While it’s clear that mobile and tablet projects are a great way for businesses to increase their sales and engagement channels, there is no ‘magic bullet’. Even as mobile applications and technology mature, there still remains a degree of confusion around what is and isn’t possible, feasible, and desirable. We’ve looked at 10 mobile myths and busted them below:
Myth – mobile hardware can do anything you want it to
Most mobile concepts start life under the misapprehension that mobile technology is at a stage where it can do almost anything. In truth, despite the leaps and bounds made in capabilities over the last five years, as a small, battery-powered device (not a Google server farm) there are limits on what mobile hardware can provide, and so there are limits on mobile product design. The trick is ensuring creativity is not dampened by technical reality, and that the end result is achievable.
Myth – because mobile phones are small and focused, mobile projects will be small and low-cost
People unfamiliar with software development (and more used to web development) may believe that a mobile device’s limited size and the apparently straightforward nature of many of the apps and sites on offer directly relate to the time and cost involved in developing them. While mobile web can offer some cheap wins, remember that appearances can be deceiving – mobile projects can often end up costing more than the equivalent desktop build due to integration challenges and the broad range of devices and operating systems to support.
Myth – a mobile app can work as a standalone product
The days of the completely standalone app are coming to a close; today even the most ‘gimmicky’ app needs a decent call-to-action to earn its keep. In fact, any good mobile app needs to complement the multi-channel business by supporting the right campaigns and data as well as a consistent brand experience. Plus, unless you’re exceptionally lucky, it’s not enough to simply place your app in the store, then wait for users to buy it. As with all campaigns, let customers know what you’re doing, why you’re doing it and where they can find your product.
Myth – it’s all about apps
Mobile apps get a lot of attention – they’re innovative, creative, engaging and useful. But this can cause businesses to lose sight of their objectives in favour being ‘cool’:
Your app will not always receive five-star reviews – generally speaking, as with most products and services, users only feel moved to offer an opinion when they are dissatisfied, especially for paid-for apps.
Apps are much harder to manage than the web; even small changes sometimes require waiting a week for a full submission and approval process, and it’s tough to guarantee that everyone out there has bothered to install the latest version
For most businesses, it shouldn’t be an ‘either/or’ choice. Many successful brands have mobile sites, tablet sites and apps, to give their customers the broadest range of options for engagement.
Myth – HTML5 and hybrid apps mean that mobile app development will be a thing of the past
Technologies that aim to provide a unified solution for multi-platform implementation are nothing new (Java, for example), but with mobile they have been reborn. While there is the potential for overall time-saving if you absolutely must be on every platform, in reality, the use of so-called ‘shell apps’, which use either web-friendly code or a single non-native programming language for cross-platform mobile apps, have their own unique set of issues:
User experience expectations – users expect apps to look and feel a specific way, and when they compare shell apps with native apps, they will spot inconsistencies which will make them ‘feel’ wrong, even if the user can’t state why. Replicating these platform differences is possible, but it’s a large (and expensive) task which isn’t necessary with native code.
Performance – cross-platform technology is simply not as fast as native code, and for most native apps, slick performance is critical to user experience. They also tend to use more memory, which can be an issue if you want to cater for older phones.
Hardware – you might not have access to the entire range of hardware functions present in the latest smartphones, and certain functions are blocked on purpose by the platform vendor (eg iCloud storage in iOS). When you can access these features (eg camera and location), the performance isn’t quite as good.
The Apple factor – Simply put, Apple don’t like shell apps. Although they no longer ban them outright, they do a lot to discourage their use and specifically put up roadblocks to their adoption. While the App Store remains the biggest player in the game, this will be an ongoing problem.
Ultimately, while HTML5 and hybrid apps can deliver broad compatibility, for most consumer brands they won’t be the right solution; Facebook, Marks & Spencer and LinkedIn are just three companies who have ditched this approach and gone back to native code in recent years. However, they are carving out a niche in the delivery of internal apps for businesses, who have better control over the environment, less complex interface demands and a more forgiving userbase.
Myth – everyone will be using a smartphone in the near future
Although in developed markets almost every phone sold is now a smartphone, there are still a lot of users who have no interest in searching out and downloading apps – they have a smartphone because it was free with their contract, or they use Facebook and mobile email but little else. Similarly, although tablets are making a huge dent in the sales of laptops, there are certain tasks and applications (especially in the B2B space) that work better with a proper monitor and a proper keyboard. Consider alternative ways of reaching these users – SMS or desktop campaigns, for example.
Myth – Android is the biggest platform
When considering which mobile platforms to target, on paper there is no denying Android is the largest platform – but as the OS of choice for the cheapest smartphones, its users are most likely to be ‘disinterested’ (some don’t even know they own an Android phone when questioned). Look at your specific traffic rates and conversion figures before making a decision on platform, as the results might surprise you.
Myth – there’s lots of money to be made in selling apps
Charging for an app is a very delicate process – users expect a lot for nothing, and if you choose not to make your service free, quite often someone will come along who will! Consider instead how apps can generate return in other areas of the business, like marketing or sales. If you do wish to charge, a free app supported by small, in-app purchases for premium features or content is proving itself to be the best model for mobile revenue.
Myth – responsive design is always the answer
Responsive design – using code to identify and then ‘respond’ to different browsers or devices – is the current darling of the web development world. But, while it’s a good tool for meeting the challenges of three-device deployment (mobile, tablet, desktop), there are a number of potential pitfalls to consider before taking the responsive route:
A ‘jack of all trades’ approach can result in an unoptimised user journey for each device
There may be poor performance on mobile if it still loads assets the mobile site doesn’t use
It requires specialist developers to do it well, which may be too much for in-house teams
It can harm SEO rankings, particularly on mobile
Responsive design poses some interesting challenges for your content production, as it’s tough to nail down definite specifications for content providers to work to
It can place some restrictions on design and creativity
As modern development approaches and platform architectures generally separate the ‘data’ layer from the ‘presentation’ layer as a matter of course, there may be negligible time saved in opting for a responsive site over multiple front ends
An alternative approach which should satisfy both user and business expectations is to have one design for tablet/desktop, and a separate experience specifically developed for mobile.
Myth – you need a tablet app
Though current tablet technology was born from mobile development, in reality the tablet is much closer to a desktop in the way we use it and the ‘real estate’ available. It may well be more economical – and provide a better user journey – to spend a small amount of time and money making your existing web experience ‘good enough’ for tablet than to create a whole new one in a native app, particularly with tablet traffic set to overtake desktop within a year or two.
You should have some really compelling reasons to go ahead with the development of a tablet app – ones which truly take advantage of the hardware. If not, you run the very real risk that your customers might just ignore it.
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