Let’s talk about apps
Jul 9, 2015
Building upon Bryan’s excellent post about online system architecture, let’s talk about mobile apps, just one of the avenues in the multi-channel approach Bryan mentioned.
Do you even need it?
It seems like everyone has a mobile app these days. Everything from a Tinder for dogs to an app that helps you drive in a more eco-friendly way can be found on the Apple app store. The real question is, do you need one?
The answer isn’t always so easy. Sure, apps are a great way to increase the visibility of your content and message, but depending on what you need, the development costs can dramatically increase. Instead of an app made for devices, it may be a better use of your budget to make a responsive web site and market it. Just because you’ve built an app doesn’t mean people will use it. It’s very important to do proper market and user research to determine the best course of action.
So, you need an app. What now?
Native applications are built for specific platforms and usually have the best performance on the device. They can usually be used without an internet connection (unless it’s something like Facebook or Netflix), and frequently have a richer UI and experience.
Native apps require developers who are proficient in both the programming languages needed for the platform, as well as the software development kit (SDK). This can lead to a higher price if you want to develop an app for iOS and Android devices, since you’ll typically need two specialist developers for each platform.
Web apps are usually not as rich of an experience compared to native applications, but times are changing. Web applications are so commonplace now, that you may not even realize you’re using one. Twitter, Airbnb, and Google Maps are constantly blurring the line between “web site” and “web application”.
Hybrid applications are the “jack of all trades, master of none” solution to app development. Using platforms like Phonegap, Ionic, or the IBM MobileFirst Platform a developer can make an application with web technologies, and translate it into a native app for distribution. Web developers can use their current skillset, and produce something that ends up in the App store.
Hybrid applications have many of the same hardware access that a native app would have. A hybrid app can use a devices’ GPS, camera, contact list, and gyroscopes to provide experiences that are closer to native apps than to a web site or app.
The tradeoff, however, is that hybrid apps tend to have certain performance restrictions or issues. A hybrid application is essentially a web app running inside of a browser, inside of a native application. This russian nesting doll of a system architecture can dramatically change the feel and speed of an application.
So, you’ve got mobile app. Now what?
Everything’s built and ready to go, but how do we get your super awesome application to your super awesome users?
Distributing a native application usually requires going through either the Apple App Store or the Google Play Store for public consumption. If an application is internal to your company, there are various mobile device management (MDM) solutions available.
Distributing a web app is no different than distributing a web site. Users can go to a URL and use the app. That’s it!
If you build it they will (hopefully) come…
Just because you’ve built and released your app into the wild, it doesn’t mean users will immediately flock to it. A proper marketing plan is necessary to elicit downloads and the increase the amount of traction your app (and its content) will receive. Post-launch strategy is just as important as the initial user research.
But wait! There’s more!
So, you’ve got your mobile app out there, people are using it, and everything’s great, right? What’s the next step? Updates. There’s bound to be pesky bugs, and improvements that can be made. Software goes through updates all the time. Chrome and Firefox update themselves every six weeks. Netflix and Hulu update content every day. Things move quickly in the app ecosystem, and your super awesome app you released a year ago may not appeal to your users anymore – especially if it’s a public-facing app.
Apps are a living, breathing entity. They need nourishment to survive. This means regular updates to the content, design, and even the marketing to properly keep it thriving.
I'm an experienced developer who has built web and mobile applications for companies ranging from higher education institutions, to various Fortune 500 companies. I've helped shaped many products ranging from pharmaceutical sales aids and interactive convention booths, to financial transaction systems and real-time package notification applications.