Does Your Business Need an App?

Is there an app for you? Maybe, but first take a close look at the needs of your business and your customers.

In the business world, going mobile has rapidly evolved from novelty to necessity. And with the explosion of the tablet category, on top of the huge amount of smartphones already in use, many business owners are asking, “Do I need an app?”
Text messages now outnumber e-mails on a daily basis, so society — including your current and potential customers — is undoubtedly mobile. Thus, asking if you need an app to reach them is a logical question.
Depending on how involved your customers are with your business, and depending on how much budget you have for a mobile strategy, you may also consider a simpler (but less fun) solution such as a mobile website.
A mobile website is not nearly as trendy, but it’s cheaper and far more utilized than many apps. A mobile website solution can often help you do much more with less.
So should you go mobile website or mobile application? Both have their pros and cons, so let’s review the two to see what will best satisfy the needs of your business and customers.
Mobile Apps
Let’s clarify that when we’re talking about mobile applications, we mean the type created to promote your business which are generally offered free of charge, as opposed to the apps created with profit as the driving factor. The apps we’re talking about are in some ways similar to your company’s website: they’re free to the public and used to enhance customers’ engagement with your company and lead to a better overall experience.
If you want to look at a few strong corporate apps, check out offerings by Starbucks and Tim Hortons. Tim Hortons’ “TimmyMe” is quite brilliant as it uses GPS to know where you are and provide a map showing the nearest store locations. I wonder if this is really necessary as it seems everywhere I go these days there is a Tim Hortons right there in front of me. Perhaps TimmyMe can be upgraded to provide activities to pass the time while waiting in line?
{advertisement} Before you decide whether you need an app for your customers, look at your marketing strategy and determine how they’d interact with you through it. Pizza Hut’s app lets customers build and order their pizza on the go, but what exactly would an app for Joe’s Plumbing do?
A well-designed, well-built app is valuable, but it’s not cheap. The rule of thumb is to budget about $30,000 for a decent one. A note of caution: there are many different platforms, and if you really want to expand your reach, you may have to develop for each of them. The primary platforms are Android, iOS (Apple), and BlackBerry, so be prepared to triple the above-mentioned $30,000 as an app developed for one system won’t carry over to the other. Apps for Apple’s iPhone are by far the most abundant (over 500,000 at the most recent count), but the market share is not as large as the hype would imply. As of September 2011, 20.1 million Canadians owned mobile phones, and 8 million of those were smartphones. Of those, some 30 per cent were Apple devices. So you could spend $30,000 on an iPhone app and reach less than 10 per cent of your potential audience — people who already own smartphones plus those who might be considering upgrading from a traditional mobile phone.
Mobile Websites
Based on cost, I recommend you consider who you want to reach and how interactive your message really needs to be. If it is just about getting your basic message, location, hours, etc., out to the public, I recommend a mobile website. But on the other hand, you know the tech industry is growing exponentially when a website is seen as a static, boring alternative.
A mobile website is essentially a scaled-down version of your normal website and is created with the small screen and data size limitations that mobile devices provide. The last thing you want is a data-intensive, video-laden website sent to someone on a limited data plan. A mobile website will have greater uptake by customers than an app, as they don’t have to download anything. Instead, they visit a pared-down version of your website. Although the vast majority of apps are virus-free, there is still concern that they can carry malware.
Also, with a mobile website, you don’t have to worry about devices running different software platforms being unable to access your data. Just like a Mac and a PC can go to the same website, as a general rule an Android and an Apple smartphone will almost identically display the same cross-platform website. If your budget is limited, you can quickly see where spending a lot of money to create different apps is far more expensive than a mobile website that reaches 90 per cent of all smartphones.
Keep in mind, though, that although web browsing is becoming more and more prevalent on smartphones, the majority of users are going to a website quickly for a specific piece of information, and the fact that they are mobile likely means they want to know something about you right now such as your location, wait times, prices, etc.
It was reported in the Globe and Mail in October that smartphone owners have a 64 per cent success rate in carrying out tasks on a mobile site as opposed to a 58 per cent rate when accessing a regular website with their smartphone. Although the difference is only six per cent, that represents a significant number of less-frustrated customers — and that alone is worth the consideration of a mobile website.
In summary, go back to the marketing strategy that has worked for you in the past, and if it’s simply informational, seriously consider a mobile website. This is critical, as smartphone-packing customers are literally walking past your shop right now. If you want a more interactive experience, and feel you need an app, determine who your customers are, and if possible what smartphones they most likely use.
The temptation to create an app as popular as Angry Birds is enticing, but spend that kind of money with few results, and you will be flipping a different kind of bird when you get the bill!
Doug Caton is a Victoria IT manager.