Lean and Effective Mobile App Development

It is clear that smartphones and the apps they run have an ever-growing presence in personal healthcare and the entirety of our lives. In the 2017 calendar year, 325,000 health care smartphone apps were available to users, amassing an estimated 3.7 billion downloads in that year, or one app download for every two people on the planet! The current Coronavirus pandemic, and the possibility of future virus outbreaks, is rapidly changing the landscape of the point-of-care (POC) device market. Many bioelectronic medicine companies are pivoting from administering therapies in doctors’ offices to empowering users to administer therapies at home. Given the increased interest in home-based therapy devices, intuitive and user-friendly mobile applications are the new frontier, becoming more critical than ever in effectively delivering therapies in home-based care.

Example of an app developed by Key Tech to help patients with insomnia

Why develop an app early?

It is obvious that smartphone apps are a hit with consumers and have become ubiquitous in consumer devices. As a natural extension, home-based healthcare devices should leverage this existing familiarity to achieve the goals of delivering effective care directly to patients. In the consumer device market, an oversight in usability in a consumer device may be benign and only causes minor frustration or inconvenience. Since the line between consumers and patients is being blurred in the POC therapy market, an oversight can have more serious consequences, causing ineffective therapy or even potential bodily harm. The risks to users are inherently different and more severe, thus evidence-based user studies of the healthcare app should be conducted early and iteratively in a process similar to those used by Key Tech.

How do I integrate app development in my project efficiently?

With proper planning and the use of cross-platform technologies, mobile apps can be developed and improved quickly throughout the development cycle to meet evolving needs.  Below we discuss several example areas of app development throughout the development cycle.

Planning

It is important to identify the goals for the mobile app before any code is written. Often times, a mobile app is needed to conduct early user studies to inform the design. In these situations, goals for the user study and the bare minimum features set for the mobile app should be determined. Targeted feature sets allow information collection from users while maintaining a slim development footprint. If the goal of the user study is to identify potential areas prone to human errors, the bare minimum feature set may include a representative wireframe that simulate the expected workflow, while deferring for future development features which are safe bets, such as simple menus or entry forms. Generally, it is advantageous to avoid features that require heavy integration with outside systems (like authentication systems) that can eat up lots of development time and tend to add little value for user demonstrations.

Target Selection

Just as important as choosing features appropriately for the right stage of the development, it might be beneficial to start with a single mobile platform and an associated OS to target. Does the mobile app need to deliver high-quality graphic data including images? A tablet might be the right approach with the larger screen real estate. Does the mobile app need to deliver user data to connected healthcare providers frequently? Consider iOS and its CareKit API for a strong starting foundation. In our experience, it’s better to focus on a single platform initially to keep development cost and schedule in check. Developing for additional platforms can occur after the dust settles and lessons have been learned from the application’s initial version. This decision may matter in your situation, and there are far fewer universal points of guidance. Take into account available testing/demonstration hardware, support for key features by the target mobile OS, and required licensing/development costs. Thankfully, depending on the toolchain selected for the job, it’s possible to make your initial implementation work double and get additional target platform at a fraction of the cost and schedule.

The Tools

The underlying foundation of strong software is the platform on which the application is built. Choosing a flexible platform, like Microsoft’s Xamarin (a Key Tech favorite), is a core element of this strategy. Xamarin provides a common development environment for applications that target multiple platforms, like iOS and Android.

Some cross-platform frameworks sacrifice performance for flexibility by utilizing libraries that sit in between your application’s code and the native operating system. As a result, systems with that architecture may run slower and not look like they belong on the targeted operating system. Each operating system has unique UI elements and styles, which can be important to utilize for a proper user experience. Xamarin avoids this issue by translating user interface specification directly to native UI components for each targeted platform, resulting in applications that look at home on every mobile OS.

Using a common code base for multiple platforms can streamline implementation effort significantly. In Key Tech’s experience, we’ve found that supporting a second platform may only take around a third of the time spent on the first platform.

If you have a project that involves mobile application development, reach out to us to start a conversation on how Key Tech can help to get the development completed within schedule and budget at TalkToUs@keytechinc.com.

Mason Watts
Latest posts by Mason Watts (see all)


Every challenge is different – Tell us about yours.