Mobile App: Does my business need one?

Time and time again, I have perspective clients push for a native mobile app on iOS or Android without stopping to think if a mobile app is the proper strategy for their industry and business objectives.   While native apps can have several key advantages over mobile-optimized websites, it is about using the right tool for the right project. When considering your mobile strategy, you should ask yourself three key questions to see if a mobile app is the best choice for your business:
  1. Do I have functionality or information that can be better served in a mobile app rather than on a responsive website?For example, if you need to use a mobile device’s camera or wish to provide access to information even when the user does not have Internet access, it is much less costly and flexible to utilize a mobile app for this.  Likewise, if your website traffic is overwhelmingly mobile users (insert your analytics software here), you may wish to consider a mobile app since you may have a demand and market for such an app.   On the other hand, if you wish to show less information or have a different layout to the user, responsive web design is the best solution at a fraction of the cost and effort of a mobile app.
  2. Will potential users of the mobile app have strong enough incentive to download an app?There are over 1.5 million apps currently in the Apple App store yet thousands upon thousands of these are not actively downloaded.  Without the proper incentive and marketing strategy, it can be difficult to funnel users to download a mobile app compared to going to a particular website (getting traffic to websites can be tough enough as is!).   Likewise, if you are not providing a unique experience or function on your mobile app and it is only replicates what you have on your website, this can disengage the user to download your mobile app.   Lastly, if your traffic or user base is particularly small and less tech-savvy, it may not be worth the higher costs to develop and maintain a mobile app versus just having a responsive website.
  3. Do I have the budget to not only develop a native mobile app, but maintain and support the app?While responsive websites can be just as costly an app, more times than not, you will need to allocate additional dollars and time to developing and supporting a mobile application.   Since mobile applications natively run on devices rather than in a web browser, you should consider that you may need to build the app for each platform (iOS, Android, etc.), leading to additional costs.  Each of these platforms has its own nuances and app store process that requires proper configuration and licensing.  This is contrary to responsive websites where you must only meet today’s web standards that are standardized across web browsers.

I never wish to deter clients from developing apps as they can engage and convert users into real customers in ways that responsive websites sometimes cannot.   But if your business is not positioned to take advantage of what makes mobile apps unique, you are far better off throwing your dollars and efforts on a robust, responsive website for your mobile strategy.