Smartphones are in pretty much every pocket, purse, and backpack these days—each one full of apps that may or may not get used. Does your business need a mobile app?
A native mobile app might seem like a good idea, but does your business really need one? It depends! Learn how to decide.
“Custom software” is a broad term that can include desktop applications, web apps, websites, and systems made up of many of these. Mobile apps can be created using an off-the-shelf mobile app builder, they can be custom developed from the ground up, or they can be built using a strategy in between.
Some mobile apps (like games) are standalone systems—everything is managed within the mobile app.
Most mobile apps, however, are one element of a larger system. Think about your bank. They probably have a web portal for online banking as well as a mobile app. You can accomplish similar tasks in both, and the data is the same.
When you’re building a new custom software system, it’s important to think about it in terms of your overall software strategy. Do you need a desktop application for your internal team to use, which connects to a web application for customers to use? Do you need mobile apps for customers, too? Think about where users will be using the system, what they’ll be trying to accomplish, and how you can create the best experience.
Oftentimes, when a business wants to make functionality available to users on a mobile device, they’re quick to assume that it has to be done through a mobile app. That’s one way to accomplish mobile tasks, but it’s not the only way.
Mobile devices have come a long way in the last decade, and so has the technology to display information on them. For example, you can download the LinkedIn app, but you can also do a lot on the LinkedIn mobile website.
If you’re building
a responsive web app—which will work like a website in browsers on desktops, tablets, and phones—you
have to think through whether that will suffice for how users will need to use your software on mobile. Can they accomplish what they need in the web app on their phone? Or will it be more effective to have a native mobile app that people download
As with everything in custom software development, mobile apps have a lot of benefits, but they also have some drawbacks.
Users can stay logged in, which is convenient for them and allows you to track more consistent analytics
You have more control over display and functionality with mobile apps separated from web apps
Users can complete tasks on the go, sometimes even without internet access
Mobile apps are often easier to find on a phone than going to a web address in a mobile browser
You can tap into device functionality like GPS, cameras, and push notifications
Building both a web app and native mobile apps adds to the cost of your custom system
Native mobile apps must be maintained, in addition to the other pieces of your system
You have to maintain compatibility with iOS and Android as they make updates
The Google Play Store and the Apple Store both have review and approval processes for apps
Users have finite amounts of storage on their mobile devices (though this is becoming less and less of a concern, thanks to Moore’s Law)
Users may or may not like using a web app on their computers and a mobile app on their phones. Customer discovery can help you uncover more pros and cons for your unique situation.
When you build a mobile app, you have to decide if you want to develop for iOS, Android, or both. It may surprise you—especially if you’re a dedicated user of one platform—that the two operating systems have different app requirements and run on very different user interfaces (UI).
Picking one OS to start with can save costs and help you refine the app before building out a version for the other OS. But doing so can also alienate users who don’t have the “right” device. Have you ever found out about a cool new app you wanted to try, but when you went to download it, learned it’s only for the other OS? It can be a let-down.
How do you decide whether to start with iOS, Android, or both platforms? There are a few quick ways to help you narrow down your decision:
Check your current analytics. Are most users accessing your website and web apps on one platform more than the other? You can find this information in Google Analytics, Application Insights, or whatever tracking tool you use.
Look at market share data. As of this writing, Android has 70%+ of the smartphone market while iOS sits in the mid 20%s. These stats are worldwide, so the breakdown might change once you dig into your audience.
Ask! See if your users want a mobile app, what features they might use in it, and what device(s) they have and use.
This decision is less costly when you use a cross-platform development tool to build in both iOS and Android using the same codebase. Keep reading to see how we use Xamarin to accomplish that.
Apps built in iOS and Android are usually built in different programming languages. Many iOS apps are built using Swift, while many Android apps are built using Kotlin, Java, C#, Python, C++, or others.
At Far Reach, we use Xamarin to build mobile apps using the Microsoft .NET tech stack we’re most familiar with. Xamarin integrates into Visual Studio—one of our central development tools—and allows us to use a shared codebase to build for both iOS and Android. It doesn’t just wrap a mobile site into a mobile app; it creates true native apps.
While the cross-platform nature of Xamarin allows us some economies of scale, the above point still stands that building two apps will always be more work and cost more than building one.
It’s possible to build a mobile app on both OSs without writing two completely separate applications. But as always, it comes back to what’s best for your organization and the potential users of your app(s).
If you think a mobile app will benefit your business, how do you go about finding a partner to talk through the project and bring your app to life?
There are several different options for outsourcing development. You can hire an independent contractor,
you can use a staffing company that provides the developers, or you can work with a development company.
Far Reach is a development partner—we bring a full team to your project to build it and even to support it for the long-run, if needed.
You can validate a partner’s expertise by reviewing past projects and customer reviews. You can also review their core values to make sure it could be a good fit. And nothing helps you evaluate the fit of a potential partner like getting into a room (even a Zoom room) and having a conversation.
A mobile app for the Iowa Clinic and its patients.
Want to dive deeper into mobile app development? Read some of our blog posts on the topic.
Custom mobile applications are complex, especially when you aren’t entrenched in tech daily like we are. A consultation session with our experts can shed light on any questions you may have about how mobile apps could help your business.
We can help you plan a custom app roadmap for your company’s goals. Let’s talk. No obligations and no strings attached.
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