Since the release of the first smartphone in 1992 (yes, the first smartphone was released that long ago) consumer habits and expectations of the—now—everyday device has dramatically shifted. The novelty was originally to use the phone for email access and text messaging, then on to internet searching, and the creation of apps of all shapes and sizes. Now, we’re able to do all of the above simultaneously. (Excuse us while we talk on the phone and surf the web.) Needless to say, consumer expectations for agile apps with a positive user interface remain high.
These expectations have forced many companies to hire developers and designers who are well-versed in mobile app development and deployment skills. In order to stay competitive, companies need their apps to meet users’ needs and they need to be able to quickly iterate as new software is released and as consumer expectations shift.
Some developers and designers have been fortunate enough to learn these skills on the job. Others who may have focused strongly in other areas of development and design may be unsure where to get started with app development and how to make sure they’re learning the right techniques. Either way, app development skills are an important factor in career advancement as a developer and designer. Imagine your current employer begins to explore mobile app development. If you step up as someone with a thorough working knowledge of best practices and processes, you can gain an advantage and play an integral role in the project. The same applies for future opportunities. Armed with these skills, your resume gets a boost and your job pool widens.
To explore this further, we spoke with Experts Exchange senior frontend developer Brandon Lyon to discuss these expectations and gather some tips on useful training for developers and designers looking to break into the mobile app world.
Experts Exchange: How long have you been a developer?
Brandon Lyon: I've been developing websites for about 22 years and mobile apps for about 4 years. Since then, I've diversified into wearables, voice apps, mixed reality, and desktop apps. It's important to diversify your development skills.
EE: What was your role in the initial development of the Experts Exchange app? (Development began in October 2014. App was released in 2015.)
BL: In general as the frontend developer, it is my job to put all of the parts together. I take into account the concerns of the end-users, the developers, the designers, and the business goals. In the case of mobile apps, I also have to ensure that an app follows all rules published by multiple app stores as well as design best-practices.
EE: What challenges did you come across during the process?
BL: There were obvious concerns with complex applications and limited screen size. At the time we started mobile app development, documentation was very limited and there there were few people with experience developing apps. Beyond that, mobile apps have their own special rules dictated by publishers, such as APIs, toolkits, and target hardware that change much more frequently than typical computers. We also had limited resources [for this project] and had to plan our development accordingly.
EE: Was this your first experience developing a mobile app?
BL: Yes and no. It's technically accurate to say it was my first mobile app, but I have been developing websites targeted at mobile devices for significantly longer than that.
EE: Please describe the process of developing the app for Android devices versus the iPhone. Were there major differences?
BL: The software for those two platforms are more similar than most people think. We used a native development toolkit which abstracted major platform differences. We also preferred to use design patterns which exist on both platforms. When it came to physical hardware—in my opinion—Apple devices and their development certificates are hell to work with. The iOS emulator is way better than the Android one, though.
As a side note, we did plan to support Windows Phone and got to the research and design phase. Due to limited resources, toolkit trouble, limited user base, and very different interfaces, we didn't get a chance to develop it before Microsoft killed the platform.
EE: What are some skills you wish you had under your belt before this inaugural mobile app project?
BL: From a design perspective, I wish I had more experience with microinteractions and animations. From a development perspective, I would have liked more practice developing applications where an internet connection may be lost at any moment.
EE: Did you learn or acquire these skills afterward?
BL: Eventually yes.
EE: What are some training opportunities developers should explore if they’re looking to learn mobile app development or expand on existing knowledge?
BL: I'm not really big on certifications, especially considering how quickly our industry changes. The best advice I can give is to read documentation and build something. "Learn by doing" was an important motto at the university I attended.
EE: In your opinion as a frontend developer, how vital are the skills and knowledge for app development in today’s business climate?
BL: Few companies have the user base and resources required to develop a mobile app. The necessity for a mobile app also depends on the nature of your user base and the type of activity your app is trying to accomplish. That said, it's always a good idea to diversify your programming and design skill sets.
EE: How can these skills and qualifications prove useful in career advancement?
BL: I received several unsolicited job offers due to my experience developing mobile apps. Building this app taught me things which I use in other types of development. For example, the nature of touchscreen devices precludes certain types of interaction. Touchscreens also require knowledge of human hands (thumb sizes, swipe gesture distances, multi-touch, etc).
EE: What do you foresee as the next big need-to-know skill in mobile app development?
BL: Mobile app development is becoming less reliant on touchscreen interfaces. More is being done with wearables, voice assistants, and mixed reality (AR and VR). After learning the basics of mobile app development you should have fun learning advanced interfaces.
If you’re looking to break into the mobile app development world and want to follow Lyon's advice to “learn by doing”, our January Course of the Month teaches you how to build an Android app, from concept to deployment on Google Play. Register today for in-depth lessons and hands-on learning built to improve your design and development skills.