Adopt agile development for mobile apps or fail says Gartner

Traditional development practices used for desktop apps will not work for mobile apps, and companies must instead adopt agile development, says analyst Gartner.


Traditional development practices used for desktop apps will not work for mobile apps, and companies must instead adopt agile development, says analyst Gartner. 

Gartner said that as demand from business units in enterprises puts increasing pressure on IT organisations to deliver large numbers of mobile applications, application development (AD) teams will have to employ practices that are different from traditional AD.

“Enterprise application development teams use traditional practices to define and develop desktop applications, but most don't work with mobile app development due to device diversity, network connectivity and other mobile-specific considerations,” said Gartner analyst Van Baker. “Instead, AD managers should use functional, performance, load and user experience testing, as well as agile development practices.” 

Baker said that users find it challenging to effectively describe what a mobile app needs to do. As a result, the traditional practice of having a business analyst sit down with the mobile app end users - employees for business-to-employee apps and consumer focus groups for business-to-consumer apps - to define requirements for a new mobile application "normally fails".

 “Mobile apps are a new category for most users and they are constrained by the nature of the platform and the size of the screen, so porting the workflow of a mature desktop app is not viable,” said Baker.

He added: "The experience associated with mobile devices is significantly different from that of desktop devices, including shorter session lengths and limited presentation, due to screen size constraints that affect how mobile apps need to function.” 

Most complaints about mobile apps, said Gartner, are connected to poor user experience, including a bad user interface (UI) design, poor application workflow or low responsiveness. The development team, said Gartner, needs to focus on designing the optimal UI as a starting point for mobile AD, and developers need to combine this with a workflow that represents how users actually work. 

“Letting the users experience what the application will look like and building the screens on the fly with the appropriate tools will ensure that the initial build of the app looks familiar to the users and is close to what they'll need once the application has been piloted or deployed,” said Baker. “This alone will result in a higher chance for a successful development effort.” 

Testing mobile applications also differs greatly from testing traditional desktop applications. For a mobile app, each device OS can behave differently, depending on the actual device on which it is being used on and the wireless network to which the device connects to. 

Therefore, testing of mobile apps must be conducted across a combination of device types and OS'. It should employ, at a minimum, a two-tier approach of testing on device simulators and on a subset of the latest or most popular devices, as simulators don't always produce the real-world user experience of physical devices, Gartner said. This can be supplemented by "in-the-wild" user experience and device testing, which is recommended for business-to-consumer apps.

Gartner's call for the adoption of agile development for mobile apps was recently supported by betting exchange Betfair. Eddie Kenny, agile software development manager at Betfair, said all companies should be looking at adopting agile practices for mobile development, warning that those which don't risk being outpaced by rivals which are already employing such methodologies.

He said: “If you start with a trimmed down version of your app and then iterate over it, you can be getting products to market quicker than your competitors."

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