To develop or not to develop a mobile app? That is the question!
According to some estimates there will be more than 1 billion mobile Internet users globally before this year is over. This target group is already so large that undoubtedly most brands and consumer focused businesses should have a mobile presence. But what kind of a presence, that is a different question.
For many, the straightforward answer simply seems to be to jump on the iOS app bandwagon targeting iPhone and potentially also iPad users. Such an approach works as long as you can be sure that your customers, or most of them, are using a smartphone from Apple. Unfortunately, that is rarely the case anymore.
The market adoption of Android based smartphones has been so rapid in many countries that for many brands it is obvious that their mobile offerings need to support both, Android and iOS. Also, is your target group very specific or is the goal to reach most people possible? Even though the number of smartphone users has boomed in recent years, a significant portion of users still don't have one.
Another question is this: does a mobile app bring the most added value or would your customers be served better for example with a mobile optimized website?
Consider an example of a user looking for a restaurant in a new city: Isn't it quite likely that the user would launch Google Maps or the browser on her mobile device and search for a suitable place? If you have a mobile optimize website, it will show up in the search results and if the site has been properly designed & implemented, it will provide the user with phone number and directions. Instead, how likely is it that the user would have a mobile app particular to this restaurant installed on her device?
The choice between developing a mobile app or a mobile website is also a question of the estimated lifespan of your mobile offering: Generally speaking mobile apps have a much longer lifespan than mobile websites, for example those built for a marketing campaign.
Apps require care and nurturing (rarely is a piece of software perfect from day one...) and are usually more suitable in cases when you expect your users to come back over and over again. To make this reality, you need to be willing to constantly update and keep the contents of your mobile app fresh. If this is not a viable option for your business or your budget doesn't allow continuous investing on development, a mobile website might be a better option than an app.
To summarize, the decision to develop or not to develop a mobile app should be made primarily based on two factors: First, it is crucial to understand where your customers are and if a large enough group of them are users of the smartphone platforms you are planning to support. Second, you should evaluate carefully where you get the most bang for your buck - is it by developing an app or a mobile website.
Also, nothing prevents you from investing in both a mobile app and a mobile website. Whichever form for your brands' mobile presence you choose, you will benefit. The continued explosion of mobile Internet users will make sure of that.