Establishing a Mobile Presence – A Necessity or Luxury?

By The Intersect Group

Establishing a mobile presence can have a significant effect on your business – positive if the app offers benefits to your customers and employees and it’s easy to use, negative if it fails at either of these goals. When well planned and executed, a mobile app can increase revenues, enhance credibility, help build your brand, and promote your image as an innovative place to do business and work.

Organizations that might have been hesitant to embrace mobile because of its perceived complexity and/or cost are finding that avoiding mobile is now like avoiding sunlight – you can do it but it isn’t advisable. It’s become a necessity because that’s where the customers are. The graph below tells the story.

For much of the US population, their phone is their device of choice. As our population grows younger, few organizations can afford to ignore their most important channel of information. Today, Millennials (1981-1996) and Gen Zer’s (born after 1997) make up nearly 50% of the U.S. population. For the most part, their mobile devices are their primary (or only) source of information. An organization that balks at building a mobile presence risks neglecting a large and growing market for their products or services.

The critical question that arises when considering developing a mobile app is what user need or purpose it will fill. How will its success in filling this need be measured? Is it expected to save time and/or money? Will it drive new revenues? According to a recent survey conducted by Enterprise Mobility Exchange, the most important methods used to measure the value of a mobile app are:

  • Increase in revenue – 35% of respondents
  • Lower costs – 29%
  • Increase productivity – 21%
  • User retention – 15%

Depending on your expectations for attaining value from the app, some method of measuring the value received is necessary. At the end of the day, you should know whether the app is meeting its goals.

Who will build the app?

The growing urgency for a mobile presence doesn’t make decisions about how to develop and employ the technology any easier. One of the first questions to answer after deciding to build an app is who will develop it. Does your organization have the capabilities to design and build it in-house? If not, is outsourcing app development affordable? According to research performed by marketing solutions provider Clutch, the cost of outsourcing a mobile app development effort can run anywhere from around $40,000 to over $170,000 depending on complexity. Some outsourced mobile app development projects could run much higher – to more than $500,000! This is why a clear understanding of the purpose and functionality of the app is critical before attempting to estimate its cost.

A hybrid approach to mobile app development that relies on a blended team of employees and outside agency members is becoming more widely embraced. This option can help control development costs and allows team members to do what they do best. Internal team members understand their target audience and have clear expectations of what they need from the app. External developers have a wealth of experience in building apps that perform as expected and are intuitive to use. Because they routinely create apps, they usually have a much better understanding of the most effective tools and approaches to build an app – knowledge your internal team might lack.

The decision about who ultimately builds the app usually weighs costs and internal capabilities. Striking the right balance requires accurate cost estimates and a clear understanding of what the internal team can – and cannot do.

Native, cross platform, web app, or hybrid?

Selecting the right approach to creating your app might not be something you’re comfortable doing – but even if you’re going to rely on someone else to make this decision you need to understand the options and the pros and cons of each.

  • Native tools are the languages used to code for a specific mobile operating system, iOS uses Objective-C and Swift, Android uses Java and Kotlin (think Waze or Twitter).
  • Cross platform tools like React Native, Xamarin, etc. are just that – the app is written and then most of the code is reused to write what is basically the same app for another platform (examples include Minecraft and UberEats). These tools are widely used to create multi-platform apps (i.e. one for iOS and one for Android) because they save about 70% of the time it would take to write the second app in its native language.
  • A web app is built using JavaScript, CSS, and HTML5 to run inside a browser. It’s a “shell” that powers the user interface, which means that it is cached offline and doesn’t have to load every time the user visits the website. Only dynamic content or data needs to be loaded when the app is used (examples include the Google Docs and Netflix apps).
  • Hybrid apps (or progressive web apps) are a blend of a native app and a web app. They use web coding languages such as HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. Hybrid apps combine pre-built containers with web coding to produce mobile applications that can sometimes rival a native app – depending on what it intended to do.  The hybrid app contains a device container which is a native application that allows the application to use the device’s capabilities (camera, GPS, etc.) and a web container that primarily allows access to a browser’s capabilities (think Instagram and Uber).

The table below provides a high-level summary of the pros and cons of each app development type. Much of the decision on how to proceed will be based on the purpose of the app (what is has to do) and your budget.

Striking the right balance – performance vs. cost

Providing users and/or employees a mobile application is no longer a luxury. For most organizations, it has become a business necessity. The smart phone has become the device of choice for a growing segment of the population. Answering the key questions involving the app’s purpose/functionality, who will create and update it, and how much will it cost to create and maintain can lead you to make decisions that balance performance with cost. Striking this balance offers you an approach to obtaining a mobile app that enhances your business performance and brand awareness at an affordable price.