About Semaphore Mobile

Semaphore Mobile, founded in 2002, specializes in the development of custom application software for iPhone, iPad, and Android mobile devices.

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Building a Mobile Application is Simple, Right?

We get calls all the time from people looking for mobile apps and their first words are “I want to do something very simple.” The prospect then goes on to describe an extremely complex application that will cost a lot of money to implement. Why do people assume that building a mobile app is simple?

It is quite easy to think an application took very little time to develop. If you ever watched the movie “The Social Network,” a pivotal scene shows how Mark Zuckerberg’s character created Facebook from his dorm room in just a couple of days. What is not obvious is that what you see on Facebook today does not resemble the initial product developed from Mark’s Harvard dorm room. Facebook has spent hundreds of millions of dollars to build their platform. When a mobile application is designed and coded well, it will give the impression that development was simple and took very little time to create.  Nothing could be further from the truth!

User experience

In a well-done application, the navigation and user interface provide an excellent user experience, and moving around and exploring screens within the app will seem effortless and simple. The impression allows the user to think, “Wow, that much should have been easy to put together.” It generally takes a lot of planning and work before any coding starts to have such a seamless app experience.

Planning and design

Planning and design are important elements in creating an app. Before coding begins, user stories and wireframes should be created to define specific functionality and to present the navigation and user experience of the product.   

User stories are simply documents which define specific tasks and provide a description of what those tasks are supposed to do. This allows the developer to implement functionality that meets the client’s objective and vision. Wireframes define the behavior and actions which take place on a screen and the navigation between screens. Wireframes, in short, show what happens when you select something or perform an action on a screen.

Creating wireframes and user stories are an essential first step to any development efforts and are critical in developing a scope for a project. The cost for providing these design tasks is low, and it will save a client a significant amount of money in the long run. Consider this:  if you were building a home, you would never start construction without proper plans, blueprints, and imagery which give you a strong representation of what the house will look like when it’s finished.

Building an app is no different. The development team can take design elements such as wireframes and user stories and proceed to develop efficiently and effectively according to a client’s expectations.

Developing user stories also helps create an accurate budget for both the cost and the predicted time it will take to implement the functionality desired. User stories can also be used to prioritize development tasks. There may be some tasks that because of either time or cost (or both) may need to wait for implementation.

At Semaphore Mobile, when building an application, we always start a project by creating user stories and wireframes for our client to ensure that the product development meets the objective of the client. This process also identifies any shortcomings in the user experience that may be quickly corrected before coding begins.

Mobile application frameworks

Mobile applications are typically coded in the native language for a targeted framework. For example, iOS uses Swift or Objective-C while the Android framework uses Java. In the last few years the React Native framework has become popular, which allows coders to use JavaScript in development. React Native brings React‘s declarative UI framework to iOS and Android. With React Native, you use native UI controls and have full access to the native platform. In this way, developers can write the code for the application one time and get both iOS and Android binary builds for uploading to their respective stores and users. It has few disadvantages, except when speed is required for intensive calculations, or a specific native library is required. Check with Semaphore Mobile to see which kind of application would be best for you.

Mobile applications typically require connection to a server, so in addition to creating an app for iPhone and Android devices, server software must be created to support the required functionality. 

There are many languages that may be used to develop server code. The list includes:

  • Elixir-Phoenix
  • Ruby on Rails
  • .NET
  • PHP
  • Java
  • JavaScript

App cost

The question, “How much does an app cost?” is also frequently asked. The cost to develop an app is always related to the time and expertise required to deliver the specified functionality. More complicated apps require greater expertise and may cost more. Less complicated applications may be built faster and cheaper. A famous saying in Project Management is, “Fast, cheap or good?  Pick two.” You should consider what you value most when starting an application project. Our Project Management can work with you to make sure your values are optimized.

How can you reduce the cost of an application? One is to research the minimum functionality needed to launch. You can release a “Minimum Viable Product” that attracts early adopters while garnering enough users to get valuable feedback on your application. This will help you determine what features to prioritize for future product development. If you cannot perform the research, then hire a consultant to provide such services. Semaphore Mobile can help you design your app.

Another way to reduce the cost of an application is to consider using existing services which provide an API (application programming interface) for certain functionality. Some popular APIs include Google Maps, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. While monthly payments for various API services may seem expensive, it is often cheaper in the long run compared to building out those functions on your own. Also, many of the API services are free of charge for typical usage requirements.

Getting started

You can start on your app by writing a paragraph or two describing what you want the application to do, specifically the functionality you want the app to perform. Then think of five major features you want included in the application. Finally, think of who your users will be, and whether you need to start your project with both Android and iPhone applications, or can you begin with just one.

Semaphore Mobile can help with the design of your application as well as assist in determining what your development budget should be.