Should I Build an App for my Business?

The short answer to this question is yes. Any way that you can improve your visibility to users of mobile devices is a plus because this is a demographic that is growing substantially every year. The sale of smart phones has skyrocketed, and each smartphone user has dozens of apps. If you were to develop an interesting app, your business can be placed literally at the fingertips of hundreds to thousands of customers every day.

Before you decide that you should move forward with your business app, you must consider what your app will offer your customers. The app cannot solely be for marketing purposes. If it is, customers will not be interested, and Apple is likely to reject it. Your app must provide a service, whether it is informative, entertaining, or alerts customers to special deals. People are not going to download your app unless it is returning value in some way.

Once you have your app concept, it is time to begin the developing process, which brings another question: do you use an app builder site or pay for custom app development? The app builder sites will be much less expensive, but they are not going to provide you with loads of originality. If you simply want to rush an app out into the store, at the lowest cost, only to have a presence, then an app builder site may be a good choice, but manage your expectations. If you want to stand out, impress customers, and get more downloads, custom development is worth the investment.

When using the app builder sites, you are limited to the same options and templates as every other user of those sites. With the help of a developer, you can design an app that is going to offer something unique. To help speed the process along, put some effort into planning how the app should work. Your developer will help you in this process to some extent, but don’t leave everything up to them. Get a smartphone and look at what’s out there. If you don’t see anything like what you have in mind, then you might have a real shot at creating a hot new app.

There are some important issues to decide and here are a few of them: Should the app be for the Iphone only? If so, which models will be supported? Will it only work on the latest version of iOS (currently version 6), or on earlier versions? Will earlier versions support the features you plan to provide?

While larger, the Android market is more fragmented. Google, now the owner and developer of the OS, has adopted a more open business model that allows companies like Samsung and HTC more leeway in customizing the OS to suit their needs. Generally these phones are much cheaper than Apple’s Iphone and so they have wound up in more hands. But be prepared to dedicate more time to developing the Android version of your app to accommodate the different versions that are out there.

Of course, apps are not only for the smartphone market. With a little customization, they can also work on tablets like Apple's iPad. There are differences, but they are not great. Some might say the differences are even trivial. Android tablets such as the Galaxy Tab are also impressive devices. It really comes down to knowing where you think your app should appear. Will it look okay on a small screen, or is it better suited to a larger screen?

Now let's not forget Microsoft. They have not been successful so far, but Microsoft is persistent and they eventually get things right. Windows 8 will be an all-in-one OS suited for desktops and mobile devices. Still, I would probably wait for it to come out to judge whether it deserves your effort. I wouldn't say I'm being critical of Microsoft here, just cautious because they have a tendency to release an OS prematurely.

You might wonder if it makes more sense to create an app instead of a responsive web site. Don't create an app if you just want to create a brochure site for a small screen. Responsive sites are better at that. People download an app because they want to do something with it. It's utility has to be clear and focused.

POP will have its own app in the near future. My goals, ideas, and considerations have made this an interesting and challenging project. First, I want it to be a truly useful app that works as intended. And who knows, maybe it will come out for Windows 8, too! Whatever happens, I'll share my experiences here in Design Notes.