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Why are you developing a mobile app?

on October 25, 2010

What are we doing on mobile?

It’s one of the most common questions heard. It’s often asked as a kind of a reflex.

We find ourselves asking that “What are we doing in mobile?” question just because “it’s the thing to do.”

Mobile is hot.

Everyone has a mobile device.

We have to be in mobile.

What are we going to do in mobile?

But stop and ask yourself, why do you want to be on mobile?

11 questions to ask yourself before you choose to develop a mobile app

How will someone enjoy your service better or differently in mobile? – Is there something about the mobile experience that can heighten the value of your application? When going from the desktop to mobile, the mobile version is often a crippled version because both input and output are limited. Is that sufficient for your application? Would people want/need to have access to your/their content through your app if they were out and about?

Do you just want to be in mobile because it’s the flavor of the day? – I know others have hammered you with the question, “What are you doing in mobile?” and the peer pressure is getting to you. You just have to have something in mobile. Is that the real reason you want a mobile app?

Do you just want to be in mobile to extend the reach of your brand? – It’s understandable that you would want to be in mobile to extend the reach of your brand. How awesome would it be if people had your application on them wherever they went. You could continue the relationship with the customer when they’re away from the desktop. That would be phenomenal marketing and it would keep your customers. Once they’ve installed the application, there’s no additional cost to get them to come to your site/application. Of course you want to build a mobile app, until you start asking yourself these other questions.

Would people really want to put your app on their phone? – According to IPG Labs, average heavy mobile app users only have about ten apps installed on their phone. While people may go to an unlimited number of websites, the reality of mobile app use is actually very limited. Your app is vying for a spot on the user’s phone. Are you creating a compelling reason for the user to download, install, and use your app?

Can your brand withstand a half-assed mobile app? – Oh I know you think your mobile app is going to be awesome. But chances are version 1.0 of your mobile app is going to suck just like version 1.0 of your website sucked. You remember that pile of garbage? For most of us, the first version of our website was crappy (remember “brochureware?”), and the same has been true with mobile apps which often just look like an advertisement for the company’s website or desktop application.

At the early stages of development, when you’re making mistakes, a website is more beneficial than a highly personal and intrusive mobile application that a user elects to install and keep on their phone. If you do create a half-assed mobile app (likely at the beginning), even if it’s a short term experiment, it can do long term damage to your brand. Is it worth it?

Does your opinion of other applications decrease when they don’t have a mobile version? – While a crappy mobile app can do damage to your brand, the lack of one will probably not affect your brand at all, unless it’s critical to your application that you have a mobile component.

Do you need a mobile app or just a mobile-optimized website? – If what you’re trying to do is create a mobile app for your content site, wouldn’t it be better just to create a mobile-optimized website rather than a whole new mobile app?

Do you have access to great developer talent in mobile? – This is a critical issue. If you don’t have the access to talent you’re going to either have to hire a recruiter, spend time looking through tech job boards, cull through resumes, and conduct interviews.

Do you know how to gauge a mobile developer’s talent? – If you’ve never built a mobile app before, or haven’t spent time in that world, your ability to judge talent will be suspect and that unfortunately is going to hurt you down the line.

Are you ready to find the talent and spend the time and money to develop across multiple mobile platforms: iPhone, Android, BlackBerry, and Windows Phone? – The advantage of a web app or desktop app is you don’t have to build across multiple platforms. Even if you’re developing a desktop application, a single PC application will reach 90 percent of your audience. Not the case with mobile. If you want that kind of reach you’ll have to develop across three different application environments. And unfortunately, “build once, run everywhere” was only the promise of Java. It doesn’t work across multiple platforms and it doesn’t work even within Android with its multiple versions across multiple handsets with different functionality and different screen sizes.

Watch my interview with Lino Tadros, CEO of Falafel Software talking about developing across multiple platforms.

Are you willing to spend the money to reach the audience you want? – You need to develop across all these different platforms to get the effective reach you want, plus you’ll have to spend money marketing your application and convincing people to install it on their device.

Before you ask the “What are we doing in mobile?” question, make sure you’ve answered all these above questions first. Mobile is not just the flavor of the day, it’s a major business decision that has new costs and risks associated with it just like anything else.

Creative Commons photo attributions to Kevin Lim (inju), Robert Occhialini (bump), Judy Breck, marcopako.

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