People reach out to me all the time, wanting to improve the value that they provide to their clients and customers. The latest trend is, “I need to create a phone application.”

 
My question in this conversation goes something like this: “Why do you need a mobile application?”
 
The answers I get are pretty interesting, and they all have “some” value to them:
 
  • My clients and customers are the group of people who can’t put their phones down
  • My customers need to look something up to buy
  • I want to use “push notification” to alert them to something
 
While I can agree with all three statements (which are the most common) above, I am still not convinced that they NEED a mobile application.  
 
So let’s talk a little bit about mobile applications. Mobile apps run on tablets and phones. There are four major platforms:
 
  • iOS – Apple products
  • Android
  • Windows Mobile
  • Blackberry (do they still count?)
 
Each platform runs a different OS (operating system), requiring a different programming language! What does this mean to you, as the person who “needs a mobile application”? It means that your programmers must develop the same app several different times, and the only parts that can be shared are the graphics. It also means that bug fixes, updates, and changes must be done individually for each platform. This can get expensive quickly, and many business owners who want to improve sales do not consider the maintenance part of this when they are quoted a low-ball price over the internet.
 
Back to the original question: When do you NEED a mobile application?
 
If you want to take advantage of the features of the device, such as using the GPS, Camera, Text Messaging, or a Touch Screen, you need to create a real mobile application. This is using what we call “Native Code,” that is specific to each device platform. A website, for example, can be shown on a device, but it can never “snap a picture,” because a website is not device-specific—but a Native Application IS.
 
Explanation: If you simply want to provide a phone-friendly website, then NO, you do not need a mobile application. Most businesses want to be able to provide the same data to a customer or client that they can get from their desktop computer using a browser such as Internet Explorer, Firefox, or Chrome. The problem is that it looks great on the desktop, but is hard to read and really hard to navigate from a 4″ screen.  
 
The correct solution for this problem is to modify your company’s website to be “Responsive.” Responsive design detects what type of device is requesting information, and formats it to be easy to read and easy to use on that particular device. You will see the page magically “adapt” to the size of the viewing screen, and when it gets small enough, even the menu system changes.
 
A Responsive Website Solution may be the right choice for your company if you don’t need to use phone/tablet-specific functionality. It is also much less expensive to maintain over the years, since we’re only working with one set of code (webpages) that will work on all the devices it is viewed upon.
 
This article was originally published by Palm Beach Software