Want a Mobile App? Think Strategy First

By April 19, 2016Blog, Learn
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When our clients have an idea and come to Leafcutter for mobile app development, the first thing they do is ask us if we can design and build it for you. Of course the answer is always going to be “yes!”, but the best question they should ask first is “will this work for us?”

Mobile apps are a fantastically versatile and personal set of technologies that have unique applications not covered by web and other digital technology. At the same time, they do have limitations in terms of screen real estate, the download process and comparative ability to easily update and access information. There is also the consideration of the extra expense and the need to support different platforms, which depending on the use case can become a significant factor.

When should I develop an app?

There are a number of features and use cases of that justify an app; below are some of the most common ones that we have observed:

  1. When the information is constantly updated and useful – for example, a news service like the Sydney Morning Herald or BBC News with a large volume of content both have extensive, well designed and useful apps. There is also a potential revenue extension here to limit some content to paid users (for example New Scientist), which is more easily facilitated through apps.
  2. When there is a social or collaborative aspect to the service – Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and other social networking applications that rely on the mobility and always on nature of mobile applications to create dynamic conversations and interactions between users separated by time and distance.
  3. Where you need to push important updates/reminders directly to the user – for instance the calendar app, or the Bravecto Reminder app, where users need to take action on a specific time or day.
  4. When you want to use the camera or GPS as part of the app functionality – the hardware features of the device are easiest to use and access from a native app.
  5. When you need the power of native hardware acceleration and performance – primarily for gaming and video/audio editing applications, accessing the hardware directly gives you better performance for resource intensive applications.
  6. When you can create an experience that relies on mobility and physical context – apps like Run Keeper and the suite of Nike Training apps rely on the ability to track movement in the physical world to be useful.
  7. When you want the user to be able to access dynamic content offline – for accessing dynamic content that goes beyond the limitations of a PDF, for example an interactive field guide or medical resources, an app allows an easy way to access offline content, once it has been downloaded.

When would I not develop an app?

There are a select number of cases around when not develop an app, the most common ones being:

  1. When the information is of low volume and potentially available via other means – if you are going to reuse the same content on your website, and there is a relatively low volume of updates, the app doesn’t hold enough value for users to install and continually use. The time it takes to find, download and install an app also in an additional barrier for users, so there needs to be a good reason for them to do so.
  2. If you need to reach and maintain a platform for the greatest number of users in the most cost-effective way possible – if you don’t have a great amount of insight into your customers/users behaviour as well as what devices work for them, you need to find a way to get that information (either through user research, MVP or otherwise).
  3. If you don’t have the budget or resource to market it effectively – research presented by Statista shows some 1.6 million apps on the Android Play store and 1.5 million on the Apple App Store, which is a lot of noise to compete with. You need to have an effective marketing and distribution strategy to get your app out there
  4. There is a large amount of information that needs to be seen at once – some applications, like a dashboard with large volumes of information, or certain business analysis tools require a larger screen and in some cases better hardware than what a mobile device can provide.

What do I need to know before developing an app?

  • Learn what platforms are going to work for you – do you stick with iOS and Android (98.4% of the total mobile market according to Gartner in 2015), and then roll out to other platforms later? Our general recommendation is to start with a single platform, then develop for the second platform immediately after the release of the first, although this affected by a range of factors such as market size, clarity of concept and strength of brand.
  • Know about the hybrid vs native platform conundrum – This relates to the above point, there is the choice of using a hybrid platform or developing specifically for each platform. A hybrid platform like Ionic allows you to develop in HTML5 and Javascript the key functionality behind your app – meaning a web developer can create an effective application, however the downsides in performance and limitations of the frameworks commonly limit the experience of the app. Hybrid frameworks that compile fully to native code e.g. Facebook React offer a better experience at the cost of more complexity. In our experience, beyond MVP and once you approach the level where a mobile app makes sense, you should be looking at developing the apps for each platform natively.
  • Ensure your developer can implement tracking and analytics – making sure you have tracking frameworks included as part of the app. Beyond the app statistics like downloads by country and time period, you also need to look at implementing an analytics framework such as Google Analytics so that you can tell what users are actually doing within the app. The work to include these frameworks is similar to the amount of work required to implement Google Analytics events on websites.
  • Be prepared for version upgrades – Apple has historically delivered a major iOS release each year, with Android being more fractured on their release schedule and rollout to the device manufacturers. Generally, a new release doesn’t break the previous versions functionality, however a few years worth of releases can leave your app in need of maintenance and tuning. You should be prepared to have some budget attributed to maintenance and upgrades over the lifetime of your application.
  • Be ready for App Store visibility and marketing – like SEO on a website, there are certain tricks and tips to boosting your App Store ranking for specific search terms. You want to ensure that prior to release you have some time set aside to do the necessary market research and craft an effective and engaging App Store listing.
  • Plan in the App Store review times – app submission takes some time to review, in particular the Apple App Store. Wait times vary depending on season and volume – historically, we have seen a 2 week or so review timeframe for new apps, which is something to plan for when working to a specific campaign or release date.
  • In App Purchases require additional setup and implementation – if your app uses in app purchases, you will need to sign the platform specific distribution agreements and setup your banking details. In particular Apple requires you to use their payment SDK in the majority of situations. You also need to consider the differences in purchasing behaviour on the different platforms.
  • Internal applications for your business are possible – all platforms offer the ability to compile and distribute apps within an organisation outside of the app stores. This is useful if you wanted to deliver an employee-only app for time tracking, office admin, automatic and so on.

Validating your idea and getting started

As with any startup or idea, it’s really important to be prepared and validate your idea before investing the time, effort and budget required to make it happen. User research and analytics for an existing business, for new businesses and startups competitor and industry is the best place to start.

We are also happy to help review your idea and provide our expert advice on anything you might be planning – mobile apps still have great untapped potential in today’s society, and can offer an experience to your customer that can’t be replicated in any other way.