So You Want A Mobile App? - Radiant

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So You Want A Mobile App?

Posted by Andrew VanderPloeg

More and more, we run into people who are looking to go mobile.

But as with any new technology, the oft-repeated reasoning behind the desire to "go mobile" goes something like this: "Other organizations have it, so we need to as well." That's not an effective decision-making methodology and it leaves a lot to be desired in terms of actually understanding what you're asking for. There are compelling reasons for SOME organizations to engage in a mobile strategy, but let it be just that - a strategy, not a whim.

For those of you that might be thinking about going mobile, you need to appreciate a few things.

First off, a Mobile Website and a Mobile App are two completely different things and within the world of mobile websites, there are a couple of different approaches, so the issue is complex. Additionally, the costs for developing a mobile presence can range significantly, but in most cases, people vastly underestimate the work and cost involved in developing a mobile presence.

So, for a quick, 10,000 ft. view of the issue, today's blog post serves as a little mobile primer.

Mobile Websites

As mentioned above, there are a couple of different ways in which to approach developing a mobile website.

First, a mobile website can be created by creating mobile customized CSS (cascading style sheet) for your website so that your site shows up better on a mobile device. The alternative would be to do nothing and then your site will simply appear squished on the user's screen. Without revised CSS, your user is required to drag around the screen to see the whole page and zoom in and out to take in content. Mobile customized CSS options include the current "buzzword" approach of Responsive Design. In layman's terms, Responsive Design allows the site to resize and restructure the page 'on the fly' so that the site will work no matter what device the user is viewing the site with. However, you have to appreciate that Responsive Design solutions that are done well aren't easy to implement and they require you to back up and re-think your existing desktop website from scratch because your desktop browser-based website will be the same as your mobile device website - so the financial, time and effort investments will be significant. Additionally, much of the ease of development that makes web design firms advocate Responsive Design is reliant on features of CSS version 3 that don't function properly on some browsers (most notably Internet Explorer 8 and prior). So, you need to take that into consideration as well.

Second, you could create a separate, mobile-specific website. Essentially, this is an entirely distinct process from developing the desktop/browser-based websites that we've all come to know (and love?). This option requires you to start from scratch and create a user experience that is significantly different than that of your desktop-based website. Typically, mobile-specific sites have simplified navigation structures which means you have to be very specific and intentional about what information you are going to put on your mobile-specific site. For most organizations, this is what we end up recommending and Radiant WebTools gives you the ability to pursue this option for a mobile version of your WebTools powered website at no additional cost.


Mobile Apps

In addition to all of those options, what most people will say is that they want a Mobile App. Here's what you need to know about Mobile Apps:

Mobile Apps are software applications that are designed to run on smartphones, tablet computers and other mobile devices. Us programmer types have always referred to programs like Microsoft Word or Adobe Photoshop as "applications" and that's where the name for these mini-applications for mobile devices comes from - they're "Apps". Perhaps that gives you a clue to how they are different from a website - they are installed programs. Apps might be cool and the big buzzword of the day, but mobile apps are typically expensive to develop, should really only be used for specific purposes, and won't get approved by the Apple App Store unless they do something that requires the features of the phone in order to function. What Apple is trying to do with that policy is ensure that people aren't inundating the App store with useless Apps, but adding value to the App world by making something that iPhone users will benefit from. Of course, there are other App stores that may have different policies on this kind of thing, but it's those nuances that many people don't necessarily realize when they turn to their marketing people and say: "We need a mobile App!"

But despite their popularity, there are drawbacks to Apps that you need to consider. First off, they require the user to install them whereas a website is immediately available without any install. Apps can be deleted - websites, not so much. Well-designed and developed mobile websites are available across numerous platforms (iPhone, Android, Blackberry, etc.…), whereas Apps are device-specific. Also, mobile websites are typically easier to find than an App. Now, to be fair, that's not to say categorically that no one should develop an App - there are definitely organizations that will benefit from one. But most people haven't even asked themselves the right questions to know before making an investment that could be a complete waste. For those of you who are on Radiant WebTools and genuinely need an App, you should know that in the next 12 months, we will be looking to integrate a tool into WebTools that will allow you to create your very own App. Stay tuned for more!

So, that's a long post…and yet, we're just scratching the surface of what it looks like to engage in the mobile world. We haven't gone deep into things like the mobile development process and we haven't backed up and asked bigger picture questions about what your mobile strategy is and how it fits with all your other marketing and advertising strategies. It's an extremely complicated consideration and it's one that you probably need help to work through.

Hopefully, this blog post will help you to appreciate that and then to make a better-informed decision about, if, or how you're going to go mobile.

Post edited on Oct 25, 2012