Is it time for a mobile app?

A thumbnail guide to building your organisation’s mobile presence...

In IT as in fashion, the latest trends dominate discourse. Hardly a week passes now that I’m not asked by at least one client, ‘Should I have a mobile app?’

Of course, if the question really is, ‘Should I have a mobile communications and engagement strategy?’, the answer is an unqualified yes.

These days, you can be sure that half or more of your constituency or client base will want to access information from you using a mobile device, whether a smartphone or a tablet.

It’s imperative, therefore, that you make sure your next website is friendly to mobile and touch-screen devices, and ideally uses ‘responsive design’ so that it scales elegantly from large desktop screens down through various tablet permutations to phone size.

Reaching and mobilising stakeholders via mobile also requires an understanding of their behaviours and motivations, and a good communications strategy begins with research to build profiles of your target audience.

But what about that mobile app?

There are certainly good reasons to have one:  an app can provide an ongoing reminder of your organisation and its work, it can personalise communication with individual users, engage them in interactive applications or games, link in with native device functions like a phone, address book or GPS, and also allow offline access to information as data can be stored on the device itself.

If these are the kinds of things your strategy drives you to do, a mobile app will likely be worth the relatively substantial investment of time and money involved.

If not, consider that a ‘web app’—a good mobile-friendly and database-driven website—can deliver most of the same advantages and functionality of a native mobile app with less cost and fewer downsides.

Web apps are much less expensive to develop, yet they are standards-based so they work across all devices and platforms. Mobile apps need written for each platform, iOS, the many versions of Android, Blackberry, Windows Mobile, and so forth.

Web apps can be updated quickly like any website; mobile apps meantime can be costly to redevelop, release and support. And yet web apps are more ‘future proof’, as the web changes less quickly than mobile device technologies do.

Web apps can be linked to and easily shared and discovered online, and therefore can have a broader and more immediate reach; mobile apps need to be installed from various app stores.

Experts estimate that most apps last no more than 30 days on phones or tablets; web apps can be accessed as long as they continue to be hosted online.

For these and other reasons, it’s worth taking stock and having clear goals before jumping on the mobile app bandwagon: it could very well be that you can achieve more and spend less in your mobile engagement strategy by  building on the tried and true world wide web.