Keep it short and simple. Your priorities will determine your workflow and deadlines. If your app idea is not well-defined from the outset, you may stumble once the development process begins. Any time you get stuck, just remember that apps are meant to solve problems that users face every day, so the needs of your ideal end-user should remain at the top of your mind.  

4. Prepare a Prototype for Your App

Once the possibilities have all been sketched out, build a prototype that accounts for all the app’s key functions. You can also develop the final version of your app on this framework.

As soon as you’re confident that your app will run properly, figure out how you want it to look and feel from the app user’s perspective. Clarify for yourself how each section of the app should be designed. Then create a project schedule for creating your app’s UI/UX model.

Envision how you will implement each element of your application. Take copious notes and be prepared to alter your plan as you go. 

5. Start Developing

Your final prototype should incorporate all the specifications for your app, both technical and aesthetic. To ensure you’re ready to start building, there are two further steps you can take.

First, you can prepare a sequence diagram to get a clearer picture of how your app will function. Second, you can map your database interaction by drawing an entity relationship diagram, which illustrates how multiple sources of data inputs are related to each other. In a car rental app, for instance, two entities would be the users and vehicles.

Now the development process can begin. For strategic planning purposes, you should learn a project planning framework to define your timeline and hit your milestones. Agile development and Scrum development are the two most prevalent frameworks for navigating the development process. 

Most importantly, trust the process. Obstacles are inevitable when learning how to code an app, so stay agile and don’t hesitate to tweak your strategy halfway through.

6. Test Your App And Deploy

When production is over, it’s time to share your creation with actual users. When you ask potential customers to examine your work, demand truthful feedback. If you need to make improvements to the application, do it without hesitating. A successful app is the one that serves the users with exactly what they are looking for.

The best mobile app coding results in products that are compatible with any device, including Android smartphones, Android tablets, iPhones, and iPads. Unfortunately, some bugs can only be detected from certain devices or on certain screen sizes. You can’t just check the software on your device and presume that it will work for everyone.

For your work to be used and appreciated, the public needs to have access to it. Once you feel like your app is ready, publish it in virtual marketplaces like Apple Store and Google Play Store.

7. Promote Your App

Because millions of applications are launched every year, it is not sufficient just to develop an application and place it in app stores. In this tough environment, even the sleekest and most innovative apps cannot attract consumer attention without a successful marketing campaign. A substantial commitment of time and resources is required to promote an app.

There are many ways to advertise your app. You can introduce it via Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and other social media platforms. You can use a friend’s videography skills to create a viral video to bring attention to it. Your marketing campaign can employ cultural references to attract a specific demographic. The possibilities are endless. 

How Much Money Can You Make From an App?

Table with a laptop with dollar bills on the keyboard
Mobile app developers can earn huge amounts of money through freelance work.

The pay varies according to the platform. According to PayScale, developers for iOS reliably earn six figures. Meanwhile, the average Android mobile app developer earns just shy of $100,000

Experience is the great equalizer. Salaries for iOS and Android developers begin to converge as you move up the corporate ladder, with experienced app developers of all kinds earning around $125,000 on average. 

Android vs iOS Development: Which Is Better?

Both Android and iOS are extremely popular. According to Statista, in fact, iOS and Android own over 99 percent of the market. Your best bet is to build cross-platform apps, but if you have your heart set on specializing in one operating system, you should know what you’ll be getting into. So let’s take a look at the core programming languages used for each OS. 

iOS Mobile App Development Languages

  1. Swift. Apple developed Swift specifically for people who want to learn how to code apps for iOS, iPadOS, and macOS. Swift is designed to be beginner-friendly, so it should feel intuitive even if you don’t have much coding experience.
  2. Objective-C. Before Swift came along, Objective-C was the primary language used to code apps for Apple products. As a general-purpose, object oriented programming language, it will likely prove a versatile companion should you decide to pursue a coding career later on.
  3. Other options. Other languages that can be used to program apps for iOS include Java, JavaScript, C#, and Dart. Each of these languages is compatible with a different app development framework, as we discussed earlier in the article. 

Android Mobile App Development Languages

  1. Kotlin. Similar to Swift’s role at Apple, Kotlin is Google’s proprietary programming language for Android. It’s versatile and efficient, and it comes with a massive community of fellow users who can help you get answers to your burning questions. 
  2. Java. The original native language for Android, Java can still get the job done, although its syntax is a little more unwieldy than Kotlin’s. Java also has plenty of other uses, which you can master by joining one of the best Java bootcamps.
  3. Other options. With the right app development kit, you can learn how to code an application for Android using just about any programming language. The most popular options include Python, JavaScript, C#, and C++. 

Is It Worth It to Learn How to Code an App?

Learning how to code an app is one of the smartest choices a tech-savvy person can make. Due to the growing popularity of mobile phones and tablets, revenues in the app development sector are expected to approach $750 billion by 2027. And if you’re eager to get in on the action, you can join an app development bootcamp and acquire the skills you need in a few months.  
Flexible working conditions are another reason to learn how to code an application. If you go the self-employment route, you can leverage your expertise to choose your own hours and work as little or as much as you please. But whether you freelance or catch on with a big corporation, app development presents lucrative opportunities for young techies.

How to Code an App FAQ

How much does it cost to make an app?

While the costs of app development vary widely, you should expect to spend upwards of $10,000 to make your app. The cost of your app is directly correlated with the wages that you pay to your team of professional developers, and the average mobile app developer gets paid $48 per hour according to ZipRecruiter. If you can build it in 200 hours, it will cost about $9,600. 

How can I build an app without coding?

You can build an app without coding skills by using no-code app builders such as Bildr, Bubble, and Glide. Keep in mind that some of these products can be quite tricky to use in their own right, even if you can use them without learning to code. At the end of the day, all app builders have limited functionality compared to the code-it-yourself method. 

What is the best mobile app development platform?

Each app development platform has its own advantages, but three of the most popular options are Xamarin, Flutter, and React Native. All of these platforms enable you to build apps for both iOS and Android, with built-in features for user interface design and cross-platform functionality. Ultimately, you should choose your platform based on the programming languages you know. 

How do I make an app for iOS and Android?

You can make an app for iOS and Android by using app development tools that facilitate the creation of cross-platform apps, as opposed to native applications. You can use frameworks like Xamarin, Flutter, Ionic, and React-Native to code apps that can work on multiple operating systems. This is essential if you want to double the potential users for your product. 

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