I hate it when people say ‘we need to build an app’. Here’s why…
Reason #1 – They should stop thinking up ‘solutions’ before understanding the ‘problem’ (if indeed there is a problem)
When you say ‘we need to build an app’, you’re focusing on the ‘solution’ before understanding ‘why’ an app is required. As Simon Sinek says, always ‘start with why’. What is the problem you’re trying to solve? Who are the people that you are seeking to serve? When you say ‘we need an app’, you’re glossing over all the important stuff – the plethora of who / what / why / how questions that need to be asked up front. Once you’ve answered all of these questions, only then can you settle on an appropriate technology solution. It might be that an app is entirely the wrong solution – perhaps it’s a series of TikTok videos that you need instead?? Build a solution that is going to solve the problem – don’t preconceive the solution before you know what the problem is! Who knows, there might not be a problem to solve at all…
Reason #2 – What those people perceive as ‘apps’, aren’t really ‘applications’ at all
Apps are ‘applications’ – there’s a clue in the name! By definition, they’re supposed to ‘do’ something useful. You can’t book an Uber without the Uber app – that’s an app that ‘does’ something useful. And that’s why you’ll find it on most people’s smartphones. Unless you’ve got a specific, useful ‘application’ to provide, then best not to consider an app. If you’re just publishing content, then a website is a much better bet. There are far too many content websites masquerading as ‘apps’.
Reason #3 – You’ve actually gotta develop at least TWO apps
Half the world uses Apple. The other half uses Android. To reach them all, you’ve gotta build two apps. And maintain two apps. And upgrade two apps every time the operating system is updated. Hope you’ve got deep pockets! Alternatively, build a single, awesome responsive website. Websites are device agnostic: they’re accessible on any device, whether it’s a desktop, laptop, tablet or smartphone; you can use them on any operating system (PC, Apple, Android, Mac etc); and you can use them in any web browser (Edge, Chrome, Firefox, Safari etc).
Reason #4 – Apps are inherently inaccessible (and dispensable)
Want people to use your app? There are so many obstacles! You’ve gotta convince them to visit the Google Play Store or the Apple App Store and search for the app. You’ve gotta convince them to use all their valuable phone data to download and install the app. You’ve gotta encourage them to use it more than once. You’ve gotta convince them to keep the app on their phone and not uninstall it. Guess what? The vast majority of apps are dispensed with soon after installation. Unless there’s a compelling reason to keep it, most apps end up on the scrapheap. Will yours be any different?
Reason #5 – Apps are largely invisible to search engines
The vast majority of internet sessions the world over begin with a search on a search engine. Circa 90% of these searches are on Google. Whilst Google does provide some app listings in its results these days, most of the content within apps is completely invisible to search. If you’re publishing content, a website is always going to be a better vehicle for being found in search. Unlike a website, the goodness within your app won’t be easily discovered – you’ll need to convince people to install it first before they discover what’s inside, and that’s often an insurmountable hurdle.
Reason #6 – Apps are bloody expensive to build and maintain
App development is more specialised than web development, and more costly. You’ll need an iOS developer and an Android developer to build your suite of apps, and they’re harder to find than a web developer. You’ll need to simultaneously invest time, effort and money in your website and in your new apps (which serves to fragment your focus and funding), and each will need management, maintenance and development. New Android and iOS operating systems are released regularly and you’ll need to make sure that your app remains compatible, secure, and that it keeps pace with new functionality offered in these updates. You’d better be sure that the app is going to be a winner, because it’s not going to be cheap…
Reason #7 – Apps are in decline
The number of apps in both the Apple App Store and Google Play Store has been in decline since 2018. Two thirds of US smartphone users don’t install a single new app in a month-long period, and 23% of all apps installed are only used once. And these stats have come to light at a time when smartphone use has skyrocketed. It seems that we all have the apps that we need on our phones and there’s little need to get more. Will your app be so compelling that it will buck these trends?
Is an app ever worth it?
Yes, of course, there are situations where apps are absolutely worth investing in.
Apps are better at utilising the in-built, native functionality of the device – eg. the camera, biometrics, GPS, NFC chip, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi – and many of these functions cannot be accessed by an equivalent website in a web browser (although this is changing).
Apps typically provide a more graceful user experience (UX) than a website, because the app is tailored for use on that specific device. For example, apps in the Apple App Store are built and optimised to run on iPhones and iPads.
If you’re a internet-only behemoth, like Facebook, Amazon, Netflix, Google or Uber, then clearly there’s value in developing apps. We all have apps from these companies on our smartphones.
If you’re a bank, a betting company, a video-on-demand service, a food delivery service, a major supermarket, or a national online classifieds advertising company, then you’ve probably got good reasons to publish apps, too. These sorts of companies are routinely represented among Australia’s top 100 apps.
But if you’re a small-to-medium organisation, or a business that is not ‘internet-only’, then you’d be best served thinking twice about developing an app.
If you do choose to proceed, you’d better make sure that your ‘application’ is a good one, otherwise it could be costly white elephant.