Mobile Application Development: A Buyer's Guide
Mobile application development has become an industry in and of itself. Mobile apps have not only unleashed the potential of mobile devices for generating revenue, driving traffic to websites, or providing a portal through which to access larger brands or services like social networks or online shops but they’ve also shifted customer expectations. Users now demand access to services via mobile devices and few businesses can afford to ignore their wishes.
But what an app precisely is, and how it can be useful for businesses is only now becoming clear.
App - or mobile application - refers to any piece of software that runs on a mobile device: a smart phone, tablet or some laptops. The most famous apps are probably games – Angry Birds and its ilk have sold hundreds of millions of copies worldwide. But increasingly, businesses are seeing value in using them to allow customers to interact with their content and to maintain a customer relationship. In early 2013 Yahoo acquired an app for $30m from a teenage bedroom developer.
Your bank balance can now be checked on your phone, you can book a table at a restaurant and then an app can help you work out how many calories you need to burn off after the meal. Amazon and ebay have developed apps which allow these retail giants to make sales while their users are on the move, making impulse buying truly mobile. The attractions to a business are clear: apps are simple to install, addictive, and many users are never without their mobile device.
So how can your business use mobile applications to their best advantage? If you sell via ecommerce, then the solution is obvious: allow your customers to purchase via an m-commerce app. An app can also be useful in developing your relationship with your customers, any content that you provide via your website can be provided via an app. It is a great way for you to maintain a relationship with your customers and inform them of any offers you might be running.
But where does one go to learn the ways of this new technology? How does one go about getting a mobile app developed? This Buyer's Guide will take you through the mobile application development basics and provide invaluable advice on finding and hiring a development company to take your app idea from drawing board to touch screen with a minimum of fuss.
Introduction to Mobile Apps
In reality, mobile applications have been around as long as there have been portable devices such as mobile phones and PDAs – it is only the power, complexity and internet access of modern phones that has changed in recent years, making it seem as if ‘apps’ are a new thing. There are many different types of mobile application for just about any function you can think of. Gaming, social networks, mobile TV, news and weather apps are the most obvious. Mobile apps for businesses enhance the experience of accessing a company website and its features on the go, providing potential customers with another way of finding the company and converting into sales.
Some basic types of mobile app are:
- Mobile website – a version of your website that is specially designed for viewing with mobile devices. For example, jobsforwookiees.com might look strange when viewed through a smart phone browser but the Jobs for Wookiees app allows unfettered access to the recruitment site for 7ft tall furry mechanics
- Sold app – usually a game or other entertainment app which is sold through an app store to generate a profit
- Revenue generation app – an app which is free to download but allows a user to access a paid service like bingo, an online multiplayer game, paywall protected site or ecommerce website
- Fundraising app – an app which allows users to donate to a particular cause in return for a fun game or information tool
- Marketing app – a free app, the purpose of which is to drive traffic to a website or just build brand identity
Mobile Application Development Platforms
The emergence and popularity of the iPhone has driven the development of both smart phones and mobile apps but it’s not the only choice; there are several other platforms on which mobile apps can be developed:
- Blackberry – a range of smart phones from Canadian tech company Research in Motion. Instant messaging app BBM is the most famous on this platform.
- Windows – many manufacturers make smart phones which run a Microsoft Windows operation system. These include Nokia, HTC, Samsung and LG.
- Android – a Google-backed smart phone operating system (OS) supported by manufacturers including Google, HTC, Samsung, LG, Sony Ericsson, Motorola and others.
- Tablets – Such as the iPad which runs iOS, the same operating system as the iPhone. Competing tablets use Android or Windows OS.
The operating system (or platform) for which a mobile app is developed determines on which devices that app will be able to run. An application can be specifically developed for one or more OS or it can be created using a suite of development tools that have cross-platform compatibility. This is sometimes called the ‘development environment’. Developers will usually be able to offer a choice of platforms for your app, each one having particular strengths, weaknesses and market penetration.
Finding Mobile App Developers
Developers of mobile applications share many of the same skill sets as website developers. It’s therefore quite common for companies which previously only developed websites to expand into mobile apps. If you have a fairly complex website already, one which required web developers rather than web designers, it may be worth asking your developers if they do mobile apps – especially if it’s essentially a mobile friendly version of the website you need. There are also many specialist mobile application development companies and each of them will be geared to a particular type of work e.g. games, ecommerce apps etc.
Finding a suitable company to develop your app requires effort. Be prepared to do some research. Look for apps that have a similar level of complexity to the app you wish to develop and find out who created them. This info is usually pretty easy to find – look in the corners of menu screens or in ‘About’ or ‘Help’ sections for developer info.
Business acquaintances who’ve had mobile apps developed might be able to recommend companies. A recommendation from a trusted source is probably the best indicator of quality you’ll get.
Choosing Mobile Application Developers
When you’ve drawn up a shortlist of suitable candidates, the following pointers should help you assess the suitability of different developers:
- Having a clear conception of the app you want to develop is key to choosing the right agency. Draw up a detailed brief with sketches and diagrams of how the app will work from the user’s point of view. Know which platforms you want the app to work on and what the objectives of the application are i.e. will it be a sold app or a free app for driving traffic to your website? Will it require a payment gateway? Will it need to link to a database or upload/download data from the internet? Who is the app aimed at – is it for sophisticated users or does it need to be simple enough for an beginner to use?
- If the same company will be designing the visuals then be sure to look at a portfolio of their design work. This will give you an idea of their style and whether or not it will suit your project.
- Developing a complex mobile app from scratch is a lengthy and expensive business. Will the developers be able to complete the application, test it and launch it within the time frame you require?
- Will the developers offer ongoing support for the app? What will this cost? What kind of guarantees do they offer about minimising downtime in the event of problems?
- Will the developers be able to help you launch your app? This might include adding it to Apple and Google app stores or promoting it via tech websites.
Once you’ve found the right company to develop your mobile application you’ll need to agree terms of payment and sign a contract that is agreeable to both parties. Often payment will be linked to delivery of certain stages of the project such as a prototype or testing version. This might be considered the halfway point of the process, which is normal: testing cross-platform mobile apps can be a time consuming business due to the various idiosyncrasies of different hardware.
Get Quotes from Mobile Application Developers
Getting your choice of mobile application developers right could be the difference between generating a mobile app revolution and revolting the mobile app generation, so taking the time to create a precise brief and choose the right developers is essential.
If you provide customers with an online interface, then an app is a must have. If they can check up on their account or interact with your customer services team on the move, they will build up admiration and loyalty to your brand. If they cannot, they will migrate to a supplier who can offer them this service. As mobile security improves, the reluctance to adopt or introduce these services will disappear.
It’s clear that the range of uses for the app is growing all the time. A mobile application developer can liaise with you about what you want to achieve and then create and publish your app for use across every platform. Approved Index aims to make it as easy as possible to gather and compare quotes from leading Mobile Application Developers.
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