The fundamental appeal of branded, business-centric mobile applications is clear: Whatever your company does online can also be done on smartphones, which adds portability, location targeting and other cutting-edge technological enhancements to the mix.
The potential of mobile apps extends far beyond marketing. Sure, companies can leverage applications to promote their products and services, reaching on-the-go consumers looking for compelling places to shop or grab lunch.
But mobile apps can also support online purchase transactions, customer loyalty programmes, turn-by-turn directions and social media interactions.
Before you develop your own app, consider these four points:
- Know what message you want to send. Before you start working on your app, make sure you know what you’re selling, what you’re about and the look and feel you want, like your logo colours and font. You also need to know what content you want to put in. You can integrate your app with your blog or your YouTube channel, but that only works if you have existing content.
- Understand your audience. Mobile applications are where people are going to interact with their favourite brands, but you have to know what your customers are interested in. Apps allow for new kinds of user experiences and a different community feel than the web, which results in real engagement and commerce opportunities. Fans and users spend more money in apps than websites, and they come back more. But you have to drive loyalty by pushing messages or with visual content.
- Clarify what you want your app to achieve. Whether or not an app is successful depends on the goal. Is it the total number of downloads, or how often people are coming back? How responsive are customers when offers are pushed out? How viral is your content? Or is it how many people are opting in and giving you their email address?
- Fasten your seat belt. Businesses can really take advantage of the perception that apps are only for large companies. People don’t expect Joe’s Hardware to have an app. It’s an impressive thing for any business to have, just as a website was 20 years ago. It sets your company apart, and puts you on the same playing field as the big boys.
Build your own mobile app
As a business owner, if you decide there’s good reason to develop your own mobile app, there are several ways to do it.
Android: You can create apps using Java for Android by downloading its free software development kit. The kit comes with samples, source code, developer tools and emulators for testing your app. Android even provides how-to videos, technical articles and instructions on how to develop apps, just in case you’re feeling overwhelmed. A one-time $25 developer registration fee is needed to distribute apps in the Android marketplace, now known as Google Play.
Apple iOS: If you want to create an iPhone app using the iOS platform, you’ll need to shell out about $99, which isn’t much considering the elegance and functionality of the programme. The iOS Developer Centre has a wide selection of tools, tips, debugging tests and guides for creating apps for just about any purpose.
BlackBerry: The BlackBerry platform supports several ways to develop applications, mobile websites, themes and even widgets. To distribute apps on BlackBerry’s App World, you have to pay a fee for every ten apps you submit for approval. BlackBerry often offers promotions to waive this fee.
Windows: The Windows platform may not be the world’s largest, but its user interface is easy to use. The Windows Phone development programme provides valuable documentation on the best practices for marketing your app. Plus, you don’t have to worry about your app or game idea getting rejected after you’ve spent time creating it. Windows provides clear documentation on what will fly and what won’t with its approval process.
Not a programming junkie? Don’t like (or know how) to speak in code? There is good news: There are plenty of app development tools for ordinary humans, too.
Here’s a look at nine that you might find useful:
The tool is free to use, but a $79 monthly fee per app subscription gets you access to more advanced features. AppMakr works on the iOS, Android and Windows operating systems.
This tablet and smartphone publishing platform allows you to create and manage your presence on all popular mobile devices, including iPad, iPhone, Android and HTML5 apps. It delivers rich graphics, photos, video, audio and other forms of interactivity.
GENWI also enables you to revise your apps as often as you like. What’s more, apps can include various revenue-generating capabilities for businesses, like ads, coupons and in-app subscriptions. After a three-month trial, pricing varies by features included.
One of the greatest strengths of the London-based Mippin platform is its ease of use. It allows you to create apps for Android, iOS and Windows, and provides flexibility in designing the app. You can even have Mippin distribute your app for you to the iTunes, Android, Windows and Amazon stores. Native apps can cost as much as $999 per year.
Are you a singer or in a band? If so, then MobBase is for you. This app builder allows you to use an RSS feed to keep your fans up to date on band news and events, lets you upload tracks for fans to listen to while browsing the apps and makes it easy for fans to find information on upcoming shows, buy tickets and get directions.
Activation of an iOS app requires a one-time fee of $250 (includes $99 to set up an iOS developer account). Android activations are $20. Hosting fees range from $15 to $65 a month. Additional fees for support services are not included.
Do you have an e-commerce store that you’d like to take into the mobile sphere? Then MobiCart might be what you’re looking for. It links up with PayPal to allow any business or consumer with an email address to securely, conveniently and cost-effectively send and receive payments online.
Basic plans cost $15 per month. ‘Pro’ plans will cost $49 per month.
