James Hall / Digital Marketing Mobile / October 15th, 2015

You Don’t Need An App for That

Over the years, I’ve built apps across various verticals. Each of the apps I’ve built were supposed to be the “next big thing,” from a cocktail pairing app to a children’s game to a beauty product suggestion engine for a beauty magazine. Like most native apps, however, they did fine for a while, but none were the next big thing.

Many companies still struggle to build a mobile strategy that creates real impact. In my experience, companies focus too heavily on native applications as the critical first step when bringing their product to market. While native apps certainly have a place in your mobile strategy, they may not be the right place to start for your organization.

I understand the appeal of building native – it’s been the bulk of my experience and certain ideas are absolutely more effective if they’re built natively for mobile. Being native offers nearly unlimited access to the device’s features and gives interactions that silky smooth feeling users love. It offers a fully owned platform that captures user attention and delivers rich insights into customer behavior.

So while I’m all for creating a native applications when appropriate, a quote from the great Dr. Ian Malcolm comes to mind:

Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should.

Sometimes, it's best not to mess with native environments. Image in Public Domain.
Sometimes, it’s best not to mess with native environments. Image in Public Domain.

There are definitely times when a native app is the appropriate vehicle for your idea, but too many companies have become enamored with the idea of a native app. It’s time to stop thinking of apps as must-haves and build a comprehensive, user-focused mobile strategy.

The Sad Truth about Going Native

80% of users will only open an app once before deleting it. Let that sink in for a moment.

Companies often venture down the native path thinking their app will become an integral part of their customers’ lives. Visions of Gmail and Facebook apps dancing in their heads. Unfortunately, very few apps have the utility and function to keep users engaged. My cocktail pairing app probably helped a few thousand people throw an awesome murder mystery dinner party, but it’s not delivering must-see daily content for everybody.

When building natively, it’s much easier to sink time and resources into an app that doesn’t actually resonate with your audience.  Although an app may briefly claim some real estate on your customers’ smartphones, native development eats resources that could be applied to areas like marketing and user experience. Investing in the right areas is imperative to any businesses success. That’s why you really need to ask yourself: “Do I really need an app for that?”

That question can be answered with a few simple criteria:

Utility

If the core of your product experience requires the delivery of real-time, immediate information – a To-Do list, personal management app or a ride-sharing platform –  then a native app is the surefire way to go. Apps are ideal for products that deliver daily utility or connect users to information they need quickly.

Hardware needs

If your app is going to leverage the user’s location, contacts, and SMS extensively, the native route might be your best bet. Sure, you could do the same on a site, but it’s much simpler to use the built-in frameworks to accomplish this.

Surprised it’s not a bigger list? Don’t be. It may be hard to believe that if you don’t really fit into those two categories that you don’t need to go native. Your audience rarely (if ever) complains about an app that’s native or hybrid; honestly, they don’t care. They just want a good experience – if an app delivers that, great. Get after it.

So You’re Saying There’s a Chance?

A native app can also be a competitive advantage if other companies in your industry lack a mobile presence, but if you don’t fit into these areas above you probably don’t need an app.

At the end of the day, your primary goal on mobile should be getting to market quickly and delivering value to your users. While they have a place in mobile strategy, apps are incredibly expensive to create and typically take 1.5 times longer to develop – and that’s for a single platform.

Even if a mobile app is ultimately the best way to go, organizations are better served by first building a responsive site to serve as an iterative platform. Starting on the web allows you to develop a mobile solution that works across platforms, launch quickly and validate your idea.

apple-iphone-smartphone-desk

 

Rather than fracturing your user base into platforms and sinking resources into full-fledged apps, a responsive site allows you to identify core features and user behaviors quickly, building demand until the time is right for a native application.

If Not Now, When?

Ultimately, the decision to build a native app should be guided by your users and the marketplace. Too often, clients want to build natively right off the bat, without the insights to build the right solution for their customers.

Working with dedicated marketing and UX strategists before you start development can provide the insight you need to get your product off the ground. Rather than spending months or years developing multiple native apps, we can help you rapidly launch an MVP that’s built to grow.

Armed with the right data and research, we can ensure your product finds its customers – whether that’s in the App Store or on the web.

  • Christopher Burns

    Preach it! I’m glad people are starting to realize that investing in an app won’t necessarily make you a successful business. A good example is one of my local appliance repair shops. They tried to convince me to download their app so I could make an appointment for repairs from the convenience of my phone. The once every 10 years I need an appliance repairman…I can just pick up the phone.

    • Audrey Sianko

      haha! I wish I could like this!

  • http://twitter.com/dustanner Dustin Tanner

    @imjameshall My favorite Dr. Ian Malcolm quote! (and there are some great ones)