4 Important Parts of Designing a Smartphone App

During the preliminary design stages of any software, it’s important to compile a detailed list of design considerations. Understanding the various hardware and software limitations of a platform is integral to developing a well-designed application.

For desktop platforms like Windows and Mac, design considerations are often relatively uniform, can easily be managed on the fly by a complete application, or be solved with slightly different distributions of the app.

Smartphones, on the other hand, present a unique set of challenges not common across other platforms. Smartphone technology is still evolving at a rapid rate, with multiple significant releases on a yearly basis. While desktop systems are at a point where upgrades don’t provide as significant a performance boost as years past, smartphones regularly receive substantial performance upgrades between releases. Similarly to desktop environments, smartphones are largely designed around 2 operating systems, iOS and Android. Android is essentially an open source system, whereas iOS is specific to Apple devices.

The rapid evolution of smartphone technology means that developers must account for a variety of unique setups that can be difficult to predict. Oftentimes, developers will focus on a range of devices and their specs in order to ease the development process. Below, we’ll go over a few common considerations that smartphone app developers have to keep track of.

1. Screen Real Estate

As handheld devices, smartphones have far less screen real estate to work with than most other systems. A critical development error most new app developers struggle with is designing an app that is tailor-made to suit the limited space. While its possible to simply downsize everything majorly, the final product will inevitably appear unprofessional and clunky.

Applications that are developed with limited screen space in mind will appear more professional and are more likely to draw eyes and receive downloads. There are many ways to manage space, but the secret to correctly working around screen real estate is to iterate on designs and focus on important features.

2. App Direction and Focus

On the topic of focus, it’s important to identify design goals for an app early on. While design goals are important in any line of software development, smartphones particularly require a very focused design approach.

Smartphones, though powerful, are far more limited in terms of computing power than both desktops, laptops, and even tablets. As a result, the process of smartphone app development must be more focused in their entirety than most desktop apps would require.

Completed designs that have been iterated upon and focused on their purpose will consume less power, and operate better across a multitude of devices, which opens up the door to countless additional users.

3. Navigation

The touchscreen is nearly universal for smartphones now, with built-in keyboards becoming a distant memory. Designing an app which works well with touch controls, and integrates the onscreen keyboard seamlessly is critically important.

If information can be comfortably displayed on a single screen, that is often the best solution, as it limits navigational concerns. But often times, an app requires multiple tabs, or complex menus in order to display information effectively.  Comfortable and fluid navigation is essential to design around, and identifying early on how an app will display its information will help immensely in nailing down navigational feel.

4. Functionality

Mobile development requires a different line of thought than typical software development. Smartphones are personal devices, and each application a user downloads must provide the device with additional utility and functionality. When developing for smartphones, focus on what your app can potentially do to improve a user’s experience. Whether its an app focused on entertainment, or an organizational tool, its key to concentrate on the unique utility your app can provide.

Overall, while smartphone app development has much in common with desktop development, there are several limitations which demand creative problem solving during the design and development stages in order to create a seamless app experience. The best way to manage the additional limitations is with a rigorous design process, and with effort, you too can be on your way to completing a great mobile app.

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