Sunday, 4 August 2013

Do I need an app?

This is the question I hear from many organizations these days. Whether they’re selling a product or whether they’re offering a service or even just as a way of getting ahead of the competition, they all ask whether they need an app for smartphones and tablet users. And although, at first glance, the answer would seem to be yes – it is 2013 after all – it’s important to drill down to find out exactly what each organization really wants.

So, let’s think about what question having an app is the answer to. For some organizations, it’s simply ticking the box saying people can download our app. But that begs the question about what are they going to use the app for, and, perhaps more importantly, will they ever use the app? We’ve all got apps that we excitedly downloaded and just sit there unused on our smartphones and tablets! And that isn’t good PR.

For other organizations, an app is a way of saving money. Think about it, if a client comes into your office and speaks to someone, let’s say that interaction costs £15. If they phone up, let’s say that costs £7.50, but if they do everything online, that costs, say £1. So an organization that moves its customers and potential customers online will save huge amounts of money. Having an app allows people to buy an item, book a visit, or whatever from their phone as easily as from a laptop.

For many people, online banking, online shopping, booking something, Facebooking, Tweeting, texting, etc are very familiar and, these days, second nature. People who aren’t quite so mobile-savvy are more likely to pick up a phone and ring than they are to use other alternatives such as choosing from a menu on their TV and trying to type a message using the TV remote control.

The next question for organizations to ask is whether they want to develop an app and continue with their Web site, or whether they want just a mobile Web site. People familiar with CS6 Dreamweaver will know that the software allows ‘fluid’ design, so users can create a style sheet that applies to smartphones, tablets, and standard Web pages. The same text appears on all three devices, but the layout adjusts – depending on how the designer wants it to look. One thing to bear in mind at this stage is that whether you choose an app or mobile Web site, users will expect a very high standard. And if their transaction doesn’t work first time, they will probably not bother trying again. So whatever a company chooses, they need to get it right.

If you do choose the app route, then your organization will need at least two of them – one for Android and one for Apple devices. And then you may want a Windows app, and a Blackberry app, and who knows how many other variants may be required.

Although an app designed for a device will probably be easier to use, using a mobile Web site means the look-and-feel will be the same on every device and will be available on every device (even the more obscure ones) immediately. This is called being platform agnostic. Another advantage of an app is that data could be browsed offline. But with the prevalence of wifi hot spots these days, that’s not such a big deal. Of course, regular users might be happy with an app, but a casual browser may not want to download an organization’s app for a single use. For the organization, they can push out information using the app, which they can’t with a Web site – unless people sign up for the e-newsletter.

A simple compromise is to build an app that takes people to a useful landing page on your mobile Web site. And make sure it works

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