So you want an app, but do you really need one?

By Chris Márffy

Wait, what do you mean by ‘app’

Most people associate ‘apps’ with the ones found on mobile phones. The pieces of software we use every day; designed to connect people, read the news and take selfies. You’d be wrong however to think that apps start and end there. Mobile apps aren’t the only kind of apps there are.

‘App’ actually has a wider meaning in the tech space. For example, a website can be an app, a ‘web app’ - they do more than just deliver information, they offer interaction; ‘web apps’ with integrated app-like features are called ‘progressive web apps’; and good old-fashioned ‘programs’ or ‘applications’ for your desktop have been rebranded as ‘desktop apps’.

For a lot of companies, the same product can cover all of these categories. Take Facebook for example. Facebook is a web app, the mobile site is a Progressive Web App, and it has mobile apps too.

Here, we’re mostly addressing mobile, app-store-based apps.

Have you considered that you might not need an app

The natural tendency these days when faced with a problem is to solve it with an app. Modern culture revolves around apps. In fact, according to the Flurry State of Mobile 2017, 92% of your daily phone use is spent in an app. The only problem - roughly 90% of the time you spend on your phone is on the same 5 apps. People don’t use Facebook, Instagram and Twitter because they’re apps, they use the apps because they are Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

The concept of ‘App Fatigue’ is something that’s emerged with the abundance of mobile apps. It’s become harder to differentiate your product or demonstrate a unique characteristic. In fact, most people don’t install any apps in a given month. That’s not to say that producing an app is a terrible idea, far from it. For the services we use daily, having apps available on our phones is an invaluable convenience. Product developers just need to consider the value that having an app will bring to their users. At the very least - consider whether releasing your product first as a Web App, or Progressive Web App might allow you to test your market, without significant extra investment.

Okay, so you want a mobile app - what are the options

You’ve weighed it up, considered your user’s needs, and you want that app. Now what happens? Well, unfortunately, mobile apps are just as confusing, and have just as many options as the term ‘app’ itself.

Broadly speaking, apps are either ‘native’ or ‘cross-platform’. A native app is written specifically for a particular platform. That means a native app made for iPhones, can only run on an iPhone. Native apps typically deliver the best experience to the user. When done well, they’re fast, elegant, and generally just feel good. But, they come with the downside of often being slower and more costly to develop, and you still end up with an app that doesn’t reach 100% of the mobile market share.

An alternative to native apps are cross-platform apps, which aren’t written for any particular platform. Cross-platform apps that are written once can run on multiple platforms - iOS, Android and more. The huge benefit here is that developers only need to worry about developing the one product.

So then what are the downsides of cross-platform? It used to be that native apps were always viewed as ‘better’ - they were faster, and felt more natural for the user. Cross-platform apps were not quite as good as native apps, but they were a lot cheaper - allowing developers to reach multiple platforms with only one app. Despite this, cross-platform apps have come a long way, and in recent years the performance advantage of native has narrowed significantly. It’s still probably fair to say that all else being equal, a natively developed app will never be worse than its cross platform equivalent - the best cross platform apps can hope to be is as good as native.

How much will it set me back

Apps of course come in many different shapes and sizes, and it’s very hard to give a one-size-fits-all price indication. The price of an app depends not only on what features you want, but who is developing it, and what technologies are used.

Our recommendation is to find a suitable developer and discuss your product with them. The worst that’ll happen is that you’ll learn more about the problem you’re trying to solve. Hear from several developers before committing to one and ensure that their outcomes match your expectations. For us, this means understanding the problem you’re trying to solve and making sure that the proposed solution meets that in the best way possible. If not, then there’s no shortage of options to choose from!

Get in touch to talk to us about your app.

Article by Chris Márffy