For just $29 a month, MyAppBuilder will create an iPhone or Android app for you. All you have to do is provide content (videos, books, etc.) and their pros will take it from there. You don’t need a technical background to develop an app with MyAppBuilder. They’ll even take care of the hassle of uploading it to the app store for you.
MyAppBuilder says you can create two apps per month once you register and pay a $29 monthly membership fee.
You can use RunRev’s LiveCode to develop your app. It‘s an English-like language for developing iPhone and Android apps.
With this cross-device platform, you can build live prototypes that use the full capabilities of iOS and Android devices and deploy to whatever platform your customers need. The site is also packed with plenty of tutorials to help you along the way.
Pricing for RunRev’s commercial-level LiveCode packages range from $299 to $1 499.
Another easy-to-use platform is available via ShoutEm, which is set up for bloggers, students, sports fans, news portals and local publishers. You don’t have to have knowledge of coding to set up your app, and ShoutEm will even take care of the iTunes and Android Marketplace submission process.
ShoutEm offers basic, advanced, pro and enterprise-level packages that start at about $30 per month.
Here’s a simple, inexpensive way to build, track and update a native mobile app for your business. You create your iPhone and/or Android app online. Once it’s available for download via the iTunes Store or Android Marketplace you can update content in real time through SwebApps.
The basic package, which includes one app for one platform, requires a one-time $399 development fee. Hosting costs an extra $29 per month.
Hire a mobile app developer
If you’d like a mobile app that lets customers buy your products — or simply access products reviews, videos or coupons — you’ll more than likely need to hire an experienced developer you trust to custom build it.
Here are ten key questions to ask mobile app developers to help you choose the right one for the job:
1. Where can I find examples of mobile apps you’ve developed?
Qualified candidates should be eager to provide you with a list of apps they are personally responsible for creating – or at least played a major role in developing — complete with links to each in Apple’s iOS App Store, BlackBerry App World or Google Play, Google’s Android app store. It’s an essential first step to gauge whether or not they have the skills, experience and vision to produce the type of mobile app you’re looking for.
2. May I have a list of your current and past clients?
Unlike reading movie credits, there’s typically no way to tell who actually developed an app. This is why speaking directly with candidates’ current and former clients can be essential to verifying that the developers actually created the apps they claim to have worked on.
Checking references also gives you an opportunity to ask how reliable, responsive and results-oriented candidates are. For example, you might ask whether they delivered on deadline and within budget, and how well they work under pressure.
3. What kind of smartphone do you use?
This question can provide insight into how passionate and knowledgeable a candidate is about specific mobile platforms. If they can build an app for an iPhone, then they should have an iPhone. They should be playing with the apps that they are building and also playing with other people’s apps on a very regular basis. The same goes for Android and BlackBerry.
4. How can my app make money?
If your primary goal is to generate revenue with your app, the developer needs to know exactly how to build in features that will allow you to make money. If you opt for a free app, be sure the candidate is well versed in how to integrate mobile display ads, in-app purchases or paid subscription services.
5. How will we communicate during the development process?
The quality of your app often depends on how clearly and often you communicate your app design and functionality requirements throughout the development process. Does your app developer prefer to chat in person or via phone, Skype, instant message or email — and how often? How often will he or she provide you with status updates?
6. What kind of special features can you create?
Apps rarely grab consumers’ attention without truly innovative and useful features. Figure out the bells and whistles you’d like and then assess your developer’s capabilities. For example, can your candidate add 3D gaming, social media sharing, GPS check-ins or product coupon elements to your app?
7. Who will own the mobile app?
Typically the individual or company paying for a mobile app will own the finished product. To be sure you own all the rights to the app you commissioned, you and the app developer should sign a written ‘copyright assignment’ or ‘work made for hire’ contract. The document should establish confidentiality and state that you own the app’s design, source code and all of its content.
8. How will you test my app?
Generally, the best way to test an app is simply to run it on the smartphone it will be used on. The candidate should provide a thorough explanation of how he or she conducts an extensive beta test to weed out any glitches. If bugs are found, how will the candidate fix them – and how quickly?
9. Will you submit my mobile app to app stores?
After you’ve approved the beta-tested version of your app, the last step is for the developer to submit it to an app store for approval to be sold there. App submission is often a long, multi-step process that your developer should already know how to successfully navigate.
10. What are your fees and payment terms?
Draft a written agreement specifying that you will pay the developer by the hour or with a flat fee. Most developers ask for a one-time fee upfront. Others require a deposit at the beginning of a project, often for up to half of the estimated total cost, with the balance due when the app is completed.
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