“There’s an app for that,” has perhaps become as common a catchphrase as the age-old “The check is in the mail.” Apps are not the only mobile technology available for businesses, either. Mobile-optimized websites have become increasingly common as a way to reach out to the rapidly increasing mobile market.
Gartner, Inc., foresees an increase in businesses taking advantage of the mobile technology market, using apps and mobile-optimized sites to create prime opportunities in marketing and sales, according to ITBusinessEdge.com. Businesses that jump on the bandwagon earlier in the game may be able to outshine their competitors by staying on the cutting-edge of what is new, what is now, and what is going to retain loyal clients and enhance their image for the long haul.
The big question is not whether or not a business should invest in mobile technologies, but what mobile technologies may be worth the investment. Mobile-optimized sites and apps each have their share of pros and cons. Investing in both may make sense – or not.
Investing in one or the other, however, may quickly be becoming a necessity to help retain existing clients and attract new ones. Mobile-optimized websites and apps both offer businesses a chance to expand to a wider mobile audience, increase revenue and stay abreast of the latest technologies.
Mobile-optimized websites vs. apps
Choosing between a mobile-optimized site or app, unless you are prepared to go for both, can also cause another dilemma. Each comes with its own set of advantages and disadvantages
Mobile-optimized sites can surely be more easily updated than apps can, and they may also be more easily developed by an extension or conversion of an existing business website. Mobile-optimized sites also typically require fewer updates than apps and are not tethered to a specific platform, which greatly increases the overall reach. They generally require less of an investment and businesses are not required to share fees with the app store.
A big hurdle for mobile-optimized sites is the need for an internet connection. Businesses also have less control over how the site appears on each particular device, the sites are forced to share the screen with Google Chrome and the sites cannot take advantage of native interactions.
Mobile apps can be a playground for the customer, taking advantage of native interactions, especially the tools and settings with which clients are already familiar. Apps receive the entire screen space and, with proper research, can be tailored to create a customized experience specific to the customer.
One of the major challenges for apps is figuring out which platforms may be profitable. Apps are also notorious for their short shelf-life, their constant need for updating and their currently narrow appeal. The U.K. web agency Harmony puts the typical app lifespan at 20 days or fewer and notes that the majority of apps – more than 80 percent – are downloaded less than 1,000 times each.
The first time is not only the charm for apps, but their debut must be a success, as few clients will give a company’s apps a second try if the first try was horrendous. Negative reviews can also kill an app before it has a chance to redeem itself. One last con on the apps front is the revenue businesses must share with app stores for the initial app and any updates.
Picking the “right” technology
Choosing technologies in which to invest can be another tough call for businesses. Keeping an eye on what's hot and the overall goal in mind can help. Consumers report a desire to more easily interact and purchase goods and services from companies, which is what the technology should be geared to do.
When it comes to what's hot, Gartner predicts success for a number of technologies. Context-aware services are a huge trend to watch, with apps that base user experience on information specific to each user. This includes the user’s age, gender, interests, activities, profession, among other things. Location-based services are part of the context-awareness primed to grow in the mobile app market.
Purchasing and payment apps are another arena Garner expects to explode. Apps that make it more convenient to shop, search and buy services and products are expected to gain momentum, with apps that allow customers do things like “check in” when entering a retail location. Security should be a major focus for companies looking to expand in the mobile payment and purchasing direction.
Mobile emailing, instant messaging and video are other hot trends to watch, as is an increase in mobile social networking. Companies that take advantage of such technologies may be able to instantly guide customers in the right direction in retail locations, supply informative videos, and email coupons or specials. Customer feedback will also have the ability to hit the social networks within seconds, which could be a great advantage for companies that provide a positive experience.
Larger screens and 3D capabilities are also on the horizon, Popular Mechanics says, as are higher-quality sound systems. Battery power is expected to improve, providing mobile devices with an even longer lifespan between charges – and a company more time to leverage their benefits.