To app or not to app
by N Scheidegger

So you want to build an app

Delivering fast and efficient customer service is becoming an increasingly harder benchmark to meet. When your business is built on relationships the problem becomes even more complex. How do you retain that critical human contact but still offer the convenience of online?

Self-service is usually a good place to start. You can offer the basics to clients for convenience, but still require direct contact when more complex requirements come up. Many businesses reach this point, and look to building an app.

If this is you, then read on.

The app vs the mobile website

The key thing to understand here is: even though clients may be asking for an app, this isn’t necessarily what they’re really after. Most of the time what they’re really saying is “Can I just do this on my mobile?”

And here lies the really pointy end of this discussion. Should you really be building an app, or can you get away with a mobile site? Thanks to advances in technologies, developers these days are able to build mobile websites that look and feel just like an app – and sometimes even behave like one.

Building a mobile site has a number of advantages over an app:

  • They are cheaper to build and support: with websites you just have to build one set of code, and it can theoretically run indefinitely with little or no enhancements on multiple browsers. Apps require constant updates (every 12 months typically to meet app store requirements) and need to be built and maintained separately for IPhone and Android at the very least. This means higher upfront costs and higher running costs.
  • They can be a good test run: if you don’t have self-service functionality on your site, jumping straight to an app can be a stretch. Add functionality to your site first, and then track your Google analytics to understand how many customers are really interacting with it on a mobile.
  • Users can find and access it straight away: often the biggest hurdle with apps is getting users to download it. Mobile sites tend to have broader reach because they are easy to find and can be accessed immediately.
  • They can now be built so that users can’t tell the difference: technology has advanced to the point where mobile sites can use features like GPS, click-to-call and SMS that were previously the domain of native apps. Developers can even write mobile apps that allows users to be logged in automatically (similar to cookies, but the login process is automatic). If users pin the site to their home screen, they could theoretically click on the tile and never know the difference between a real app and your ‘app’.

When you should actually build an app

 Of course, there remain some advantages to apps. The key ones are:

  • I need users to be able to access content offline
  • Users will be accessing this content regularly (think daily, weekly or monthly)
  • I need to use features built into the phone, like the Camera app
  • My app will use a lot of resources or interactivity (think games)

If any of these apply to you, then investing in an app may be the way to go. If you're still not sure, build the business case for both and see where the value really lies for your business.



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