October 16, 2019

To App or Not to App

PLATFORM DEVELOPMENT

Answer these 3 questions before building an app

By: Matthew Wallace, VP of Technology


“There’s an app for that!” Remember that declaration? The enthusiasm and practicality behind that phrase gave it what it needed to make us want to download apps. And it made companies want to build apps for their customers to download.

But the way we perceive those words has changed. Back then, we heard: “There should be an app for everything! Apps all around!” A decade on, it means something totally different. Now we hear: “There’s an app that makes something you need to do easier!” And we still think: “But do I really need to download the app?”

Our attitude has changed dramatically. Although we might have dozens of apps on our phones, we use only a fraction of them daily, and we expect them to be both highly useful and usable. We’re picky. The number of apps available in the App Store continues to grow—we can now choose from more than 2 million—but the number of apps we actually use continues to drop: from 21 per month in 2016 to 20.1 per month last year. In 2017, we spent 97 percent of our screen time in only 10 of those 20.

Despite the high stakes, companies still invest in apps, because a successful one can be a total game changer. Done well, an app can solidify branding, establish a loyal customer base, optimize business processes and, of course, collect boatloads of user data. An app can completely change the way you do business—making it easier, faster, and, somehow, both cheaper and flashier.

One of iostudio’s recent app projects involved creating a closed community for what’s essentially a support system for group members with specific health needs. The app allows them to make friends, set goals, keep track of appointments and meetings, encourage one another, and interact with one another and with their healthcare professionals. Most of the members use mobile devices as their sole means of communication and internet access, and because the discussions are medical in nature, their data requires tight security. The use case was perfect for a mobile app.

That client has a complex, nuanced need. Sometimes what I hear is simply, “This is my website. I want the same thing, but in an app”—and that’s not always the best move. When a client comes to me asking about an app, I immediately ask them a few questions:

What business problem are you trying to solve?

If your mobile website already accomplishes your task or goal effectively, there’s usually no reason to build an app. If you sell T-shirts, you shouldn’t set up shop in an app. Cast your net in the open internet. It’s hard to imagine getting a push notification on your phone reminding you to buy a T-shirt each day, or even each week.

What daily problem will your app solve?

Almost a quarter of all apps only get used once. Ouch. Presumably, you’re not building an app for someone to use once. That’s only good data if you’re a matchmaker service.

The apps people use most are social media, music and gaming apps. Other great examples of apps that solve daily problems are home automation apps, navigation apps and apps that aggregate your financial accounts. You’ll open these apps again and again (or even leave them running in the background) because the tasks they help you accomplish quicker and easier are things you’d have to do anyway, regardless of whether you had a smartphone.

Will the phone give your app something the desktop can’t?

Apps are about engagement and convenience. On top of being able to get the user’s attention regularly with push notifications, your phone has native features. The camera, your contact list, a compass, GPS, an accelerometer—all of these things live on your phone and work with your apps. If your web application needs one of your phone’s native features, it makes sense to build an app. Browsers have some of these capabilities, but some things are simply easier with your phone, as it fits in your palm and is rarely out of reach. Even if your laptop could read bar codes, it’s hard to imagine carrying your computer into Target to scan items with Cartwheel.

The flip side of using the native features is that apps that live on your phone and don’t require an internet connection take up way more space.

Here’s one more app stat for you: 21 percent of millennials say they have deleted an app because they didn’t like the logo. So, you know, no pressure.

If you’re thinking about building an app or trying to choose a digital path to take, give us a shout. An app might be the logical next step for your company—particularly if you want to build a community, if your app will solve a day-to-day problem or if your audience is more likely to engage with you using their phones. If an app isn’t the solution you need, we can figure it out together.


Matthew Wallace is iostudio’s VP of Technology. A self-taught developer whose career has ranged from self-startups to the largest gaming company in the world, Matthew has worked across all sizes of projects and builds. His entrepreneurial spirit and technology-agnostic approach combine to offer clients customized solutions focusing on their actual business problem, not just the technology. He is an active member of the software development community and a passionate leader who knows the right resource for any problem. Contact Matthew at matthew.wallace@iostudio.com or follow him on Twitter @matthewswallace.