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Issue 48

Why Not to Build a Mobile App

Mădălin Crăciun
Lead User Experience Designer @ mReady
PROGRAMMING

There is no denying that, in certain cases, creating a mobile app for your company could increase revenue and user engagement while promoting brand loyalty. However, this is not always the case. Here are a few reasons why you should give it some more thought before you jump on the mobile app bandwagon.

1. You do not know who you are building it for

One of the biggest issues people, who want to create apps, run into is that they do not know who they are building the app for. Usually, many website owners believe that, if people are accessing their website, they will probably find its content useful when wrapped as an app as well.

But do they actually find it useful?

Since the content is already accessible, and the app becomes just another way to access the same information, why would someone pick the more difficult, potentially more intrusive, option? Most of the time, they will not.

Let us take a look at Instagram, for example. People who browse photos on the website have a very different mindset from the ones who use the app to post new photos: I want to SEE what people are up to versus I want to SHOW people what I'm up to.

If you do want to have your content on a mobile app, there is a big chance that working through something like Flipboard (a news aggregator app) will get you more traction starting out than your own mobile app would.

In addition to that, an essential part of the Instagram experience relies on using the camera, which brings us to the next point:

2. You do not need access to the phone's capabilities

An important part of having an app installed on your phone is that it gets access to the phone's capabilities. If yours does not need to use the camera, the location services, push notifications, fitness data, the gyroscope or any other specific feature from the smartphone's toolkit, you most likely do not need a mobile app.

A few years ago, we designed and developed an app that would allow people to scan QR codes with their phone in order to add groceries to their shopping cart when they left work. When they got home, their groceries would already be waiting for them.

3. You are not creating a personal experience

Nobody truly wants just another app on their smartphone. You really need to create something special if you want people to download your app, because it is going to take up very limited space on a very personal device.

What you want to design is a tailored experience for your users. Make people feel it is their app. Give them the content they want to see up front. Make the user choices matter.

During the past few years we have been creating and updating the app for one of the largest tech conferences in Central and Eastern Europe - How to Web. One of the key features of last year's version was providing users with a very personal way of networking. Each of them would set up their own profile based on who they would want to meet and talk to by selecting the industries they had interests in. As a response, the app would first showcase conference attendees who work within those industries. They could browse for other people's profiles and have private conversations with them directly on the app.

4. It is not going to be used on a regular basis

We have seen it many times: thousands of people download the app just to forget about it a few days or weeks later. If you want an app to be successful, it needs to solve a recurring problem. It has to become a part of a user's everyday life, or at least it should be something they use on a regular basis.

How often do you check your email on your phone? How about Messenger? Or Facebook? The music player? How about that e-commerce app?

The most successful apps out there give people a reason to use them repeatedly.

And when people forget to use them, push notifications come in handy. Did you get a new message from someone? The app will remind you. Did you receive a special offer from a certain shop or vendor? The app will make sure you know. Is a bill's due date approaching? You will receive a reminder. Did something finish uploading or downloading? You will be notified.

5. You are not planning to share any of the content publicly

One of the biggest issues people had with apps is that it was difficult to share something directly from one of them. That is not the case anymore and you want to take advantage of the fact. You want your users to attract other users by sharing their activity through social networks and personal messages.

This can even go one step further and combine the sharing with a personal experience, by using the concept of deep linking: If someone clicks a link that another user has shared, they are taken directly to that piece of content within the app, rather than starting at the home page and having to search for it.

We designed something similar for the 2015 X Factor app, where users could share the profile of the person they voted for on Facebook. When someone clicked that link, they would be taken to the specific contestant page within the app. Even more so, they would be reminded that their friend had voted for that contestant (and maybe they should too).

6. You want to build it and never update it

Just like any other product or service, apps could benefit greatly from starting out as Minimum Viable Products (MVPs). After launch, after people get to use it and give you feedback, you can further update it and develop it for more platforms, based on the insights gathered from actual users.

If you just plan on building an app and think people will use it and be pleased with it right from the first version, you are most likely in for an unpleasant surprise.

What you could do is to focus on key problems your potential users are having, solve them with the help of the app, listen to what they have to say and improve their experience accordingly.

It is an iterative process: build, get feedback, update.

7. You do not have anyone on customer support

Getting feedback is essential to any app's success and making sure that you have got someone constantly talking to your customers is a great way to go about it. That is the person who will have access to keen insights about what users want and need. They can gather the information you need to take your app from an interesting idea to a useful, everyday companion for your clients.

8. You are not prepared to update at least once per year

New devices are being launched each year, and the same goes for operating system updates. This means that if you want your app to work properly for most of your clients, you will need to maintain and update it. I used "most" deliberately, because an app will never work for all of your clients.

We have run into this problem before and are now more prepared to deal with it, but sometimes an operating system gets updated, the user upgrades and the app stop working properly because of some technical changes behind the scenes.

9. You are on a very tight budget

Considering what they can bring, apps are expensive. Building an app tends to be 1.5 times more expensive than building an equivalent website… and that is for only one platform. Do you want your app to run on iPhones and Android Smartphones? That is 3 times more expensive. Do you also need it to run on tablets? That is 5 to 6 times more expensive.

If you know your clients (and your company) could truly benefit from a mobile app, we would still recommend not jumping in head-first. You can start by creating an MVP for one platform, test it, update it and only then start thinking about the next ones, when you really see they are in demand.

10. You are not prepared to market it

Just because you have a mobile app, it does not mean people will download it… or will even hear about it. Make sure that you are ready and have the means to promote it to your community through your other channel(s). Tell people why it is in their best interest to download the app and describe the improved experience they will have by doing so.

We have seen everything from mentions on websites, Facebook and TV ads, to parties being thrown on the release date. However, be sure that you (and your community) are prepared to embrace the new medium.

Have you gone through the whole list and still believe you need a mobile app? Then go for it! It is not an easy process, but we truly believe that if you are trying to solve the right problem for the right people, a mobile app will absolutely get you the bang for your buck… and more.

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