Friday, October 8, 2010

Mobile Apps vs. Mobile Web

With smartphones becoming commonplace and more and more people using mobile devices both at work and at home, enterprises are increasingly looking to make use of mobile applications. Small and medium-sized businesses are apparently beginning to pick up on this trend, and many of them are turning to developers to create custom mobile apps for them.

The mobile apps market has moved its center of gravity from business apps to consumer apps in the past couple of years, and this overall benefits SMEs because they potentially align more with a consumer profile in that they want easy-to-use apps that are inexpensive.

IDC statistics show that mobile devices are becoming the new enterprise desktop for more than 50 percent of the workforce.

Apple and Google have unveiled tools that make it easier to develop apps on their platforms. So why would SMEs go to the expense of hiring app dev firms instead of creating their own apps in-house?

Developing mobile apps with these software development kits might look easy, but you need to understand the technicalities. Each of these platforms has its own language and its own way of working. For example, Apple's iOS uses Objective C, while the Android and RIM platforms use different versions of Java.

Aside from having fewer resources than large enterprises, SMBs face the same challenges when developing on mobile as anyone else. The market's fragmented, meaning they have to create different apps for different platforms and have to design apps for the lowest-common-denominator phones. Also, they have to consider that the phones will have only intermittent connectivity to networks.

Another point working against SMEs developing apps in-house is that application development is more complex than it appears to be.

It's almost axiomatic in the high-tech industry that SMEs lack the expertise and in-house tech staff to do much in the way of IT work, so app development isn't easy for them.

In other words, unless the programmer is sufficiently skilled, apps created with simplified SDKs may not be robust enough to meet SMEs' business requirements. And if the programmers are that skilled, SMEs may not be able to afford them.

Perhaps there's a less costly and better solution -- mobile web apps.

I believe there are far too many native client apps which could have been far better written as mobile web apps.

While these mobile platforms are entirely different from an app point of view, they are quite similar when viewed through the lens of a web app, since all of the smartphones have good browsers. Good mobile web sites can be made almost indistinguishable from native apps. Yes, there is still work to do to make web apps work across multiple platforms but it is significantly easier than building custom apps for each platform. There are other benefits too:
  • you can do live updates (no need for constant trips back to the app store)
  • the web apps also work on the desktop
  • you don't have to deal with the app store submission process
  • you get forward compatibility
There are very effective ways to use the Mobile world :

1: Create a Mobi site. This informs your customers that you have a mobile presence. It gets them used to the fact that they can access your info via their cell phone. You can use many tactics to entice them such as competitions etc.

2: Create a Mobile Community. Now that your customers are using your Mobi site, you start building your mobile customers community – ie. those customers who have the ability and the willingness to use your site.

3: Create a Mobile Shortcut. This is an icon that is installed on the user’s phone that is branded with your logo and takes them straight to your Mobi site.

Mobile is defiantly the way to go. Keep in mind that “me-too” applications don’t work – you have to have a unique offering.

With India specifically, mobile web makes most sense – we have limitation and we have a different mentality.

So anyone wanting a Mobile App – please consider the above before spending BIG BUCKS on development. In most cases you can achieve the same result at a fraction of the cost and still be able to talk to all your customers and not just those with the latest iPhone !

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