4 essential questions to ask before building a mobile business app (Part 1)

EducationIn 2012, Gartner estimates that smartphone and tablet sales reached 821 million, accounting for approximately 70% of all devices sold in the last year. In 2013, they expect those sales numbers to reach 1.2 billion.

If it feels like the mobile trend is growing faster than other trends in recent history, you’re right. According to a report published by MIT, mobile computers (smartphones/tablets) are on track to saturate markets in the U.S. and the developing worlds in record time. In other words, smartphones and tablets are spreading faster than any other technology in history.

How are businesses responding? A 2012 Accenture survey found that 78% of CIOs consider mobility a “top 5 priority”. Businesses understand the importance of mobile, and are rushing to take advantage of this trend.

That’s where the problems arise. As businesses rush to build mobile apps, they often dive into the project without proper planning, or without an adequate understanding of their mobile app options.

As you might imagine, this causes problems. First, it produces mobile apps that the company doesn’t really need. Second, without proper guidance, some companies build the wrong type of mobile app–wasting time and money in the process.

To help your company avoid these problems, I’ve created a list of questions you should ask before building a mobile app. Hopefully, these questions will keep you from building an app that fails, or from building the wrong type of mobile app. Before you build your mobile app, here are 4 questions to answer:

Does my target audience even need/want this?

One of our employees here at mrc used to give his wife tech gadgets as gifts for Christmas and birthdays. In other words, his wife was frequently disappointed on Christmas’ and birthdays. While these gadgets served a purpose and could’ve helped her, most of them went unused. Why? They didn’t address a need that was important to her.

That lesson applies beautifully to mobile apps: Just because you know something would help someone, doesn’t mean they know (or even care). I know it sounds like an obvious question, but…Why are you building the app? Did your customers or employees ask for it? Does it solve a problem that your target audience wants to solve?

Notice the wording in the last question. It’s not enough to solve a problem. Your audience must want that problem solved. For instance, you may build the greatest mobile business app in the history of mobile apps. It might save hours of time for the employees or increase productivity by 100%. But, if you’re building it for employees that aren’t familiar with mobile devices and have no interest in using them, you’re wasting your time.

What is it worth to my business?

Assuming you’ve answered “Yes” to the first question, let’s move on to another important question: What’s the payback? It’s not about building an app because your competitors built an app. How much is this application worth to you?

Now, I’m referring to much more than generating revenue. A mobile app offers all sorts of payback, like productivity improvements, improved customer engagement, process automation, and more. For instance, this company built a mobile app that nearly automated their inventory receiving process. The payback: Instead of spending 45 minutes scanning new shipments, employees now spend “almost no time.” While they aren’t generating revenue with their app, they still see huge payback in the form of staff productivity.

Do you have the right skills?

The answer to this question varies depending on the application you’re building. If it’s a mobile web application, you only need a web developer. If you’re building cross-platform native apps, you need multiple developers with different skillsets.

Let me quickly explain why that’s the case. In case you’re unaware, one mobile web app works across all platforms, but native apps only work on the platform for which they were designed. An Android app won’t work on an iPhone, and iPhone app won’t work on a Blackberry, and so on. The problem is, each platform uses a different programming language. So, if you want native apps that reach all platforms, you’ll need developers with skills in Java, Objective-C, C#, C++, and VB.net. Do you have those skills in-house, and if not, can you afford it?

What’s your plan for future updates and app maintenance?

A mobile app isn’t a one-time project, it’s a commitment. Once it’s built and distributed, you’re now stuck supporting and maintaining that application. Do you have the time and resources for this job?

Maintenance difficulty varies depending on the application you’ve built. As I explained above, if you build mobile web apps, you’ll only have to maintain one application (two, if you have a tablet app as well). However, if you’ve built cross-platform native apps, you’re stuck maintaining at least 4 separate applications (iOS, Android, Blackberry, Windows Phone). If you throw tablets into the mix, you’re now stuck maintaining 8 separate apps. Do you have time to change 8 different apps with every update?

Which mobile app method leaves you with the simplest maintenance? Mobile web apps built on n-Tier architecture. This method creates one application that looks and feels native across all devices. As a result, you’re left maintaining just one app. The image below illustrates this concept:



Before your company builds a mobile application, make sure you ask yourself each of the questions listed above. This will hopefully keep you from developing a mobile app unnecessarily, or developing the wrong type of app.

Now, there are more important questions to ask yourself before building a mobile app, but I didn’t have enough space to cover all of them in one post. In the near future, I’ll write up a follow-up post that addresses even more questions. Stay tuned…

Have Questions?

If your company is considering mobile apps, but aren’t sure which direction to take, we’d love to help! Shoot us a note and let us know what you’re working on, and we’ll help you understand the best mobile application development method for your company.

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