Our world is now dominated by mobile.
Tablets and smartphones direct our consumer choices. Where just a few short years ago we were buying laptops and desktops; we now buy iPads and Samsungs.
This has led many companies and organisations, especially e-commerce companies, to look towards building their own app, in order to stay ‘Ahead of the curve’. E-commerce companies see many of the large aspirational brands releasing more and more apps to the marketplace. But, over the long term, does anyone actually use apps? If so, what for, and are those numbers significant enough to you building one?
What many companies have missed is not rise of the app, but instead the rise of Responsiveness.
Responsive design sites are nothing new, the ability to snap a site to different aspect ratios is as old as the hills, however while the concept is old, the execution these days is brand new. Many consumers, sitting on their sofas and playing with their iPads are not just downloading apps, they’re consuming web content and there’s nothing more frustrating than a site which just isn’t suited to use on a tablet or smartphone.
Responsive design has some significant advantages over apps, namely; it’s cheaper to promote and cheaper to build. The reality is that if your current site is not optimised to tablets, then you shouldn’t be building an app.
Apps may be considered ‘cool’ to create (make no mistake, many apps are very cool) and to say you have for your business is a great bragging point. But their intrinsic problem is a cyclical one of promotion and use.
Apps are not as easy to find as websites, which have SEO and other channels to back them up, you must rely on often expensive ad campaigns combined with a significant amount of dumb-luck that someone will actually hit the download button. Which leads to the second problem; when someone does actually download your app, what will they do with it? Will they use it? If an app isn’t useful it can lead to bad reviews, and in turn, puts more pressure on your marketing abilities.
While these two issues may seem relatively small and solvable, they’re deceptively big and awkward. Apps are expected to be much more functional and feature rich than a website, offering an added experience. Consumers expect apps to be better than a site, and by-in-large; more reliable. To build an app anything short of this, leads to bad reviews and uphill struggles.
Beyond this, you could raise even more questions, such as what platform to release your app on? The more platforms, the higher costs. You must also consider future market shifts; your customers are using iPhones now, but as Windows Phone’s get better; will they switch? Finally, something which is more problematic in the long run is updates; these can be time consuming and slow, requiring time, thought and effort. Whereas website changes can be done on the fly, app updates require marketplace approval.
A Responsive design site is not only cheaper, but it almost completely removes the need for an app. If your site is optimised to your customers’ browsing habits (from a desktop to an iPhone) then you should be able to easily add or build any functionality into the site as required. When you build a site, your designers should be scrutinising every last inch of analytics data anyway. If you’re an e-commerce business (a shop, restaurant or hotel), then the likelihood is that to use your app, your customer will need a web connection anyway. A site which adapts to your customers’ device makes not only more sense, but it’s a better experience for the user. Why send someone on a smartphone to a desktop site, offering them the chance to download a mobile optimised experience, on a separate platform?
In short, apps for many companies, particularly in the e-commerce industry, are vanity projects, which do nothing but use up valuable resources and finance. A truly good experience and display of understanding your customer is through a Responsive design site, which can adapt to meet their needs, not the other way round.
So if you, or your company, is considering an app; just ask yourself why you need it, and how much time you really want to put into it.