Should I Have An App?

The question of mobile applications is a popular one. Certainly, there are a number of people who cannot see mobile devices and services without them. And to some extent, this has always been the case. The question though that’s been been hard for some to ascertain for themselves though is whether they need an application or not.

Applications are event or task-driven software. Sometimes, this might require some input from the person who desires information. Other times, this input information may be derived from outside sources such as another website, sensors on a mobile device, or a combination of these plus input from the person. So then, with asking this question (should I have an app), we should probably start with the key piece of data – what will this application be providing?

In previous articles, we’ve talked about mobile having three components (devices, services, and experiences). In this piece, we’ll try to answer this question (should I have an app) through this lens.

Content and Services

There are two things you provide through any computing interface: content and services. Depending on your realm (media, education, etc.), what you are providing is key to discerning whether you need an application or not.

Taking from a recent inquiry where we were asked to help someone determine what kind of app they needed, we asked the question: what will your application be giving that your current endeavors on your website and Facebook do not already offer? The intention was to have a spade of content that was readily accessible to potential fans of their work, but that question (a content question given their realm) was already answered through their existing media engagements.

Platforms and Ecosystems

A consideration for any kind of application (whether native to a specific computer platform like Windows, iOS, etc., or more ubiquitous like the Internet) is where it will be living – if you will, what is the platform that you will choose to serve this application from. Again, depending on the realm that your content or services exist within, this can be a simple answer or a complicated one.

Graphic taken from VisionMobile’s article HTML5 and What It Means for the Mobile Industry. Also, Mobify has written recently on the topic of mobile apps versus mobile websites (disclaimer: we use Mobify for our mobilized website) with some items to consider that correlate with Vision Mobile’s findings.

Going back to the example above, the person was interested in an application for mobile devices, but was not aware that to address their current audiences, developing a mobile application for at least three mobile and at least one desktop platform (mobile: iOS, Android, and BlackBerry; desktop: Windows or Mac OS) was the course. Or, they could opt to take the route in developing a web application (using HTML5 most likely) that could fit across most of those platforms, but would (in that case) simply duplicate existing efforts on Facebook and their current website.

Closing the Experience

Regardless of your content/service and the platform, there’s a larger goal that you have in mind when you are asking the question “should I have an app.” Have you clearly defined the goal of this experience? What are the spiritual, theological, social, or personal takeaways that someone will (not should) have when they finish a session within your application.

Let’s go back to the example we’ve been using. Remember how we asked the question “what will your mobile application offer that your website and Facebook site don’t?” That question gets extended here. What is it that your content or service offers that changes the person? Does your current website or social networking engagement follow through on this experience goal? For what you think of building into your mobile application, is this a realistic goal for a mobile application? Mobile use is different than a regular PC, and even other forms of media (radio, TV). Given the attention span that a mobile device might have, and what you are thinking of as a mobile application, do goals line up with what can be had given this mobile context?

The “Checklist”

Clearly, this isn’t always an easy question. And for those whom are looking towards developing a mobile component to their offerings, there are other questions that come along as the prior two sections are nailed down. We have these three layers of mobile (devices, services, and experiences) that help guide towards answering some (or all) of these questions. This at least gets us to the point of having a checklist of sorts towards answering this question.

Should I have a mobile application?

  • Am I delivering content or performing/administering a service?
  • What does a mobile application enable my content/service to do that current channels (website, social networking, etc.) cannot do as effectively?
  • What platform should I choose for my initial mobile application?
  • Is my content/service complicated by logistical constraints (languages, delivery/receiving methods, etc.)?
  • What resources do I have to develop on the platform our audience is most likely to meet us on?
  • What experience should be gained after this mobile application is closed?
  • Does this follow along with our vision/values?
  • Are there aspects of the experience that we can’t control that we are ok with?

Granted, this is a simplified checklist, but it at least should help some in getting through the question of “should I have an app” towards the perspective of making sure that you don’t just have it to have it, but also profitably put your energies on reachable goals.