How to Create a Comprehensive App Specification [With a Free Template]

We are always very happy when our clients begin a project with a discussion of an app specification. Today, we would like to explain what an app specification is and why it is important in app development.

What is an app specification? To put it simply, it is your application idea written down. A detailed and consistent app specification will put your development team on the same page as you and help them understand what you want. In other words, a good specification at the beginning guarantees no surprises at the end.

Since we specialize, among other things, in mobile app development and often create mobile applications for our clients, we will analyze the way a mobile app specification should be written. For your convenience, we've also included a downloadable mobile app specification template that we hope will help you in future projects.


How to write a mobile app specification?

Basically, your specification should have the following three criteria — detailed, clear, and unambiguous. You are preparing a mobile app requirement document, so you should make sure your requirements are understandable and to the point.

Let's walk through the creation of the mobile app specification step-by-step to see what it should contain and why.

Introduction and background

Tell a bit about your company — who you are, how long you've been in business, and whether you have any developers on your team. It would help greatly if you say whether you have released some software products or whether this is your first project.

This knowledge will give us an idea about your experience and current situation. If you're already running another product, we will most likely need to stick to the same principles and technologies to maintain consistency. Otherwise, we will choose the technology stack and the development approach from scratch.

App idea description

When you contact us you've probably done market research and defined the basic niche in which you are going to develop your idea. We would truly appreciate it if you share your findings with us.

What is the business value of your app? What is it intended to achieve? Which central feature do you plan to implement?

Since we are talking about a technical design document for the app, try to be as specific as possible. If you can provide calculations, market research results, analytics, user interviews, etc you will help us tremendously.


Target audience

Understanding your target audience will help us get a better idea of the functional requirements of the application that we are going to deliver. The target audience defines the user experience and feature set to a great extent. For example, an application for children should have simple flows and large screen elements. On the other hand, social sharing may be one of the core features for an application aimed at a teenager.

It will be great if you outline the general picture of your user, a “user persona”. The persona description includes quite a lot of characteristics — age, application experience, occupation, profession, hobby, and so on.

Knowledge of the target audience will help us put together the project design and the technology stack. For example, a patchwork artists' marketplace will require payment system integration, while a product for tourists will definitely need the geolocation feature.

Mobile platforms

The question of mobile platforms also belongs in the app's technical documentation. You may target your app solely at iOS users, Android users, both, or any platform available. This decision greatly influences the project budget and time.

If you decide to go with native applications for iOS and Android, it means creating two applications. Therefore, such an approach requires more time and cost. If, however, we build a cross-platform application with React Native, we will deliver the product earlier and at a lower cost.

Technology stack

This might be a tough one, since choosing tools, platforms and environments for app development is a complicated task. However, if you have certain preferences for the tools to be used, tell us! Then we can see whether we have the necessary software licenses and arrange them, if needed.

This point is especially important when we are about to build a supplement or an enhancement to an existing product. In order to ensure smooth integration, we should usually keep to the same technology stack that was used in your existing application. Your support team is definitely going to appreciate it.


Functional requirements

In this section describe the features you would like to have in your app. Imagine the way your users will be using your application and break it down into individual features and functional components.

For example, you may mention such features as:

  • Login. The login feature is used in most applications, however, some can do without it. Note whether you would like to have a social login with the accounts in social networks.
  • Image upload. This feature if often found in the requirements specification document for mobile applications, however, it is not always necessary. For example, an application for handcraft artists will surely benefit from image upload, while it may be unnecessary in a calorie counter.
  • Payment system. Obviously, if you are planning an app with any kind of paid services you will need a secure payment engine.
  • Geolocation. As we mentioned already, this feature will be key in a tourist application, however, it's also important for taxi or car sharing apps, service marketplaces, rental platforms and social apps.
  • Monetization. If you are planning to include some paid content or advertisement, mention it in the app specification too.
  • Push notifications. Today, there is hardly any app without push notifications, however they must fit organically with the app goals. Let us know whether you want them in your app.

This is just a short list of functionality components that you may wish to implement in your application. Tell us as much as possible about what you want your app to do, because it will help in many ways. Having a complete view of the planned functionality, we can do a tentative project schedule with the features added in logical sequence. This will give us the basis for estimating the timeline and budget. With a feature list, we can determine which integrations, APIs and other third-party components we will need.

Administrator features

Describe how you would like to manage the application as an administrator — which options should be available, which scope of permissions should there be. On the basis of this description, we will create the admin panel featuring the specified options, for example:

  • User management including multi-level access system
  • Remote support and maintenance
  • Access to various application analytics

Mockups and wireframes

It would be terrific if you provide those, since no matter how accurately you describe your vision of the user interface and user experience, an image is better. By providing simple black-and-white drawings, you will give us a general idea of the style, layout, user flows, and location of screen elements.

We will engage our business analysts and UX designers to suggest improvements to your designs. Working on the wireframes, we can better see the relationship between features and plan the functionality to be implemented.


Timeline and budget

It may seem too difficult to estimate, but there may be some reference points as to the timeline and budget. For example, you may have a scheduled meeting with potential investors where you need to present an MVP or prototype. Or there may be an international event where you would like to show a working product.

With money, it is the same. We will discuss the detailed budget at the project planning stage. For the moment it's enough if you mention you have certain limitations. For example, a limited budget may suggest that we should build an MVP first and then use it as the basis for the full product.

Acceptance criteria

Outline the mandatory requirements for app performance that you absolutely want to see in the final release. If possible, make them measurable, for example, “the web page should load under 3 seconds”.

Create some test cases or scenarios where the app acceptance criteria can be tested and measured. This way, we will be able to see the conditions in which your app will be used and the performance level that should be achieved.

Contact details

This might seem to belong to the “goes without saying” category, but should be clarified in advance. In addition to the contact details of the CEO or CTO negotiating the project, it would also help to get contacts for other key persons:

  • Product owner who will coordinate the development so that the product carries the intended business value
  • Team lead, if you are outsourcing only a part of your project while the rest is done in-house
  • Marketing manager who will be responsible for promoting the product or the MVP

Effective communication between the client and the outsourcing team is one of the key components of a successful delivery. Having all necessary contact details at the very beginning will give a healthy start to the project.

Is this the only mobile app spec template that should be used in all cases?

Of course not. There are many ways to write an app specification template, and all of them are correct. You can use one of the dozens of templates that can be found online or download our mobile app documentation template from the link. You can also create an app specification template of your own and use it for most of your projects.

The main thing is to give as many details about your project as you can. A comprehensive app specification helps the project to kick off smoothly and may save some time during project planning. Of course, as no two projects are alike, the specifications will have their differences in each particular case, while the overall structure is more or less the same. We hope we have given you the guidelines for writing a mobile app specification and will be glad to provide additional advice on your project development.
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