To App or Not to App

By Piyush Jha, AVP, GlobalLogic

The dilemma is new, the parameters are not.

Do you put up a fancy app for your business in place of (or to make matters more complicated, in addition to) your mobile site? Or to take your mobile site to the next level. Where essentially, do you put your money and heart?

To be fair, it is not an easy one to answer. And I promise, this story will not provide any answers either. I will just attempt to bring things out in the open, so that you have a closer, cleaner look.

Quite a few major enterprises are moving towards doing an App today. Why?

Because it is cool, and convenient. To the customer, that is. Its a boutique product done “just for you” and your device. People used to an iPhone “feel” will be able to work with your app just like they would any other feature of an iPhone. The swipes, the menu, the icons - all custom made for your device. People who swear by the android world will live in theirs without needing to learn any new customs.

This makes the app sticky. Because of the convenience the user finds on your app, he would keep clicking the icon rather than going to the website of your competition.

In the e-Commerce world for example, some players started going “app only” so that they take the users away from the multiple sites in multiple tabs scenario where the user is the king and buys the best bargain. Akin to a street corner with multiple stalls and you take your pick. By going app only and investing in your app being addictive and sticky (through gamification, engagement etc) you make it more inconvenient for the user to go out and shop. Akin to a boutique store. And you have more chances of converting the deal.

You can also use a lot of features at the user’s disposal - camera, geo location, Bluetooth, contacts, save data on the phone and do a lot more!

Then why is everyone not going the same route?

The problems are many. You have multiple OSes - iOS, Android, Windows. Then you have multiple form factors - mobiles, tablets, phablets; and variations within them - iPhone 5 is a different size from 6 which is different from 6+. And then there are OS versions and phone versions that are not always backward compatible. If you code for each of them, how many code versions will you maintain? If you make compromises, you make your users unhappy and compromise with the wow factor which was your basic premise.

Then there are other considerations. Apps take space on the phone. They crowd the phone real estate. So, users would tend to have a limited number of apps on their phone. Your app may not be lucky or compelling enough to stick around on the phone. Which in turn will compel you to maintain a mobile site in addition to the app. Which adds to another layer of complexity.

And though you have so many versions of code, you would be expected to maintain a consistent look and feel; and features for that matter, across the versions.

There always is a third solution, isn’t it?

These are the guys who have hybrid apps. Using platforms like PhoneGap, Appcelerator etc. or plain HTML5. The apps are actually mobile web sites but mimic the look and feel (and idiosyncrasies) of the device. You can choose to the extent you wish to customize the solution to the device itself. Or even start with a generic solution and progressively make it specific based on user response. They tend to bring out the best of the both worlds - albeit in a limited sense.

As promised, the article does not provide you the answers. You need to seek to be able to find it. It just exposes some the considerations you should be having. However, the answer will depend on the money you have, the team you can afford and the need for specifics your particular business has. If you are an e-Commerce site, you would probably need to do apps. If you are a media site instead, you may decide based on the depth of your pocket! 

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