Do we need an app for that?

The general attitude towards apps is so very nostalgic; it reminds me of five to ten years ago when the wave of “I need a website?” was sweeping over mainstream America.  As soon as the wave passes by everyone–mostly businesses, professionals, and personalities–starts looking around in mild not-quite panic trying to jump on the band wagon without thinking strategically about what they will do with a website once they have one.   However, arguably, there was a period of time where having A website–however horrendous–was actually better than no website at all.  These days that depends somewhat on the business in question and where on the scale of offensively awful the website falls. And I am picking up much of the same vibe regarding mobile apps.

A publisher I know once asked me if they should look into individual custom apps for their children’s books;  my local mall has an app; several of the MCDM business clients in the various classes I’ve taken are all on cloud 9 about getting an app for their research-on-ice-cream-stand-insurance-companies project (business model changed to protect the innocent).

There are a lot of complications and limitations to apps and they are insanely expensive to build well.  More importantly, a bad app experience can have a far more damaging effect than other media.  Apps require more investment from the consumer, particularly the time to download and install the app, so the user is very annoyed if it doesn’t work out.

But not everything needs to be an app.  Some things you just don’t want hogging up your phone space forever. A lot of the content and functionality found in an app can be achieved using a mobile website, which is easier to access, more cost effective to develop and deploy, and much easier to update and distribute.

In thinking through a lot of the clients and workshops we’ve encountered in the past eight weeks, I am leaning towards a rule that unless the “app” requires access to native functions, like the camera or an NFC chip, think very carefully about whether an app is really necessary, or if a mobile website could accomplish just as much.


2 thoughts on “Do we need an app for that?

  1. I agree with you Bizzy, for several reasons. One, unlike several years ago, the app space is crowded now. I am of the opinion that you have to EARN the right to an icon on my phone. That’s what I write in articles and tell clients as well. The days of easy real estate on the phone are over.

    Honestly, most apps that I download are for research purposes. There are only a handful of apps I actually use myself on a regular basis. I am starting to get annoyed with all the icon clutter and am contemplating deleting 90% of my apps so I don’t have to gesture 1-3 times to get to one of the apps I do use.

    I am curious if there is something psychological about having that icon on a user’s phone, like planting a flag on Gettysburg hill. The joke is, you can program your mobile website to prompt the user to install an app icon for your website. But, once again, you have to EARN the right to that real estate. You have to deliver something unique and meaningful to that person’s life. Otherwise it’s just clutter.

    I wonder if the next reality TV series will be “App Hoarders”?

    • Haha…I would totally watch “app hoarders!” But in seriousness, I like what you said about earning the right to be an icon on your phone. If it’s a service that I use daily, the app is definitely more convenient (most likely it houses personal information that I need within the app). But, if the app doesn’t offer a service or experience that is drastically different from the mobile site, it will probably get deleted.

      Ironically, the Facebook app has been running so poorly for me lately, that I installed a link from the mobile site onto my homescreen. So far, that seems to be running a little smoother. Which makes me think, it that is a successful option, will that negate the need for so many apps?

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