By Simon Bell, Product Manager at Sage
With a background in mobile I am often asked about Apps, what the opportunity is around them and how a business can best profit from the investment that they make in their development? While the app concept is relatively simple and certainly not a new one by any means it is difficult for businesses to sometimes understand how they can best design these and get those high download volumes they so desire. So in an effort to create a sensible approach to the question of apps I have come up with five things to consider when delving into this area;
1. Apps Should Add Value
Potential end users will only pick up something and use it if it adds value for them in their day to day lives. The greater the value added the longer and more often that the app will be used. This might seem completely obvious to many but sadly there has been a temptation succumbed to by many app developers to go for the simple quick win option and develop throw away apps that get a flash of attention and then disappear into the ether.
All you need to do is look at the proliferation of soundboard apps on the App stores, a quick laugh for all around and then it’s never opened again (much like their ancestors the little key-ring that played different sounds when you pressed the buttons now consigned to the back of a drawer in homes around the country)
Apps that add value get used over and over again, you need look no further than Angry Birds for that proof. The simple game challenges and entertains over and over again and the value add to the end user to the variety of outcomes, the variety of challenges and different scenarios all of which give entertainment to the end user.
2. Apps Should Be “Native”
In my personal experience many app developers have come from a web development background. In the web environment development was in different coding languages but ultimately the end result was more or less a common user experience down to the fact that all the devices that displayed the website did so in the same manner.
Native development means that the apps are developed specifically to take advantage of the device or operating system capabilities. Good app developers recognise this and harness their development to leverage the device that it runs on. Native development also has the advantage of being close to what the device and software manufacturer intended so it will respond to this and often provide reusable elements.
In the case of Apple apps a good example of this is the little Red Number notification on the corner of the app tiles on the home screen when there is an update available or new content – this is used on the App Store tile to let you know there are updates available, on the SMS tile to show you there is a new message and on the email tile to show you have new mail (and indeed the number of messages). Other usages can be seen in the use of the accelerometer in certain games to tip and tilt the orientation of the device to effect the movement of elements in the game.
3. Apps Should Be Fresh
Like a website, people will only come back to your app if they have something to entice them to do so. Fresh content in the application is key, be that regular functionality enhancements, UI changes, fresh information content, additional levels etc. Having something new in an app gives a user a reason at the very least to open it and have a look at it thus increasing your opportunity to engage with the user.
4. Apps Should Be Discoverable
I’ve lost count of the number of times I have been told by companies “apps are a bit overrated – we have an app, we put it in the app store and it did nothing”. An app is not “The Field of Dreams”. People will only download your app if they know about it.
To come back to the internet analogy, it is understood that the internet is vast and therefore to make it so that people can know that your website even exists there are things that you need to do (SEO, PPC etc). This same logic applies for apps – you need to tell people your app is available and make it easy for them to find. There are a myriad of PPC channels in the mobile space (if you haven’t looked into it before you will be truly amazed at the number of them) and it’s not just about Google. Furthermore organic ranking is critical for visibility of your app, the more people that see it the more that will download it.
You also need to understand the app store dynamics in terms of organic rankings too. Each app store is different but one that is always amazes people is that the now recognised best practice for the Apple app store is that you need to spend heavily in paid advertising to drive your application into the top 25 category rankings (indeed perhaps even allow for a negative ROI on the initial downloads i.e a higher cost per sale than the sales revenue) and then shut down advertising once at the top of the rankings, and generate your return based on organic sales. Certainly that tactic is one to make your Financial Controller uncomfortable.
5. Apps Should Be Multi-platform
Lastly, apps should be multi-platform. The temptation most companies have is to prioritise Apple devices above all else because they are often seen as the ubiquitous smartphone / smart device platform. However, if you want true reach it is critical to understand that there are multiple platforms out there and by far and away the biggest is Android. Recent Gartner data points out that over 64% of second quarter handset sales in 2012 were Android, compared to just short of 19% for iOS, 5.9% for Symbian (yes its still around), 5.2% for Blackberry and 2.7% for Microsoft.
This should certainly be borne in mind when considering cost of development given that each of these platforms is different and to go “native” on each thus requires bespoke work.