Apps on iPad

That title is a guaranteed way to start an argument in a meeting. 

It’s a question I’ve asked of many people in meetings and it’s usually met with the same answer: “because ‘x’ has one!”

Let’s add a little context to this situation. In 2008, Apple launched the App Store with iPhone OS 2. The ability to download and install applications to your iPhone (Or iPod Touch) that changed the device in to something new. The apps were not just games but tools. Fast forward almost 6 years and the App Store has paid out over $15 Billion to developers and has built an entire industry. There are over 1 million apps in Apple’s App Store and about the same number in the Google Play App Store for Android devices.

Apps quickly became the ‘new websites’ in the business world; ‘We have to be first!’, ‘We have to get one out there before our competitor!’

Those mentalities lead the way and hundreds (if not thousands) of apps were built and launched, never to be thought of again. There was never any return on investment and the people holding the purse strings decided to cut it out of the budgets and it was left to die.

Sad that it is that many apps wind up in the ‘App Graveyard‘, lost, far beyond the first 2/3 screens on a smartphone, never to be seen. Like search results on the second and third page of Google. This gave apps a bad name to some and were a warning to other. Yet still, the demand comes.

When someone says to me; ‘We need an app.’ The first thing I ask is ‘Why? Oh and because ‘x’ has one is not a valid answer. ‘

This often end the calm section of the conversation and we get in to the meat. I explain that the questions that should be asked are:

  • What do our customers and potential customers want / need?
  • What can we do that doesn’t already exist?
  • What can we do that that’s better than something that does exist?
  • Who’s going to use it and where?

Very often, you’ll have these questions fleshed out and come to the agreement (more often than not) that the vast majority of the requirements can be done with a website. A properly designed website is agnostic of screen sizes and shouldn’t limit what is achievable just because it’s on a smaller screen.

For instance, you want to offer product information and a way to make purchases on mobile. Why have a completely separate sales system in an app that you’ve paid to develop, when your pre-existing online store could do the job?

Perhaps you want to launch product presentations or give training to potential customers. Why not do it with a micro-site with full analytics or use a system like those from Company App?

When you’ve exhausted all of the online and device agnostic options, it’s time to consider dedicated app development. There are excellent examples of apps that could only exist at this time as dedicated apps, such as the Infinity Blade games or the Snapseed image editor.

Is what you can do for your customers as entertaining or useful as those? If so, then an app is what you need.

If there’s one thing to take away from this article, it’s this ‘think before you app’.