One of the most asked questions I get is “Why does my business need a mobile app?” Before I begin answering this question, I think it is important for everyone to understand their choices for a mobile presence.
There are basically three types of “apps” you can have developed for your mobile strategy. These are native apps, mobile-based web apps and hybrid apps.
The first type is a native app. It completely resides on the mobile device and is written specifically for it. One of the benefits of a native app is it can operate in a standalone mode even when the mobile device lacks an Internet connection. Think of the times you're in a location with no service or slow service. The native app would still provide you with complete access to the data because the data is part of the app. For example, if your native app has all of the printed material that is normally handed out at a trade show, then the user will not have to rely on Wi-Fi or 3G/4G connections being available. Many times, mobile devices saturate auditoriums so much with mobile devices that your response time is horrible, and thus you have just given your audience a frustrating experience trying to retrieve the information from a Web page.
Another benefit of a native app is the user experience. The program is fast, and the user interface can be very easy to use without the zooming in and out which is necessary on many typical websites. The downside of a native app is that someone must write a separate program for the iOS (mobile operating system) so that owners of the iPhone and iPad, Android, Windows Mobile and BlackBerry can use it. If you need to support all of these devices, this can be a very expensive approach.
The second type is a mobile-based Web app. This is actually a website that has formatting that matches the size of screens for mobile phones and tablets. The benefit of a mobile Web app is the user interface should look and feel very close to a native app. Other benefits of the mobile Web app are that you will only have to write the code once, and it will work on iPhone, iPad, Android and other mobile devices. You must make sure that your target audience has a good connection to the Internet or they won't be able to interact with the app. The data retrieval is potentially slower if there is poor connectivity or if a lot of people are in one location using the Internet on their smartphones. Recently at an NFL game, I was trying to use my new smartphone, and because too many people were using their devices simultaneously, I could not get the Web pages to respond. This was a frustrating experience, and I recommend that you try to avoid this situation.
The third type is a hybrid app. It is probably the most versatile type available. It combines the speed and user experience of a native app while still having access to mobile web app pages from the Web. Many companies such as Netflix, Facebook and Yelp have apps that are hybrid. This type of app also has some limitations, such as the need to write part of the app code separately for the different devices, and does require connection to the Internet to pass data back and forth. The amount of data this type of apps needs can be much less than a mobile Web app requires, which means a faster response and better user experience.
Now that we've discussed the choices available to you, the next question is: do you need an app? The answer is not so much determined by the technology, but by your business strategy. If you can increase sales and add to company profits by having a mobile app, the answer is YES, you need an app. Once you understand your app, you can decide which type of app is best for you. Some other reasons for needing an app include increasing brand awareness, supplying better tools to your sales force, educating your customers or just wanting the aura of being technologically up-to-date to current and potential customers who identify you as a cutting edge company in the hot mobile market.
Why would you refrain from using or not creating a custom app? The answer to this question is actually quite easy with a little introspection. One of the most common reasons you do not need an app is that you lack the time or money to implement a strategy correctly. Please do not underestimate this. If you lack time to work with the developers through the whole process of design, development, testing and deployment, then you are setting yourself up for an inferior app which will be ill-received by your users. You would be better off not creating an app. The same results would occur if you lack sufficient money to fund the project.
One last thing to consider if you build an app: How are your prospective users going to know the app exists? Just putting it up on the iTunes store or Google Marketplace is not enough. Hundreds of thousands of apps are already there, and people probably won't find yours. You need to create a marketing campaign that includes both Search Engine Optimization and social media capabilities. I recommend that you create a Web page for your app (we usually refer to it as a landing page). The Web page only needs to be one screen that introduces and explains your app and has the links on the page so the user can click and go directly to the app on iTunes or Google Marketplace and other locations. When a Web designer builds your landing page, they should include the proper search terms and tags that search engines will pick up so that they will put your link high up on their list. We've all done searches on Google, and sometimes they come back with thousands of “hits.” How many of you go to the second or third page when searching? The vast majority of people only look at the first page returned, and the closer your link is to the top, the more likely your potential user will see your app.
Social media is a way for people to share information about your app. If you are familiar with Facebook, you can have your own page setup for the app, and people can follow you. If they click “Like” on your Facebook page, then others they are friends with will also be aware of your app. Other social media sites include LinkedIn and Twitter. Think of these as your “word-of-mouth” advertising that money can buy for a very small price.
Smartphones and tablets are here to stay. Tens of millions are being sold every quarter, and you can take advantage of them with a mobile presence. By knowing yourself, understanding your market and creating a sufficient budget for it, you will be well on your way to a successful app that increases your bottom line and enhances your brand.
Glenn Smith is president of Micro Integration Services Inc., which specializes in creating apps for business giants such as AT&T as well as small and medium-size companies. Contact Glenn at firstname.lastname@example.org, 800/667-9418 or visit www.misdb.com.