Does Your Business Need A Mobile App?

Mobile apps are today part of every conceivable business, irrespective of their size or services they offer. Apps are the best way to keep your customers engaged with your product – they act like gentle reminders to pull them back to your product or service, while also generating new customers in the process. However, are mobile apps really necessary for each and every business? Do you particularly need one to promote your brand or business?

Unlike app shops, whose apps are their “product,” the apps that a business makes are more likely “extensions” of their products—more efficient means to deliver existing goods and services. One of the major question to ask before developing a mobile app is to understand how the mobile app will help your business. Restaurant apps make it easy for users to find locations, review menus, place orders and make reservations. Retail apps are very convenient when looking for a specific product or comparing prices. They are also used to find offer codes and coupons. Understanding the role a mobile app plays in improving business processes is the key.

The other question to ask is as to what type of data the app will hold. The most useful and downloaded apps organize important data in an easy and accessible way. With that in mind, you’ll need to understand how your available data (e.g. item numbers, prices, descriptions, etc.) might populate your app. If you’re storing your data in an open online database like Intuit QuickBase, designed specifically for business professionals, sharing of data will be easy. Since QuickBase is in the cloud and fully web-browser accessible, no additional work is needed to access the data as in the case of firewalls or special network configurations. OK, you know where the data lives, now, can you find someone within your organization with the necessary skills to put an app together? Here’s the second pitfall. Someone may know how to build certain types of apps—but how will you know if it is the right kind of app? This is where outside consultants come in.

If consultants are honest—and you listen to them—they can provide a reality check on the originality of your app idea and the value of your existing data to support it. They also may be familiar with the range of app implementations within your sector and the kinds of third-party data your competitors may be using.

I want to be clear about one thing — building an app isn’t all roses. It takes a significant amount of time, money and energy to build an app that people want to download and use. Even after you build the app it will need to be marketed and supported by your company. These are all elements that need to be figured out at some point and then planned for. It’s how companies stay competitive in today’s marketplace. Look at it this way — if you can’t set aside the budget and resources for an app today, will you be able to do so when your sales are declining because customers “all of a sudden” decided that they prefer using your competitor’s app over your old website? This and much more can only be delivered by a dedicated team of developers, designers, testers, content strategists and project manager, in short, a development agency. Specifically, you need a project manager that can keep the process on track and make sure everyone has what they need and understands what to do next. That project manager, and the developer or designer that they are primarily working with, may or may not have experience in content strategy, backend development, user experience, user interface, front end development or performance engineering. All of these are important, but, again, some of your team can wear multiple hats and/or select software that addresses some of these issues.

Another issue to tackle is to choose the platform for a mobile app. A poorly built app on an obsolete technology and wrong platform can be a waste of time and investment. This is where hybrid apps come in. Unlike native iOS and Android apps (written in Objective C and Java, respectively) hybrid apps use HTML5 web code with standard CSS and Javascript for the design and functionality. This web code, that can also power a website or web app, can then be “wrapped” in native code and packaged for the app stores just like any native app. The greatest advantage of a hybrid app is that the same code can be used for developing both iOS & Android apps.

Depending on your industry, your brand and its offerings, an app can be great way to increase your web presence, capture a growing demographic and complement an integrated marketing campaign. However, they can also be redundant or superfluous, and you may just be throwing money away at something that’ll never gain traction in case the app is not built from a competent dev shop. Most effective are apps that feel like gifts that merely remind you of the giver in a light-handed way.

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