Mobile Apps Re-Introduce Necessity for Custom Software Development

Posted on: June 29th, 2012 - Written by: John Blomberg

Mobile Apps

Our burning need to have everything – including the applications we use in our jobs – at our fingertips is driving the need for custom software development. This is prevalent in our private lives and is becoming a competitive differentiator for businesses. These demands are driving the development of mobile apps that work on the most popular mobile devices.

It seems that we’re moving backwards to the need – once again – to develop to specific platforms. In fact, it is reminiscent of developing client-based apps in the 90s. Mobile apps are definitely the next shiny object and its market is just at the threshold of what is predicted to be $25 billion by 2015. (At the beginning of 2011, the mobile apps market was $6.8 billion.)

Almost every business is gearing up their mobile strategy and the previously noted statistics illustrate why. More statistics show that there are already more people on the planet who communicate with text messages than with e-mail and more people who own phones than have credit cards.

The difficulty is that there are many facets of mobile technology. Apps, websites and SMS (text messaging) form the broad foundation. But mobile transactions and advertising are rich topics on their own. So where do you focus first?

For many companies, the answer has been getting the ever-popular “iPhone app.” However, people are also looking into mobile-optimized websites which has led to somewhat of a debate in some circles about which is more important. If you’re going to only do one, is it better to make a mobile app or a mobile website? It isn’t really which is more important that is the key. It is which format will help you accomplish your goals.

Apps have a clear advantage. In general, a well-made app can provide a far better user experience than even the best mobile websites are capable of right now, so which is a better business decision should be clear.

More discussion should be focused on cost than mobile app versus mobile website. It isn’t difficult to make a web app that will work well on most smartphones unless the nature of the app complicates the basic process.

However, making just a native iPhone app is usually harder than making an equivalent cross-platform web app. If you want Android and BlackBerry users to be able to have a native app, you often have to build each platform from scratch.

Types of Mobile Apps

Apps can be divided into three categories:

Category 1: Those that are meant to directly generate income.

Custom application development experts create and sell apps that are as broas or as specific as needs require. The income can be generated from mobile apps in several ways: from charging for the app directly, in-app purchases, and subscriptions, or less directly, through advertising (i.e., Angry Birds on Android).

Category 2: Those that are built for purposes of marketing, branding, or customer service.

Custom application development for marketing, branding or customer service. (i.e., Starbucks or Target Stores apps). These are normally free. The point is to get them distributed as widely as possible.

Category 3: Those that are built specific to the needs of a company to improve internal workflow.

These types of applications can be powerful because they don’t just link a mobile device to a “mothership” of information but they sync the information up and give the company the ability to apply changes to data as it happens. For example, an equipment inspector can upload pictures and corresponding specs for pieces of equipment displaying them immediately in a web mart and a property manager can make a vacated property available as soon as his property inspection is complete – each using his custom app on his mobile device.

The goals associated with each of the three types of apps are what determines the requirements and how broad or limited their reach and compatibility must be.

If a custom app for a business tool is only to be used on iPhones, its product map and its development cycle and costs will be far different from the marketing app that is targeted at generation Y.

Example: San Francisco’s de Young museum threw celebration at the release of their official mobile app.

Sounds great, doesn’t it?

Well, not exactly. The app could only be installed if you had an iPhone. The Android, BlackBerry and Windows Phone crowds couldn’t play. Reality is well-illustrated here: An iPhone app only works on – yes – iPhones. The app should have been developed separately for each of the most common platforms used by the museum’s demographic. And while many with iPhones enjoyed the new app, how many more were left out? How much of their market did they miss because of their failure to develop multiple versions?

Worldwide 2012 Smartphone Operating System Market Share

Android - 61.0%

Windows Phone 7/Windows Mobile - 5.2%

iOS/iPhone OS - 20.5%

BlackBerry OS - 6.0%

Others - 7.2%

The decision to develop only for iPhones represented fewer than 20.5% of all mobile phone users.

If this were a situation for a category 1 app where a company controls its demographic by providing only iOS devices for employee use, they then build their app (or apps) to work on that platform and have no concerns about leaving anyone behind.

These statistics completely ignore the impact of any potential rise to stardom for the Android or the Windows Phones 7 or 8.

Consider the Costs and the ROI

The devil is in the details. The cost to do a “set” of mobile apps – can be as much as 5 times what a mobile website would cost. Of course, mobile websites have a fraction of the functionality of a mobile app and therefore they would be worth far less from a productivity – and true business value – perspective.

Of course, if “reach” is your goal, you’re going to be more successful and have a greater ROI if you create a mobile website, in this instance. At a conservative estimate of 234 million U.S. adults with mobile phones, you can reach nearly five times as many people per dollar invested with a mobile website rather than a native mobile app.

Does this mean you shouldn’t do an app? Of course not. Remember, the decision is based on goals. If an app user converts 10 times more frequently, makes employees 10 times more productive, makes products more quickly available to buyers, or gives you a distinct advantage over your competition, the difference is more than justified.

When all is said and done, the difference maker in reaching specific goals is custom development of software applications that define value for businesses. Because each is unique, experience and knowledge in software, business processes and user behavior is a must. I live this daily, as I lead a custom software development team to design applications that help clients set themselves apart in their markets.

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