Tips For Building A Mobile App & Why You Want To Have One

Smartphone by Steefafa/FlickrChances are that you have a smartphone. And I’m not just talking about an iPhone, but also an Android device, Blackberry or even a Windows Phone. And you’re probably using it for something way more important than simply making a phone call. Just this weekend, Apple announced that it sold it’s 10 billionth app from the Apple store. This should give you an idea about the power behind having a mobile app. And if the common person is heavily invested in having mobile apps, shouldn’t the next logical thought be that your company should have one?

If your company is indeed interested in branching out into the mobile scene beyond what it once was with smart codes and text messaging, then there are some things you should consider when you build one. Over the past few months, I came across two great articles about mobile app development that I thought would be relevant here – one from Mashable’s Jolie O’Dell from the American Express OpenForum and another in the Search Engine Strategies (SES) magazine for their San Francisco conference.

Choose the right platform to target: Don’t think that you should go after them all in one fell swoop because it doesn’t seem efficient or cost-effective enough to do. Just like developing a website that looks the same across multiple browsers, with mobile apps, there are tricks on how you develop something for the Android OS, iPhone OS and even the other compatible devices. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be a consistent standard that will let you develop an app that has a “one size fits all”. Often times, people develop for either an iPhone or for Android devices based on what their product is so that it – like the iPhone because it has a larger market share or for Android because there are multiple devices that support the OS. Regardless, do your research when choosing your platform.

The type of application is also important: This point comes from the SES article and is perfectly valid – do you want to develop a native application, which will leverage the specific functionality of the platform or make a web app that will operate and render inside the mobile browser that comes with your phone? Either choice offers advantages and disadvantages, but it really depends on what you expect your user experience will be and your costs will reflect that as well.

Understand that it’s not going to be like viewing a site on a monitor: Simply creating an app that is your website isn’t good enough. You need to be aware of the design that goes into your app that will properly convey your information – it’s more than taking your website and condensing it into a mobile device. Pay attention to what important information you want and understand that people’s displays and interactions with their phones are different than what they might do with their computers. It’s suggested that you keep it very simple and succinct in your first attempt at a mobile app – don’t try and release all the features you want – roll them out incrementally and always strive to improve on your app.

Update! Update! Update! This is basically what was said in the last point. Don’t be complacent with your app. Remember that there are thousands of apps out there in the marketplace (and not just in the Apple app store, either!). We’re always competing for attention and one thing to keep in mind is that successful apps release updates multiple times a year – new content being refreshed that motivates people to keep using it. Having something that is static and immobile may not be something that keeps them wanting to come back for more.

Google App Inventor for Android

To that end, now that we have some basic steps for evaluating whether or not we want to build a mobile app, let’s take a look at some other important steps, as taken from Ms. O’Dell’s (@jolieodell) post on the American Express OpenForum blog.  Namely, it’s not just that we develop these tools in the dark. There are some great tools out there that will help you create your own app or at least offer you the resource, like above. If you are developing an app for the Android OS, then you should know that the folks at Google have created an App Inventor that will let you “do-it-yourself”. Ms. O’Dell also points out there are other DIY tools for other platforms too like AppBreader for the iPhone or BuildanApp, SwebApps, etc.

And while building mobile apps can be pretty costly, there are smart ways that you can trim down your expenses by going through established agencies or perhaps even hiring contractors/developers that work on different pay scales. By looking at independent contractor service sites like oDesk or Elance, you’ll get a better idea at their rates and skill level that you can use – maybe even find someone affordable that you can build a long-term relationship with.

Think about security: I’m not really a big fan about mobile banking even though I’m sure that it’s pretty safe. However, do you think about all the times people have lost their phones and asked for your number? Imagine if your phone was lost and were still logged in. This could be said for your email accounts, social network logins, etc. When you’re developing a mobile application, pay attention to what information is passed and how secure your app is so that people won’t get fed up with it or feel that it’s unsafe.

Information usage is definitely important: You’re not just going to push out your mobile app and hope people pick it up, right? When people use it, do you only care about the number of times it has been downloaded? Will you be tying it together with some other campaigns or making it help increase your sales like how Starbucks has by allowing you to purchase coffee using their mobile app? If you’re going to tie it back to some sales function, have you thought about all possible occurrences or needs?

These are some takeaways that you might want to look at when you’re developing a mobile app. If you’ve developed one for your business, what are some pitfalls or tips that you would share with others who hope to create their own?

Photo Credit: steefafa / flickr