Over the last year or so here at DiscoverTec, there seems to be more interest from our clients around building a mobile app. I wanted to share some thoughts for businesses out there looking to build a mobile app and what we’ve learned from an agency perspective.
Do you even need one?
More and more mobile apps are added to the iOS and Google Play stores every day. We all have them on our phone and many websites that we visit are prompting us to download and use their mobile app instead. But the first question you need to ask is - does your business even need a mobile app in the first place? What are your goals for a mobile app? What are you trying to accomplish?
Since many newer websites these days are responsive (mobile-friendly), a mobile app might not be necessary. If your main goal is for a better user experience for providing information to your audience, a re-designed mobile friendly site might just do the trick. If some of your goals require tapping into the features of someone’s phone such as GPS location, camera, messaging, etc, which you can’t do through a website, then building a mobile app may be your best route.
How will the mobile app be used?
Once you’ve decided that a mobile app is the way to go, we will need to outline the goals of the mobile app and how they will be used. Some typical goals would be things like the need for GPS tracking for employees out in the field, the ability to take a picture and seamlessly upload it into the app, locate a store or restaurant near me, etc. Each of these features will need to have a more thorough discussion in order to determine how the app will be developed.
For instance, if one of the main features of the app will be the ability to upload lot of images, you will need to determine if there should be a limit to the amount of images a user can upload, is the user able to edit the image before saving it, image size limits, etc. Simply telling your agency that you want to be able to take a picture in the app is usually not enough information for the development team to properly scope and build out the right functionality. Having a thorough discussion early on in the discovery phase can save a tremendous amount of time and money during the project.
How will you manage the app?
One of the often over-looked questions during our mobile app discussions is how will you be managing your app once it is released? These are items such as: How will users be managed? Will content on the app need to be edited or updated? If you are storing data, where will it be stored and do you need to pull reports from that information?
To manage those type of questions, we typically would want to build a web admin site which would give the client the ability to manage, update and report on all things related to their new mobile app. Although this piece is not part of the actual app that users or employees would download, it still needs to be addressed and considered when scoping out and pricing the mobile app.
iOS or Android? Or Both?
Depending on what technologies you are using to build the app, having two versions of the app for iOS and Android can almost double the cost of development. If the app is for only your employees to use, and 95% of the workforce is using iPhones or iPads, then you can probably just develop the app for iOS and convert the remaining 5% of the workforce to an Apple product to cut down on costs.
For mobile apps designed to be used by consumers, building apps for both iOS and Android would be the way to go.
As for which technology to use to actually build the app, there are many available tools out there and many pros and cons for each one. This is where the expertise of the agency and their development team comes in. A reputable agency would select the tools that best fit the goals of the app as well as reflect the skill set of the developers who will be working on the app.
Phased approach or all at once?
Often times a client will have a laundry list of features that they think the users will want in the mobile app. Although we could develop the app with almost every feature you could image, that can lead to a high price tag and longer development time. And to make matters worse, you may come to find out that only half of those features are being used once the app is live.
Usually in the case of an app that has a lot of features and functionality, it is better to go with a phased approach. Start with the handful of features you think your end users will actually use the most and then phase in those other features down the road.
Often times during a beta phase or during the first few months of launching the app, you will get valuable insight and feedback from your initial users on how they use the app as well as some features that they might request that you hadn’t thought of previously. For those items, it makes it a lot easier to add those to a 2nd phase rather than try to release everything at once.
This article just scratches the surface of some of the discussions we’ve had around mobile apps, but hopefully it gives would-be mobile app clients some insights into what to think about before engaging potential agencies.