We help professional service firms with websites and other marketing needs, but from time to time we are asked about app development. The question sometimes appears as part of a website RFP, often cryptically phrased as “Please break out the added cost to design and build an app” with no further information about the app’s purpose, functionality or marketing goals. If you or someone at your firm thinks you need an app, my first question is always “Why?” Read on to determine if an app is right for you.
App Versus Web
With the prevalence of responsive websites today, it should be as easy for visitors to browse your website’s content on their phone as it is on their desktop computer. So, if your app’s goal is to simply share the same content that’s on your website, it really does not make sense. But if you have an idea that is specifically geared to an app’s benefits, it may be worthwhile to build one.
Before You Dive In
A mobile application should serve a very different purpose than your website. If you have an idea for an app, consider these two questions:
- Even if your app will be free, why would someone take the time to download it?
- If they do download it, why will they continue to use it and not delete?
If you don’t have a specific idea for an app yet, but you or others at the firm want to develop one, coming up with a unique concept is often challenging. The last thing you want to do is spend significant time and money developing an app that no one uses.
Three Main Benefits
In order for an app to be successful, it must offer at least one of these three benefits:
- Practical content that people need regularly (like a weather app, calendar, address book, etc.) For a professional service firm, this might be something specific to your industry, service offerings, or thought leadership.
- A fun activity that is entertaining (like a game or social networking app.) For service firms, this might be a game you invent that somehow relates to your core area of expertise and simply helps you stay top-of-mind with your clients and prospects in an engaging way.
- Functionality that is only available on a phone, not a website (like the QR code reader, compass, camera, etc.) For example, if your firm works in or deals heavily with real estate matters, you might develop an app that leverages the phone’s native geolocation capabilities.
Native apps are real, true applications that are downloaded onto your phone (from the Apple App Store, GooglePlay store, etc.) Websites and “web apps,” on the other hand, require a browser like Safari, Chrome, or one of the others to navigate.
Native mobile apps can be quite a bit more costly to design and develop than websites and web apps. Each mobile platform uses a different native programming language, with its own unique features and problems, so developing for all types of mobile phones gets expensive. You don’t have to offer your app for every type of phone, but you will certainly want to develop for the two main platforms, Android and iOS.
If you are requesting bids on a mobile app project, be aware that some companies may propose an “app” that is not native. Although they may seem like a native app, and can be downloaded like one, web apps can’t utilize the majority of your phone’s native functionality like the camera, scanner, and so on. Apple has started looking more closely at web apps, and not accepting them as readily into their app store.
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Vanessa’s article first appeared in SMPS Boston’s Outlook, March 5th .