Though Apple’s latest iPhone announcements have been met with mixed reviews, it brings a familiar refrain to the thoughts of small business owners: should my business develop an application for the Apple App store?
It’s clear Apple has an audience worth accessing. According to Apple, this past summer, the App store surpassed 50 billion downloads. Two billion apps are downloaded each month from Apple’s App store, at the rate of 800 per second.
Clearly it’s important that your web content be accessible to not just the iPhone, but the iPad as well. With 89% of tablet web traffic occurring on iPads, even with only an estimated 46% of the market share, it is a must to have the ability to have web content that is compatible with these smartphones and tablets.
Under certain circumstances an iPhone app may be a great way to promote your business to those who own Apple products. However, it may not the best way, and is certainly not the only avenue available.
So how do you know whether it’s best for your company?
The Potentially Endless Back and Forth of Mobile Site Versus App
In an ideal world, the determining factor would be whether iPhone application you build help solve a problem for visitors who would otherwise have come to your web site.
Of course it’s not that simple – you must also consider various other factors from the cost of such a project to the specific needs of the internal and external customers of your organization.
For example, a website that is mostly content based generally has no reason to create an app whose only function is to deliver the same data in a different format.
Though having an app listed in the Apple App store may be worth it to some just for the additional promotional opportunities, possibly bringing you prospects you might not otherwise encounter, those people won’t be fans long if the app is effectively useless.
However, if you’re developing an app that performs a function your content site does not, that changes the conversation. If you create an app for your restaurant that simply reproduces the same menu on your mobile site, you’d be spending anywhere from hundreds to tens of thousands of dollars for the subset of people who can access both your mobile site and your app.
But a restaurant app that allows customers to pre-order and time their meal to be ready when they arrive might be revolutionary.
So how do you get past all the “what-ifs” and make the best decision for your business?
7 Questions to Ask Before You Create That iPhone App
Here are some questions to ask before you create your app for the iPhone or iPad. They won’t all provide clear-cut answers – there may not be one option that is clearly much better than all the others.
(Unless, as mentioned before, you primarily have a content site such as a blog – unless you’re adding functionality, optimizing for mobile is nearly always a better way to go, even for popular sites.)
If you have other people in your company involved in the decision, it’s valuable to sit down as a group and discuss these questions together.
What does your company hope to gain through an app?
This seems obvious, and yet it remains unasked. The actual purpose isn’t as important as knowing what your goal is – so that you’ll know what success looks like. Once you know what success looks like, you’ll be better able to assess whether or not an iPhone app is the best way to reach your goal.
Is an iPhone application the only option available? If not, is it the best one?
There will be cases where your best bet is an application built especially for the iPhone or iPad. Perhaps you have a site that performs a necessary function for your customers - except on a mobile Apple device.
If, for example. you ran a software company, and that necessary function happened to be part of a software upgrade, this would be a perfect example of why you’d specifically want a fix specifically for Apple’s App store.
This is also a particularly rare circumstance. Most of the the issues that stem from having problems on smart mobilbe devices can be resolved by creating a mobile website or making your current website more responsive, in many cases with much less expense.
If your site is already compatible with Apple devices, you may only need an “Add to Home Screen” button. This will create a shortcut icon that leads to your site, that gives you many of the advantages of being on your visitor’s home screen, without actually building a custom application.
Would the app fulfill the needs of your customers?
This deceptively simple question can often betray conflicting motives within your company. You may have someone on your team who wants to build an iPhone app because they believe it’s the best or only solution for “going mobile”.
Perhaps it is.
But do you customers want or need the mobile application that you want to build?
This simple question can also be answered very simply – ask your customers. In your next newsletter, include a link to a survey asking for their input about how mobile your site is – or isn’t. Be sure to leave a space for them to give additional feedback in their own words, as your repeat buyers may be able to lend perspective on using your site that you otherwise would not have.
How would building this app be better than optimizing your site for mobile?
Once you decide that an Iphone app is the way to go, you need to be very clear about why. Get specific. There are costs involved and you don’t want to wait until you’re off schedule and over budget to decide whether that cost is worthwhile.
Again, sometimes there are great reasons to have a mobile solution, and it may even make sense to execute them as apps for a specific device.
Be sure you can justify why you shouldn’t pursue other solutions, especially if they would work just as well.
Does the app fulfill the needs of your business?
Certainly an app that you build has to be appealing to your customers or it’s not worth producing. However, you are running a business. Remember that goal you had earlier?
Would the app you want to build give you the results that you desire?
It takes only one discussion about how many more website visits one type of application may produce than another to derail an otherwise excellent idea for an application. Consider whether the application you intend to build fulfills the specific business goals you had in mind, in addition to being useful.
Do you have the budget to build the right app for your needs?
You’ve probably heard that if you want to build an app for your business that, well, there’s an app for that. And there is. The question is – is that the right choice for your business?
For example, if you have a content site created in WordPress, and you’re able to create an app that is just a mobile version of your site as an application, unless it adds other functionality, only the most die-hard fans of your website are going to want to download it.
You may be better off installing one of the many WordPress plugins for mobile. There are also professional versions of these plugins for more sophisticated sites.
Should you decide that the price is right for creating a custom app, don’t forget about getting the app approved and in the App store. You may have to make changes that could cost you additional money, if you want it to survive Apple’s approval process. Investigate and budget for all the possible costs in advance.
Is an app that is exclusively available to iPhone and iPad users really best for business?
Further complicating the issue is that Google’s app store, Google Play appears to be on pace to catch up to Apple’s popularity at some point. In the second quarter of 2013, Google’s downloads outpaced those of Apple’s App store, although Apple still surpassed them in revenue.
So if you decide to create an app for iPhone users, could that necessitate the need to create one for Android smartphones as well? Is there an alternative, third option, such as optimizing an existing site for mobile users, that could serve both audiences that would meet your business needs as well?
Ponder. Discuss. Decide.
As I’m sure you’ve guessed by now, this list of questions isn’t meant as one of those quizzes where four “no” answers out of seven would mean you shouldn’t create an IPhone or iPad application. Instead, they are meant to have you consider factors you may not have at the front of your mind when this issue first comes to consideration.
What may seem like a simple process turns out to have many variables that all compel equal consideration.
The bottom line here is to be sure that if you start down the path to creating a mobile application for Apple’s App Store, that you take into consideration the costs, benefits, disadvantages and alternatives before proceeding.