Today, effective mobile apps get serious work done –enabling salesforces to manage their pipelines, helping engineers inspect building plans, giving doctors the ability to review patient data, and more.
At Icreon, we develop serious (yet beautiful) apps on iPhone, iPad, Android & Windows. We're known for blending awarding winning design with serious, scalable, engineering-focused performance.
Understanding which devices you need to support at the outset.
Building out a user experience that is touch and hardware optimized.
Creating integration points that connect your data to your apps.
Capturing usability heuristics to understand how the apps are being used.
Reiterating on your mobile offerings to add new features and functionalities.
Here’s a terrifying statistic for any business that doesn’t provide mobile technologies to employees or customers: today, Americans access the internet through mobile devices more frequently than through computers. And if your target demographic includes young people, the numbers are even scarier: one in five millennials accesses the web only via their smartphones. If you don’t have a well-designed mobile app, your business could be quite literally invisible to the increasingly large demographic of mobile-first users.
The solution, of course, is to develop an app, but that’s easier said than done. And if you go into the process without a proper understanding of what to focus on, it can quickly become a quagmire. Case in point: the TSA reportedly spent hundreds of thousands developing an app so ridiculously simple that a relatively novice coder could build it in a matter of minutes. It was a colossal waste of time and money and an embarrassing PR gaffe once the story got out. The TSA probably doesn’t care much, because its annual budget is over $7 billion. But most companies operate on tighter margins and can’t afford to needlessly waste money in the app development process.
So don’t go the way of the TSA. Avoid these four major mistakes and you’ll be well on your way to developing an app that isn’t ridiculously expensive and has a good chance of finding the right audience.
The first and arguably most important step in the development of any app is identifying who your target users are, and what they’ll want to use your app to do. It’s easy to say that you want your app to be like a mobile version of your desktop site, so it should include all of the desktop site’s functionality and content. But often, that’s overkill that can turn off mobile users, who are generally looking for a fast and convenient fix.
Moreover, your mobile and desktop users could be completely different people, or they could have completely different needs. Think, for example, about the way you use your bank’s desktop site compared to the way you use its app. You might turn to the desktop site to do something like look up a bank policy, make a series of transfers, or find the details on opening a new account. But when you’re on mobile, chances are you want to do one of only a few things: check your balance, deposit a check, or make a transfer.
Once you know who you’re building your app for, you’re faced with another daunting question: do I develop Native or Hybrid?
For the uninitiated, native means developing an app specifically for a particular mobile operating system—so, for example, you might build one app specifically for iOS and then another specifically for Android. Going hybrid would mean developing an app partially using “native” methods and partially using HTML5, which makes it possible to essentially code one single app and still have it function across multiple mobile operating systems.
The conventional wisdom is that developing native apps takes more time and money but results in a better end-user experience. Developing hybrid apps, conversely, is generally quicker and will ensure your users across all platforms get the same experience, but the fact that hybrid apps aren’t fine-tuned to take advantage of each specific OS’s unique features can mean that they offer an inferior UX when compared to native apps.
Although native apps are generally “better,” they may not be the best choice for your company, so this is a question you need to thoroughly investigate. If you need to produce a best-in-class user experience regardless of development costs, then you should be writing native apps. Conversely, if you don’t, and if a slightly less polished user experience isn’t likely to significantly impact the revenue your app generates, then there’s little reason to invest extra time and money in developing native apps.
There are technical considerations here too, though. Depending on what your app needs to access, you may be forced down one route or another. For example, if your app works best when integrated with other apps, some of which are iOS exclusive, then native development may be your only option. Ditto if you app requires the use of a unique feature that only exists on one mobile OS (like iOS’s 3D Touch feature).
So, what’s your budget? What’s your time-frame? What OS-specific features might your app need? What level of user experience do you need to provide in order to satisfy your users? You need to know the answers to these questions before you begin the development process. If you start developing hybrid only to later realize you should have gone native (or vice versa), the loss of both time and money could be devastating.
