Should there be an app for that?

January 26, 2011

The Apple App Store just hit an historic mark of 10 billion downloaded apps. Add to this all the alternative app stores that have sprung up for everything from smart phones to TVs, and any software developer with a good idea can certainly see nothing but potential! But then the question arises, what about corporations? Should they be creating apps for their various stakeholders and constituents? As is often the case, there is no single answer.

The Apple App Store: There's an app for that!

The reasons for creating an app are many. An app can create a more immersive environment that translates to a better experience which reflects positively on your brand. An app can take advantage of hardware features not yet available to some Web browsers (e.g. camera, GPS). An app can seem much more responsive due to native code and reduced network traffic. And, of course, an app is seen as more hip! But let's consider the negatives as well. Which platform do you target? It’s a lot of duplicative effort to target multiple platforms. You have to manage multiple developer relationships with the various app stores. Updates are out of your control—meaning you rely on the end user to do updates. Maintenance becomes exponential with each platform you target. For many corporations, an often overlooked alternative is the mobile-targeted Web site. By creating something targeted to mobile, you can harness many of the advantages of an app, but only have one version of code to maintain and update. If your platform is properly set up, you can easily share content with the desktop browser version of the site so that content is updated in one place only. We recently had the pleasure of creating the 2010 annual report for the CFA Institute and mobile access was a prime consideration. Naturally, we thought of creating an app. But when we looked at the large range of devices—BlackBerry, iPhone, iPad, Android, and Nokia, it became clear that a Web-based approach made more sense. We used a combination of HTML5/CSS3 with media queries to help determine the interface. We didn’t have to sacrifice design and were able to take advantage of the benefits of the mobile platform. The result was a quicker time-to-market and reduced maintenance as we ensured compatibility across devices. Apps are a very powerful delivery platform and absolutely necessary in many cases but don’t overlook a well thought-out mobile Web site as a great alternative. Leave us a comment and tell use your thoughts, your company’s plans for mobile, or give us your feedback on the CFA Institute annual report.

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