|Is a Mobile App the Solution for Your Business? |
|Mobile technology is certainly nothing new. More businesses have “gone mobile” throughout the past few years and that trend is likely to continue. The demand for mobile-ready Websites and applications is increasing just as fast as the number of consumers using smartphones. Because this has been true for a couple of years, most major consumer-facing companies are currently accessible on your smartphone. |
|Mobile technology is certainly nothing new. More businesses have “gone mobile” throughout the past few years and that trend is likely to continue. The demand for mobile-ready Websites and applications is increasing just as fast as the number of consumers using smartphones. Because this has been true for a couple of years, most major consumer-facing companies are currently accessible on your smartphone.|
Until recently, these mobile initiatives took care of everything businesses were trying to accomplish in the mobile world—they provided a quick and convenient way for consumers to access their product from their cellphone. But as the smartphone industry continues to evolve, many business leaders are expanding their mobile operations beyond consumer purposes.
The trend we are currently noticing includes more businesses embracing mobile programs not only for consumer outreach, but also within their own workplace. With many employees either provided with or owning a smartphone, customized mobile programs can save management both time and money. Just as consumers no longer have to be at a computer to interact with your business, employees no longer have to be at desks to get their online work done.
Mobile applications can especially benefit employees who require quick communication within the field. A tanker truck driver, for example, may be able to access a customized program to track the tank’s capacity, amount of product left, and next drop-off points. In the office, another employee can access that same program to note the status of deliveries and let buyers know when to expect an arrival.
As the smartphone increasingly becomes our primary communication and organizational tool, businesses need to find a way to interact beyond the basic company email. Not only can a mobile application increase efficiencies around the office, it can also keep employees happy, allowing them to tap into work programs when it’s convenient for them, even when they’re out of the office.
So how do you know if a mobile application is right for your business? The first step is to determine exactly what you need your application to accomplish. While smartphones are more advanced than ever, they aren’t meant to run complete versions of common laptop or desktop applications. So the question business leaders must ask themselves is, “what process are we trying to mobilize?”
The most efficient mobile applications will do exactly what the users need them to do, and nothing else. An app shouldn’t look like a mobile Website, with multiple pages of options. Too much functionality becomes slow and confusing on a mobile device.
If you were creating a mobile app for a home assessor, for example, it may include a list of homes to visit for the day, contact information, and a map or directions to the site. This provides a quick, easy interface for field assessors to access while on the move. Keeping it simple allows for an enjoyable user experience—meaning employees are more likely to make use of the mobile program’s advantages.
As smartphones become quicker, more functions may become possible, but ease of use should still be your main concern. Just as computer users used to be impatient with dial-up or DSL Internet service, mobile users will also become impatient waiting for complex pages to load.
Once you have the application functions finalized, your next challenge will be deciding which mobile platforms you want to develop on. The iPhone, Android, and BlackBerry smartphones all require separate programming, and developing for them all can become very costly. And that doesn’t even include lesser-used platforms like Microsoft’s Windows, Nokia’s Symbian, Palm/HP, and others. This causes a major dilemma for businesses looking to reach a wide variety of consumers.
But with a mobile application designed specifically for your business, you have the advantage of controlling which devices employees use. For companies that already provide phones, a mobile application can become very cost-effective, as development is only necessary for one platform. For those who may need development for multiple devices, the decision comes down to your budget. Web-based applications offer a cheaper solution as they are accessible through mobile browsers, but they may be slower and less efficient.
The decision to make a native application versus a mobile Web app is something all businesses will have to deal with. Right now native applications are more attractive, partially due to the limitations of mobile Web applications. Mobile Web apps are experiencing some of the adoption issues that occurred in the late 1990s. Varying support for HTML standards, slow processor speeds, and slow Internet connections are some of the more significant barriers to mobile Web adoption.
But as you can see with iPad 2, dual core is not that far off. With 4G Internet connectivity becoming more standard for major carriers, some of these limitations will disappear. This is very analogous to what happened when Firefox and Internet Explorer started to adhere to the W3C standard, and DSL became widely accepted.
Mobile applications are still in their early stages but are primed to grow in both functionality and popularity during the next few years. Businesses looking for a better way to increase productivity in the field should discuss their options with a developer now.
Patrick Emmons is cofounder of Adage Technologies and a technical architect with more than 15 years of programming and Web-development experience.