Think of this scenario; you launch a brand new mobile application, it's in iTunes and you've even made it available on Android. Great, you've just launched a product competing with 725,000 others in iTunes, plus another 675,000 in the Google Play store (Android market). How is your application going to get recognized amongst the thousands of other mobile applications? Chances are that it's not.
This scenario reminds me of my shareware application writing days when I had programs available for both Mac and PC in the mid to late nineties. Shareware was a way of distributing desktop based software on a free to try basis where if someone likes your application and found it valuable, they'd send you money. It was kind of like a donation request, but sometimes paying the shareware fee meant the user could unlock additional features and get priority upgrades and support.
Competition for attention was very fierce in the shareware days just as it is today for mobile applications. You launched software which competed with thousands of other applications from one person developers to large commercial enterprises. With mobile applications, you're competing with single developers to giant software corporations that have invested millions into product development. How do you expect your application to do any better under this scenario?
So should you just throw out your mobile strategy? Of course not because mobile internet usage is posed to surpass desktop internet usage in the next few years. Steve Jobs famously said at D8, the All Things Digital tech show in 2010, "I think PCs are going to be like trucks. Less people will need them. And this is going to make some people uneasy.” I took that to mean that he thinks of PC's like trucks and mobile devices like cars. When you need to do some heavy lifting, you bring out the truck. However, most people drive cars and can get away without having a truck.
I'm going to take that analogy a step further. Mobile applications will become the trucks and mobile optimized websites will be the cars of the future. So what does this mean for a small business that wants to launch a mobile application? Let's look at a few reasons to launch a mobile application (the truck) versus the mobile optimized website (the car).
Reasons to Build and Launch a Mobile Application:
1) Your mobile application takes advantage of mobile device hardware - If what you're trying to accomplish requires the hardware functionality built in to a mobile device to make it either more convenient or a requirement of conducting business with you, then building a mobile application makes a lot of sense. For example, via a smartphone's built in GPS sensor, you could deliver highly localized content. This makes sense for companies that provide location based information to their users. Two other examples would be if your application needed to access contacts or other data located on the smartphone directly in order to interact with it or you wanted to access the built in camera to upload photos directly from your application.
2) Your mobile application increases user productivity - Let's face, while the Web has come a long way, there are limitations to productivity from a built in browser. Sometimes you may need to cut and paste data from different applications or websites. When doing this on a mobile phone, multitasking can be painful. Applications that make this easier help the user input data quicker. Or, let's say you need to store data offline because you don't always have a good connection, allowing data to be saved locally, manipulated, then uploaded later is helpful, especially for frequent flyers.
3) Your business is used by your customers frequently - If your company has come to be relied upon by your customers as part of their daily routine, then developing a mobile application can make it more convenient for them to do business with you. Those businesses that have an active, daily or even several times a day interaction with their customers can use their mobile applications to create a more intimate experience.
Reasons NOT to Build and Launch a Mobile Application:
1) Your mobile application is simply an "appified" version of your website - If people primarily do basic things with your website such as logging in, paying bills and reading content, it may be tempting to build a custom mobile application, but completely unnecessary. If your mobile application doesn't do anything that can't already be done via a web browser, save yourself valuable time and resources and go with a mobile optimized version of your website instead.
2) Mobile application development is expensive, time consuming and has to be constantly maintained across several different platforms - Mobile application development comes with a price. Most applications cost anywhere from $5,000 to $10,000 on the low end to build natively per platform. Should you want to develop for iOS, Android and Windows phone, take those costs and double or triple them. Fortunately, there are technologies that allow you to build once and deploy across multiple platforms, but they have their limitations. Once you've developed your mobile application, your work isn't done. As new versions of phone operating systems are released you may need to issue updates, bug fixes and security patches to keep up with changing technology. This adds additional burden and costs beyond the initial development costs.
3) Downloading your mobile application is a barrier to conducting business with you - A highly overlooked consideration when it comes to mobile applications is that people are already getting fatigued by the number of applications they have on their phones. Most people only use a few applications on a daily basis. If yours isn't one of them, it's just another application that they'd have to download and forget about. If your customers aren't constantly in touch with your business, say if they don't visit every day or several times per day, then having a mobile application becomes another barrier they'd have to seek out in order do business with you.
Like mentioned above, if your application doesn't need to use a smartphone's hardware or doesn't make the user significantly more productive, then it's pointless to waste valuable resources building a mobile application.
A Mobil- Friendly Website Can Add Significant Value
While mobile application development for your business may not make sense, a mobile-friendly website can go a long way toward making the experience of doing business with your company much improved. Mobile devices don't have as much screen real estate as desktop computers. Therefore, sites that have a lot of rich content and large graphics don't necessarily translate well on a mobile device. Plus, people on mobile devices are usually in a hurry and want access to the most important information quickly. They don't want to wait for large graphics to load, nor do they want to browse a bunch of superfluous information to get what they want.
A mobile-friendly website can be designed to automatically adapt to a mobile device. This way, a smaller, more efficient version of your website will be displayed providing the visitor with access to the most important information about your company very quickly. Since a mobile version is designed for viewing on smaller screens, navigation buttons and important content can be made larger so that it's easier to read. A mobile version doesn't require any special downloads or create barriers to doing business with your company.
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|About the author
Mark Cenicola is the president and CEO of BannerView.com, developers of BannerOS, the software that helps companies turn their websites into powerful business tools. Mark is also the author of the book "The Banner Brand – Small Business Success Comes from a Banner Brand – Build it on a Budget." Read Mark's full biography. You can find him tweeting on Twitter and starring in videos for the company's YouTube channel.
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