Do you really need an app?

Setting up and establishing an online business now requires more time and effort compared to a decade or two ago. Back then, you could create a website for desktop computers, which worked for a lot of businesses. Nowadays, users have a larger range of devices to choose from, from internet accessible smart TVs to smart phones, each with differing screen sizes and resolutions. But don’t forget tablet devices or desktop computers, which now boast a greater selection of browsers to use.

Creating a website used to be the main, if not sole, activity to establish an online presence. With the prevalence of social networks, however, the significance of search engine optimisation, and introduction of (native) apps, creates a whole host of tasks and questions. Which social network should I use? How do I optimise my website? Should I create my app for iOS, Android, or for both?

Businesses that experience significant growth and an increasing user base can feel the need to develop their technology and adopt a ?do not want to be left out? mentality when it comes to creating and releasing an app.

But key questions that need to be asked from the offset include:

What will the app do and what will the app achieve? 

There are great mobile sites out there that give the user exactly what they need. Identifying what the app will achieve is crucial, rather than just thinking ?our users need an app? – even if other companies in the same industry are launching apps of their own.

What features will the app provide? 

What could the app provide if the user did not have access to the internet? Is the user actively engaging with the website on a regular basis, and could tasks like logging in be made easier / skipped? These issues could still potentially be addressed by the mobile site. Although creating a list of planned features for the app and benefits can seem like more administrative work, it can help form the backbone of analysing whether the app is really needed.

Many businesses that have launched apps know it is not a straightforward process.

There is no release and approval process for a website – you can edit web pages as and when needed; for native apps, you can be at the mercy of the giants, such as Apple or Google. This can cause delays or, in the worst case scenario, the app is not available to download. Data collection from apps can create issues. How to handle sensitive data (including storing, accessing and deleting) and knowing how to deal with it, for example, shouldn?t be something that is only looked at after launching the app and having received a complaint.

Cost is undoubtedly a factor that will feature in many businesses as a deciding factor as to if and when they will create a native app. The costs between creating an app for iOS compared to Android can differ significantly. But the key is not which is cheaper, the question is which will be used more? What proportion of your audience currently use a mobile or tablet? If only a small minority of your users have Android smartphones, is it worthwhile making an app – even if it is cheaper? You may be able to attract a few new users, but the most immediate target audience would be those who know and already use your product / service.

Building an app is a way to keep up to date with technology, but it?s also a way that customers can be left behind. If a major change is made to the business model or how the product or service works, users can?t be forced to upgrade to the latest version of the app. These users don?t want to experience bugs or issues, simply because they are using an older version. Therefore, the whole process and functionality of how the app works in isolation, but also combined with other platforms, should be reviewed to ensure no-one is left behind.

Launching an app is not a short-term process; just like with a website, it should be reviewed on an ongoing basis to see if it is fulfilling its objectives. It would be unwise to launch the app and immediately move onto other projects. Analysis on what users like and don?t like are valuable to future improvements, including the app, all versions of the website and to the business as a whole. Of course, this doesn?t come free of charge and shouldn?t be ignored or passed as an afterthought post-launch. Analytics can affect how the app is built, so it’s better to identify what is needed at the start of the project. How can you measure performance if the criteria for success (or failure) is not identified?

Businesses can get caught up with the notion of keeping up with technology, and even feel obligated to release apps, but they are similar to any other projects within the company. If it doesn?t serve a genuine business purpose that is useful, then it?s probably time, money and effort that could have been spent more wisely.

Gavin Chan is an online marketing manager at MyBuilder, helping UK homeowners find local recommended tradesmen.

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