Mobile app development

Getting started in mobile application development

What is mobile app development?

This is the process of creating applications for mobile devices on a software platform. Ideally, developers will deliver true, mobile apps that stand on their own – and are not just warmed-over Web pages. The most successful mobile applications make full use of mobile device features, such as integrating the microphone, camera, or GPS.

Mobile app development presents specific challenges: not just different operating systems and devices, but also display sizes and on-device features. End users today expect elegant and easy-to-use mobile apps. Otherwise, the app will be deleted. This often means that mobile apps need to be updated every 2-4 weeks, versus annually for many traditional desktop apps. Getting a new app to run flawlessly on all devices within that schedule requires a powerful platform.

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What kind of mobile app?

Native or hybrid: Apps can be built either way and the correct answer depends on what you are trying to achieve. Each app format will be decided by how and where it will be distributed.

The tradeoff is that while native apps may add more functionality, they may be more costly to build individually and to continually update with each new OS verision. Hybrid apps are generally easier to build and maintain, but may not have the same richness of features. You choose between ease and power.

Ideally, a mobile app development platform will equally support all development approaches – be it Web, hybrid or native – and provide the flexibility necessary to use the development approach that supports the business goals for every app.

What to look for in a mobile application development platform

Major capabilities to consider when selecting a platform.

Continuous improvement

The right platform will help collect customer behavior, survey results, and app store ratings – and then enable rapid revision of your apps.


You'll need robust security features for mobile apps and data, as well as central governance with straightforward controls.

Contextualization and personalization

The most engaging mobile apps can capture, interpret, and act on multiple context sources in real time – such as making an offer based on buying habits and current location.

Data integration

With the speed and scale of mobile, developers need the ability to connect efficiently with enterprise data, such as inventory levels.

How to test mobile apps

Testing software needs to be fast, flexible, and powerful enough to continuously improve apps in the face of a staggering combination of platforms, operating systems, and releases. Performance can even vary based on the carrier network and connection quality. Testing options to consider:

Manual testing

Straightforward, but labor-intensive, and difficult to scale. You may have to buy all the mobile devices you plan to support and have your team follow a QA test plan for each.

Mobile device simulators and emulators

Testing apps on virtual mobile devices, simulated on a desktop computer, rather than the actual mobile devices.

Test agent

Use an agent program to run a series of automated tests so the script is followed exactly, every time. This offers the flexibility of using either real, physical devices or emulators.

Why IBM for mobile app development

You're covered the whole way: You'll need an enterprise-class platform for mobile app development to build enterprise-grade apps that can be quickly and continuously improved in response to market changes. Only IBM brings you a powerful, integrated development platform – with security enhancements, data integration options, and app testing tools – all specifically assembled for mobile application development.

Learn about IBM MobileFirst for mobile application development