Before launching headlong into the process of creating mobile phone applications and/or mobile websites, it’s important to pause a moment to consider the development of a medium to long term vision of how you will communicate with your customers in the mobile space.
Jump on the Bandwagon
It’s easy to jump on the mobile bandwagon, to “spit out” an iPhone app that you think your customers can download to do something useful or cool. But is that what they really want? Is that what they need? Are your customers really tapping away just on iPhones, or are they doing something else? And what happens next?
We discussed one viewpoint on this topic in a recent DDSN blog post – Should I Build a Mobile Website?
The allure of quick wins is powerful. Furthermore the quick wins attached to taking just a few of your most popular services and dropping them onto a neat mobile-friendly screen can be substantial indeed. But what impact will that have on your ability to deal with your customers smoothly and cost effectively on an on-going basis?
It's Not Complicated
The answer to that question is important, but deliberations about potential problems don’t have to be complicated, and there’s no need to be shy about getting into the mobile space with a quick win strategy.
Consideration of a few key points is probably enough:
- Your technology and design/deployment costs will rise – although perhaps only a little. As a minimum, you do need to create and maintain additional user interfaces for access to your services.
- Mobile audiences have high expectations in a number of areas – usability, performance, availability of service. Make sure your design and review process is robust.
- Should you develop native mobile device apps (e.g. that are available in the various app stores), mobile web apps, or both? There are a few sub-points to this question, such as:
- Is your audience permanently connected to the web? What quality is their connection? Are mobile device hardware features such as GPS, camera, or local data storage a benefit or required to operate your application?
- There will be technical inputs to and constraints upon your project. E.g. the speed of access required, the availability of data for your app (whether it’s permanently online or not), the complexity of the required user interface.
- There will be separate marketing and communications inputs to and constraints upon your project. E.g. do you want/need to be visible in the app stores (as opposed to just on the mobile web)? Can you market a downloadable app differently or better to a mobile web presence? Will the installation of a native app on your customers’ devices increase brand loyalty?
- For various reasons, mobile web apps are cheaper to create and easier to deploy and maintain, especially if your application accesses online data or has a more intricate user interface.
- If you are developing native mobile apps, an iPhone app is no longer enough. The Android platform is rapidly gaining market share. It will overtake Apple iOS in the near future. Other platforms including Blackberry, HP Web OS, Symbian, and Windows Phone also cannot be ignored. Even the iPad generally requires separate attention to the iPhone.
- If you are developing native mobile apps, cross platform development and maintenance costs can multiply very quickly unless you’re careful about how your technology is developed. For information-based and web-like apps there are development methodologies that may allow a single stream of development to be deployed to multiple devices aswell as your mobile web presence. Your developer should be intimately aware of the issues in this area.
- What do your customers actually want on their mobile screens? Can they get it from your existing website and is that enough? Basic usability principles tell us that small mobile device screens necessarily require different design consideration with regards to your application’s or service’s user interface, but where cost is an issue, the balance of issues behind this question makes the question worth asking.