Thanks to the gadget boom, almost every business seems to think it needs a smartphone and tablet app to stay in the game. Apps have become the panacea of the internet age.
Whatever your problems, whatever your needs; “there’s an app for that”.
Does your business need an app? No. Your business needs a mobile strategy, quite possibly combined with a social media strategy.
Mobile devices are clearly the future of the internet. Half of all Australians now own a smartphone, while mobile web traffic has already surpassed desktop traffic in some countries.
Completely ignoring handheld devices and the mobile web could turn out to be a costly mistake, especially if your competitors are faster off the mark. Without at least a basic mobile strategy you’ll become invisible to a growing number of customers when and where they need you most.
Your mobile strategy might end up involving an app, but don’t start by chanting “We need an app!” and then work backwards. It’s like going about home repairs by grabbing a hammer before you’ve even looked at what you need to fix.
When it comes to your mobile strategy, you need to think about what you’re trying to achieve and then choose the best tools for the job. Don’t get hung up on the idea that an app is the answer to everything.
Just like any IT project, before you do anything it’s important to sit down and think about what you’re trying to achieve with your mobile strategy.
Why do you need a mobile-friendly presence? Who is it you want to reach? Where and when are they likely to want to interact with you via a mobile device? By what method will they want to reach you? What will they want from you, in that particular time and place? What will you want from them? How will you measure your success and what’s your return on investment?
These are the kinds of questions you need to answer before you even think about investing in an app.
Building an app to simply replicate the information on your website is generally not worth the time and money. You’re perhaps better-off building a separate mobile website which will automatically load on mobile devices, perhaps with the option to revert to the full desktop site.
Alternatively, you might simply give your main website a mobile-friendly makeover.
You don’t need to jump in the deep end, as chances are only a small percentage of your web content accounts for the bulk of your mobile traffic. A smart mobile strategy might be to start by checking your website stats to see which content is most popular with mobile users.
Building a mobile-friendly landing page which is fast to load and offers uncluttered access to the most requested information could be a simple but effective first step in your mobile strategy. The experience will also offer insights that will help determine your next move.
If you’re going to go beyond a website and actually build a mobile app, it has to do something useful rather than simply parrot the information on your website. If you’re after extra functionality, consider whether a feature-rich HTML5 web-based app could meet your needs. Mobile users can create a shortcut to your web app on their home screen, just like an app icon.
The beauty of an HTML5 app is that it’s accessible via any modern smartphone, eliminating the need to develop a separate app for every platform. If you only develop an iPhone app, how long will it be before you’ll need to spend more money on an Android app? What if Windows Phone 8 finds its feet, or another contender comes along? The more platforms you need to cater for, the more attractive a HTML5 web-based app becomes.
Building an app makes the most sense if you need to tap into advanced handset functionality, such as advanced graphics, audio, the on-board camera or GPS tracking for location-based services.
A truly useful app which takes advantage of such smartphone features is far more likely to engage customers and keep them coming back. If you’re going to the effort of building an app, make sure that the people you’re targeting will actually use it.
David Hancock is the founder and managing director of national on-site computer repair and support company, Geeks2U. Founded in 2005 and with a team now over 300 strong, Geeks2U is one of the biggest Australian businesses of its kind.