The result of a blogging accident

Why you SHOULDN’T make an App for marketing your business

It seems that it’s all the rage these days to make iPhone applications for everything, because apparently they’re exceedingly popular and everyone wants to get on the gravy train. But looking at the reality of it all, it’s a foolish manoeuvre. Pretty much all these arguments can be applied to exclusively developing for any mobile platform.

Lets look at the reality: does your business really need an App?

For the vast majority of people, the answer is no, your business does not.

As an example, say we’re building a tourist guide for a town. You want to show people around, you want to be able to tell them about things that are nearby, you want to direct them when they’re lost, and you want to show them all the places they can spend their money.

How does building an App for your town be any better than say, Google or Microsoft’s local mapping offerings? They have business listings that allow a great deal of information to be entered. In the case of Google’s offering, this is fully integrated with their mapping application that comes installed by default on all Android and iPhones, and can be installed as an extra application on Blackberry, Symbian and Windows Mobile.

How can your town improve on this? How can your town justify the expenditure of developing it’s own application (either internally or externally), maintaining it, advertising it, versus talking to one of these major players who are more than happy to receive more data to expand their own market share? A bonus is that the marketing that those major players engage in directly benefit you, because chance are your target audience will already have it installed.

The other fun part of mobile development is that every device is different. For all the sales that the iPhone has, they only make up a very small amount of phones that exist in the world. They still make up a very small portion of those that have a web browser. Are you going to exclude a large portion of your market on the basis they don’t have an iPhone? Not everyone wants an iPhone, and personally, I hate them. The same can be said if you exclusively target any platform. You end up needing to target many platforms, and that’s where stuff starts getting expensive.

Another idea is to have a well maintained, accessible website. Make it so these websites are acceptable to view on a mobile phone. Lots of popular blogs offer customised experiences for each of the major smartphone vendors, and they even look like “native” applications. Even better is when you have a website that just works on anything, and gracefully degrades when features are not available. You get access to all the phone’s features that are normally reserved for locally-running applications with modern phones, such as location awareness and multimedia content. Web standards exist to make it easier to target content to a wide audience of viewers.

A bonus to actually having a decent website is your developers no longer need to go through the hoops of having an entire development environment for the device, getting the application signed and approved by the vendor, and keeping it up in App Stores. You just have to give them one of each device you want to target for, they’ll get the site working nicely for these browsers. After that, adding content becomes trivial because one content can be served to many viewers, regardless of whether they’re browsing your website on their computer, the very latest smartphone, or a very old phone that only has a black and white screen with a GPRS data connection. Making sure that search engines can properly index your website goes a long way seeing as most people use a search engine as their home page.

In the end, mobile software development is an absolute minefield. There’s requirements to get a development license (which costs money), have your application digitally signed (which costs money), have your application listed on the manufacturer’s store (which costs money), and they can remove your application from the store and people’s devices at any time (which costs money too in lost sales). Mobile manufacturers can and have done all of this on a whim, in an attempt to “improve security on the platform”. It’s just not worth the hassle if you can do the same things with a properly designed website.

For all of these restrictions though, all these devices still come with a web browser, which is not subject to any such restrictions. I can make a website about anything I want, and in the end, no mobile manufacturer could take it down. If I made an App, any manufacturer could take it down straight away, purge it from users’ phones, and have my developer license revoked. All with little recourse for getting it back up, because they reserve the right to do whatever they want.

Just my two cents.