There’s a lot of pressure out there for small business to “get an app”. (And do digital content marketing and be on social and, and, and… But these other pressure points will have to wait for another blog post.)
- Is an app necessary for your business?
- Is it worth your time and hard-earned money?
- Isn’t your responsive website enough?
Especially since you teamed up with one of the many talented web design folks out there, and they’ve built you a responsive website, so easy to use on mobile devices…
An app, by any other name, is still an app
There’s a lot of talk about “apps” nowadays. In most cases, “app” has become synonymous with “mobile app”.
(Technically, they should be called “native apps”).
These are the applications you install on your mobile devices through an App Store.
Mobile apps exploded when the iPhone first came out almost 10 years ago.
At first a mobile app was a great way to gain visibility, because the app store’s shelves were pretty bare.
These days though… not so much.
Now with mobile usage rapidly growing, even surpassing web usage, mobile apps have a new hook into the small business marketing efforts: more eyeballs.
But as you know, if it’s too good to be true, it probably is.
The mobile app world has some dark alleys.
Potholes on the App City streets.
One of the downsides of app development is you can not force all your users to upgrade to the latest version of your app.
So technically, you need to support a number of versions of your app “in the wild”.
It increases the complexity of your application’s code, and will necessarily generate more technical support:
- “Hey dude! I found this nasty bug in your app!”
- “Yes, sorry about that. We know and fixed it last week, as soon as we were made aware. Are you running the latest version of the app?”
- “Hum. No I am not. Upgrading now. Ah – all good! Thanks!”
Short and sweet, sure. But multiply this by tens or hundreds every day…
Another downside is an app built for iOS devices will not run on Android phones (and vice-versa).
You basically need two separate apps. This means you need to manage both apps on both App Stores.
And support two different eco-systems of devices. It also makes the actual programming a bit more complex.
Not too long ago, you really had to build two, totally separate apps.
Now there are hybrid frameworks that let you code once, and then output two different apps.
But these are still rather new, which means less people know them (less competition between experts means higher prices for you).
And there are still some things the hybrid frameworks can’t do.
Meaning your app will be more complex to build and maintain.
And the output is still two apps you need to submit to two different App Stores, and support on a bunch of different devices, etc…
The thing a lot of people forget is apps don’t have to be mobile apps.
In fact, a lot of mobile apps out there are just web ideas packaged into apps to ride the hype wave.
I see quite a few mobile apps that should have been built as web apps, and this might explain why mobile app engagement is so low.
Not only did it cost the owner of the app more money than a web app would have, but users quickly realize the app brings nothing special to their experience.
It just takes up space on their phone they’d rather have for their videos and pictures.
Another great advantage of web apps is it will run on anything that has a web browser: your mobile phone, your tablet, your desktop computer, your car, your fridge…
One version of the app runs everywhere. One version of the app, too. Upgrade once, and everyone automatically uses the latest version.
There are ways to build web apps nowadays so they almost feel like a mobile app (and if built right, won’t take anywhere near as much space as a mobile app).
This new technology is called Progressive Web App (PWA) and it is, quite honestly, awesome. WPA is a topic in and of itself.
Briefly, though, they are web applications that progressively adapt to the user’s browser capabilities.
So on newer browsers, your users will have a mobile-app-like experience, whereas users of older browsers will get a regular web app experience.
(which isn’t totally bad, by the way…)
“Web app”? Isn’t that a hipster way of saying “web site”?
Yeah, I knew you astute reader would ask this. The line between web sites and web apps is a blurry one at times.
Some web apps are clearly apps: think Google Docs, online “Todo List” apps, etc.
WordPress is also a web app (that let’s you create a web site…, very meta.)
Basically, web apps are usually online tools that let you do some tasks.
They will usually let you create content of some sort: documents, todo items, tests, articles, etc.
Web sites are more about the content, displaying it to your visitors, informing them, etc.
There might be a few dynamic elements on a website – like web forms for instance – but it’s not about doing something.
It’s about reading or consuming content.
‘K but… Should I invest in an app???
I mean, an app, like everything else in your business, is about reaching out to your customers.
Creating a good experience for them.
So the answer depends on your customers: where are they? What do they like? Dislike? What do they need?
It’s also about you and your business: would an app extend your brand somehow? Would it allow you to offer a more complete customer experience?
Sometimes an app can be a bubble you offer your clients, a space where they are in full “<Your Small Business Name Here> mode”.
You definitely need to consider investing in an app.
Try to see how an app could reach new clients. Or improve the experience of existing ones.
Because we know keeping customers is cheaper than getting new ones.
Plus if they are happy with their experience, there’s this whole word-of-mouth thing happening.
That’s always awesome.
And once you do think an app would be beneficial for your small business, ask yourself:
“Which type of app: mobile or web?”
You might want to talk to a developer at this point, with your app idea, to see what’s possible.
But question anyone who only talks one type of app straight out of the gate.
Both mobile and web apps should be considered, neither one should be the de facto solution offered.