The steps you need to take to build an Android app

You don't have to be an experienced developer to build an Android app, but you do need to know which skills to hire for your project
Apr 7, 2020 • 5 minute read
Adam Mathew @Grizwords
Technical Co-pilot
Cover photo for The steps you need to take to build an Android app

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A look at the Android app development process, and who you'll need to hire

Today we're going to learn how to take your awesome idea for an app and breathe it into life on an Android system. You're looking at a beginner level glance at all of the fundamentals of crafting something worthy of Google's Play Store and, hopefully, a ton of revenue from satisfied customers. Obviously, this isn't a one-size-fits-all tutorial as an app can be one of a million things and there's a wide spectrum of complexity depending on what you want to achieve. All that being said, we guarantee you'll walk away with a better understanding of what is reasonably possible in Android app development, and what is difficult and best left to some ready-to-hire freelance professionals.

What to expect

Before we begin, let's get you reasonably familiar with Native Android and what's involved in its basic use. It's essentially a mobile operating system that's currently developed by Google. Being based on the Linux kernel, it's an open source affair (so don't worry about needing to raise extra funds to acquire it), it's also blazing fast and supports everything from mobile devices, smart TVs, wearable tech and more.

As to how difficult it is to use, this software development kit (SDK) is rooted in the programming languages of Java and XML. These are pretty common technologies as far as coding goes. If you have some previous experience with building the odd website, there's a very good chance you can hit the ground running here. If that's not your skillset, you should consider hiring a freelancer who is either a dedicated mobile app developer by trade, or you might be able to find a front or backend web developer to fill in as well.

Coming up with a killer concept

Arguably, this is the hardest part of the whole endeavor. Any other part of the development process you don't understand can be shored up by hiring freelance professionals who know their stuff back to front, but all the knowledge in the world is for nothing if you don't have a great idea for an app to start with. Also, even if you do have a killer app in mind, it's no good if you can't explain the concept to the creatives who will breathe life into it for you.

All that being said, it's well worth sitting down with a mobile app developer to have a preliminary chat about what you want to achieve and what's possible. For starters, what's the elevator pitch for the app? How is it going to be placed in the incredibly vast and ludicrously competitive digital shop shelves of the Play Store?

Sometimes the best first step is to pigeonhole yourself a little bit by defining what category you're going to list this app in. Decide which of the following primary ones suit your idea: Art, Auto, Beauty, Books, Business, Comics, Communication, Dating, Education, Entertainment, Events, Family, Finance, Food, Games, Health, House, Libraries, Lifestyle, Medical, Music, Navigation, News, Parenting, Personalisation, Photography, Productivity, Shopping, Social, Sports, Tools, Travel, Video or Weather.

Once you have better defined the project, it never hurts to go for a bit of a competition search on the Play Store. Has anybody had the same or similar idea? If yes, do they execute said service in an effective or stylish way, or are there angles they've failed to consider that might be an opportunity for you? The cliché “there's an app for that” is true nine times out of ten; however, most apps out there can be beaten at their own game. Great ideas can always be evolved to meet the needs of a changing market, and success may be wrested away from complacent developers.

Building, running and troubleshooting

The first thing to do here is to freely acquire and install Android Studio for either Mac or PC. Once that's done, you (or your newly hired mobile app developer) can get to work on fleshing out your idea. To be honest it's not a cakewalk for most folks. To make a good app you'll need to become familiar with XML layouts that are used to style your app visuals to ensure a pleasant user interface experience. To do this effectively you'll probably need to sit down with an artistically minded person, like a graphic designer or a dedicated UI/UX designer. Why? Because nobody wants to navigate a dog's breakfast of on-screen content.

Looking behind the eye candy, other skills you'll need to bring to bear in the average app will likely include persisting data to storage for later access and also performing RESTful HTTP requests against APIs. The former pertains to how (and where) your app is going to store the info it collects from the user – possibly to the internal storage of their device, external storage of the device or in an SQLite database. The latter requires knowledge of application programming interfaces (APIs) which effectively let you search request for something externally on the Internet and grab a list of results from said source to use in your own app. APIs are incredibly helpful things and (once again) a reasonably competent web developer should know how to wrangle them.

Once you have everything fairly functional and all visual elements are more or less placed where you want them, you'll need to test it all out. This is where a simulator like Genymotion comes into play. Genymotion is a virtual environment that runs your unfinished app as if it was the real deal. From here you can peek and poke around as if you were an end-user, trying every interactive avenue in an effort to “break” your work. It's laborious stuff, but it's a damn sight better than releasing something with bugs that will alienate potential customers who run afoul of crashes. Those will be the folks who will one star you into the dirt.

Sign, release and support

Once you've crafted something worthy of distribution, there's still one major roadblock between you and your millions of fans/dollars in revenue. That hurdle is application signing, something that allows developers to identify the author of the application and to update their application without creating complicated interfaces and permissions. Every application needs this digital signature. Not having this in place will cause the app to be rejected by Google's Play Store or (if you don't plan on distributing on that platform) will cause most Android devices to not be able to install your creation at all.

Honestly, this is a pretty important process that should be handled by a mobile app developer with a reasonable amount of experience. If anything goes awry with an app, developers can be held accountable for behavior of their work. Applications can be self-signed after a short application process, or you can get your work signed by a third-party (OEM, operator, alternative market).

Once you're legit, you can release your app to the world. Just know that no piece of code wrought by the hand of man ever came without any bugs. You need to keep some time aside (or retain your dev team for a little longer than planned) to sort out any post-launch peccadilloes. Also, depending on the nature of your app, you might consider further development in the form of bolt-on features offered to the end user for free or perhaps a modest micro-transaction fee. These can be a great way to fund the development of your next app. At which point the madness of the development cycle may begin again.

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