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.