There’s an app for that

by / Wednesday, 23 March 2011 / Published in Blog

On more than one occasion I’ve argued that the future is one where the vast majority of people accessing the net will do so from mobile devices.

PC sales were recently eclipsed by the sale of smartphones and it’s unlikely that this trend will reverse… ever. So for businesses determined to secure leads and sales on the web is it a future reliant on dedicated Apps? Not necessarily.

If you own an iPhone, tablet or smartphone the chances are you’ve downloaded a bunch of different apps. There are plenty of really good ones that help you do all sorts of stuff. But, and this is the key, how many of them do you regularly use after downloading?

If it’s anything like my experience, you’ll have dozens of apps on your phone that never see use after the first initial novelty of trying them out.In my case, apart from contacts, podcasts, phone and texts, the next most used app is probably the rather good Opera Mini browser.

But it’s not for a lack of apps already installed. There’s something like 100 of them and installing new ones couldn’t be easier.

Now clearly this is just one personal account of how I use my smartphone, but there does seem to be lots of anecdotal evidence that this is far from unique. More recently studies appear to show that we generally curtail our use to a just a handful of apps and the rest are rarely, if ever, accessed.

Let’s not overlook the fact that smartphone use is still in its early stages of adoption. In the future a majority will be using smartphones but that’s a while off. And that’s why this means businesses rushing to get on the app bandwagon ought to think carefully about the justification for doing so. Whilst smart devices will almost certainly become the dominant way we access services online, right now the scale simply isn’t there.

Yet, in reading the press you’d be forgiven for coming to a very different conclusion. Newspaper and magazine owners have been falling over themselves to develop slick looking apps for the iPad, hailing it as the saviour of the publishing industry. That’s pretty unlikely.

But, just as with many other digital bandwagons that came before, quite a few businesses now seem to feel that without a strategy to be on these devices, the boat will be missed. Not true.

If a business has an existing web strategy it may well be that it has most of what’s required in place already. Particularly for smartphones, typically with a physically small screen, the need for a mobile friendly version of your web offering is worthy of investigation if one isn’t already in place.

After all, why would you choose to invest cash in developing a dedicated app to essentially ape what your website does already? It’s just another cost to the business and another platform that will require attention.

The web is based on open standards which means that if you stick to what works you can be reasonably certain that your investment in a solid web platform will translate to an equally functional version for smaller screens running through mobile browsers, whether it’s an iPhone or Android device. That’s especially the case now with ever more powerful smartphones and increasingly slick browsers that conform to the same standards as browsers on PCs.

So, if you’ve been planning to develop an App for smart devices take a good long look at the reasons why and make sure you’re not reinventing a wheel you’ve already built. It might be ‘cool’ to have your very own app for iPhone or Android, but it may make far more sense to stick to a web offering and make sure it’s mobile friendly.

It’s either that or creating apps for the various flavours of mobile and tablet OSs which will be on the market in the coming years. Do you really want to go down that road?

Ralph
@ralphenn

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