17.05.2019Cyprian Łakomy

Mobile apps for business. Do you need one?

While more and more people use the Internet on mobile devices, it's not always the reason your company should build its native mobile app. Luckily, there are enough alternatives to solve the problems of your audience and let your business grow.

Mobile apps in a mobile-first world

Nearly 5 billion people use mobile phones all over the world in 2019. This number has been growing gradually for the last couple of years. No wonder business owners are willing to adjust to their users' evolving habits. The mobile revolution opened a beast of a marketplace where entrepreneurs from different trades can acquire new customers.

At the same time, for the first time since 2015, mobile app downloads in Apple's App Store are decreasing. The first quarter of 2019 saw their 5% decline. The habits are changing and businesses should take notice: you don't always need a mobile app in a mobile-first world.

If you are still wondering if you should build one, read on.

Advantages and disadvantages of mobile apps for business

Building a mobile app for your business can have many benefits. Here are only some of them:

  • supreme user experience due to access to the built-in functions of a mobile device,
  • higher brand awareness among the present and potential clients,
  • customer retention,
  • increased user engagement etc.

But building mobile apps is always a cost. Usually a high one. It happens that the development and maintenance costs outweigh the profits the software may give back to your business.

In this article, I am going to make a point that deciding on building a mobile app is not always an option. I will list the situations in which you should think twice before making such a decision, and give a hint of some useful alternatives.

Not a million-dollar business? You don't need a mobile app

Take a look at Apple's list of the most popular mobile apps in 2018:

  1. YouTube
  2. Instagram
  3. Snapchat
  4. Facebook Messenger
  5. Facebook
  6. Bitmoji
  7. Netflix
  8. Google Maps
  9. Gmail
  10. Spotify
  11. Amazon
  12. Uber
  13. WhatsApp
  14. Pandora
  15. Wish
  16. TikTok
  17. Cash App
  18. Google Photos
  19. Google Chrome
  20. Twitter

Source: Business Insider

I know hundreds of apps are added daily to the Apple App Store, but how many of them really have the potential to come to the surface and reach a wide audience?

If you consider the notion above a generalization, look from a different angle: all these Top 20 apps are social media, popular entertainment, messaging, e-commerce, shopping or games. And, in most cases, they rely heavily on branding. Google, Facebook, Amazon, even the unlisted H&M or Rossmann (they have their e-commerce apps too) - they have been here for years.

What you won't find on this list is your local steakhouse, pizza spot or car workshop. As well as thousands of other day-to-day businesses. Neither App Store, nor Google Play is the most convenient place to attract people who know nothing about your business. They usually follow a different path.

Yes, it's the good old Google search engine.

You don't need a mobile app to get clients

Even despite more and more people use the Internet on mobile phones or tablets, the vast majority of them still connect with businesses via search engines. This is where they put their queries.

Even clients of Prograils find us most frequently this way. Be it by doing their research on Google or after reading recommendations on Clutch, etc.

Even though we could build ourselves an app, it would be really unlikely that our clients would head to the App Store or Google Play, and install it on their smartphones just to check our portfolio, read this blog or ask questions via the contact form.

It's all on our website. And it's readable from any mobile device.

Don't build a mobile app for your business if you don't offer added value

As someone put it, by installing an app on their phone, people are giving you a part of their digital real estate. By requesting them to do so, you are expecting them to take an extra effort, usually beyond their normal habit of browsing the Internet.

You have to give them something in return. Solve a problem. It can be free access to exclusive content or discount codes for your services. The possibilities are many.

If you don't plan to offer your audience extra value for extra effort, why would they even bother?

Make sure your mobile app is a worthy extension of your mobile-optimized website. Once you've got the proof of concept and people reach you through it, you can think of functionalities that would make for a unique mobile experience of your business.

If your mobile app will not use functionalities of a mobile device

Even if your app is going to solve your users' problem, ask yourself: will it need access to any functionalities of their mobile device, such as camera, calendar, GPS etc.? Otherwise, a mobile optimized website might be enough to achieve your goals.

Look at two examples from our portfolio:

  • CrossFit Copenhagen has access to users' mobile calendar to add the booked trainings and camera for creating user avatars,
  • [jo:ga] which also has access to users' mobile calendar.

They both need the functionalities of a mobile phone to perform their tasks.

Haven't done research? Don't build a mobile app for your business

Both Google Play and App Store are full of what someone wisely called 'me-too apps', mobile applications fitting the same purposes, barely differing from one another, and buried deep in download statistics.

The first thing you should do as part of your mobile strategy is to run a comprehensive market analysis, including similar available apps. You should be aware that this is but a tip of the iceberg - you should plan your app's promotion and foresee its maintenance and updates.

The above, obviously, comes with knowing your project's scope, timeline and budget. If you have difficulties with any of these, join a free discovery workshop at Prograils.

Alternatives to Mobile Apps for Business

Mobile website will do just fine

How well does your business website look on various mobile devices? As mobile-first is a standard today, responsive web design may save you the time and money needed to develop a native web app, providing a great mobile experience to your users.

If you are a business that is just starting out and your clients reach you by making a classic Google research, a mobile website will make you easier to find than competing with top apps in Google Play or App Store.

See how to make your website mobile friendly

With a mobile-optimized website, you can constantly improve your web presence (e.g. by publishing blog articles and other SEO practices) without spending money on lengthy app development, its later updates and maintenance.

Why? Because mobile websites support all platforms. You can view them on both Android and iOS with no difference. Hiring a right web development team comprising web developers, designers and UX/UI people can give you all you need.

Still up for an app? Try React Native

If you want your native app to be available for iOS and Android, you need two separate codebases, which means hiring developers skilled in technologies dedicated to both platforms.

Many businesses, including tech giants like Facebook have betted on cross-platform mobile app development with the React Native framework. React Native allows you to share up to 70% of code between the Android and iOS versions of the application, which can help you cut the development costs.

Still, as React Native is pretty a pretty young framework, it performs worse than native apps, and some functionalities are unavailable from its standard libraries. be aware of that.

PWAs - the new trend

If you read any of the articles on the current web and mobile trends, progressive web apps (PWAs) are definitely on top of these lists.

Progressive web apps combine the experience of a website and a native app. A user can enjoy many of the typical elements of an app - the app shell, offline access and home screen shortcuts.

All these features are enriched by benefits such as SEO dependency, longer sessions and lower bounce rates.

The trick is: you don't need to download an app for that. They can be easily accessed via URL.

Examples of the PWAs include Starbucks, Pinterest and inter alia.

Wrapping up

Before going all-in for building a native mobile app, you should consider if the effort and money spent on this time-consuming process are really worth it.

Run comprehensive research, including that of competitors, and try to forecast if people will actually look for it in Google Play or App Store. Bear in mind they are pickier and pickier and still connect with businesses through browsers and search engines.

Consider the less costly alternatives: cross-platform mobile apps, PWAs or simply mobile-optimized websites to provide your clients a similar user experience.

If you need advice on the best digital product for your business, shoot us an e-mail, we'll be really happy to help.

Photo by Gilles Lambert on Unsplash.

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