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Mobile App Development Costs May Not Be Worth It

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Mobile app development requires an investment of time, labor and money that may or may not be worthwhile for a business or its Web site.

Mobile app development requires an investment of time, labor and money that may or may not be worthwhile for a business or its Web site.

Yes, mobile usage is skyrocketing and the number of mobile apps are skyrocketing with it.

Yes, there are companies making a great deal of money from apps they develop and sell.

Likewise, other companies are making money from free apps via advertising revenue.

The problem for smaller companies or ones inexperienced in the mobile environment is that they often mix the desire for mobile apps together with the need for mobile friendly designs of their existing Web sites.

In reality, these are two separate business goals. For most sites and businesses, having a mobile friendly design is more important and reaches more people than an app. So it is essential to focus first on a responsive design.

Your Site Already Has a Mobile App

People surf the Web with mobile phones that contain a browser such as Chrome, Internet Explorer, Safari, Firefox, etc. That browser is a mobile app.

If people are already coming to a site with their browsers, why should that site develop a separate app?

More importantly, why would someone bother to download such as app if they get the same capabilities from their mobile Web browser?

The answer is that they probably won’t bother. If they do and realize the browser can do the same thing, the odds go up that they will get rid of the app when they start to have too many apps on their phone.

When Your Site Needs a Mobile App

Web sites and mobile apps provide content, functionality or a combination of both.

A review of the most popular mobile apps will show that the majority of them provide special functionality that a browser can’t provide.

If the business requires that unique functionality, the need for a mobile app becomes greater.

If that business is more interested in marketing or distributing content, the need for an app declines.

The final decision rests on an analysis of return on investment. If the cost in time, labor and money to develop the app exceeds the potential benefit, the answer of whether or not to proceed is obvious.

Like most business decisions, there is an opportunity cost as well. Would that time, labor and money be better spent elsewhere? If the answer is yes, then a mobile app isn’t worth pursuing — at least not at this time.

Mobile Apps for Content

The case for building an app that provides a unique function is strong, especially if a market exists that is willing to buy it. The case for building one for a company that distributes content is weak or uncertain.

Imagine downloading an app that provides weather forecasts. Checking the forecast is a matter of tapping the weather icon on the phone. Getting the weather via the browser requires tapping on the browser icon, tapping on bookmarks and then tapping on the bookmark for the Web site page with the weather forecast. The case here is stronger.

Now add the local newspaper, CNN, stock quotes, sports scores, hobby sites, travel sites, etc. Just like with adding bookmarks, the number of icons starts to grow and becomes unwieldy. The need for them compared to just using the browser becomes questionable.

The pricing model makes it even more questionable. Apps for sale generate certain income. Free apps that are advertising supported, which is common for content apps, often suffer from a low revenue stream.

Common sense and good judgment should prevail. Anyone thinking about building an app should consider how and when they might use it for themselves. Someone who is away from their desktop will value the accessibility required during specific activities such as shopping or traveling. They will not value the accessibility as much for content related to the here and now.

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