On its face, adding more features almost always sounds like a good idea. The more your users can do with the app, the more they’re likely to use it, right? Wrong. In actuality, adding too many features can be the death of an app, for several reasons:
First, mobile users are generally looking for a fast, convenient, and simple experience. If your app has twenty different features, chances are it’s too complicated to be fast, convenient, and simple... or too overwhelming at first glance for users to even bother figuring out.
Second, not everyone is using the latest hardware. The more features you add, the slower your app is likely to be on older phones and tablets, and if your app is slowing down a user’s whole machine or crashing because it’s too demanding for the hardware, you can bet on a low adoption rate.
Third, remember that people will be looking at this app on tiny, four- and five-inch screens. Your design needs to be aesthetically simple and clean for the app to be easily usable on a screen that small, and the more features you try to cram in, the more crowded that precious screen real-estate is.
Fourth, if you’re focused on constantly adding features, you’re probably not spending enough time thinking about engagement, and how your app will get users to actually use those features. Users aren’t always predictable, and every new feature you add will likely need to be tested and tweaked before it can effectively engage users.
Putting in too many features is an easy way to run out your allotted time or budget before you’ve had the chance to do user testing and make changes to improve engagement. It’s better to have five features that you know from careful testing are going to engage users than to have 20 features you never had time to test or adjust.
So unless you’ve got unimpeachable data to suggest that your niche customers need a deep, complex app experience, you should be thinking fast and light when choosing the features for your mobile app. Don’t go overboard; instead focus on the few core functions that the app will need to satisfy the user needs you identified as part of #1. If you’ve got extra time or budget, spend it on improving engagement through fine-tuning the experience of those core features rather than shoving more features into the app.
Here’s a mistake that happens frequently because of sheer carelessness: forgetting to capture usability data to be able to iterate on the app.
It’s easy to make this mistake because during the development process, you’re often going to be focused on the user experience and functionality. But iterating on engagement metrics is just as important.
The specific metrics you want to track will depend on your business. But without some kind of tracking, you have no way to know how well your app is doing. More importantly, you have no way to know the ways in which it might need to be improved. You’d never launch a new website without analytics tracking, and you shouldn’t launch a new app without it, either.
The good news is that there are lots of companies that provide premade analytics solutions, so you probably won’t have to pay to code your app’s analytics features from the ground up. Flurry and Mixpanel are popular choices, as are Google’s Universal Analytics and Apple’s App Analytics.
The world of mobile devices in the workforce grows more complicated by the day. Employees often bring smartphones, tablets and/or laptops to work—sometimes all three on any given day—and these same people expect their business apps to work seamlessly on every device they use.
That’s a tall task for anyone who designs and develops mobile applications, especially considering that there are a multitude of smart devices running on different operating systems—such as iOS and Android. But here’s the question most business are asking themselves today: If you need a mobile app to help streamline workflows and organize your workforce, how do you create an app that works on multiple devices without spending an arm and a leg?
The bottom line is that creating native apps for individual devices can be costly and time-consuming. Meanwhile web-based and hybrid solutions often don’t work as well when dealing with a lot of information that must integrate with back-end systems. One way to meet the needs of your workforce is with Mobile Enterprise Application Platforms (MEAPs).
They allow companies to develop, deploy and manage mobile apps that work across multiple platforms, and do so in a secure environment.
Whether you need to manage a Web-based, native, or hybrid mobile app—or a mix of all three—MEAPs can help you manage the workflow process. In this respect, you dictate which platforms your business wants to take advantage of, rather than working in the platform that’s easiest for you to use at the moment.
This, in a nutshell, is what MEAPs can do for you. The following Rule of Three, developed by Gartner, suggests that you can benefit from MEAPs if your company:
Here are two big benefits that MEAPs can provide:
According to AT&T, mobile application developers spend 20 percent of their time actually developing an application and 80 percent of their time adapting them for multiple platforms. MEAPs allow you to flip that ratio.
In MEAP deployments, the middleware connects to data in back-end systems, then adapts and translates the information so that it’s viewable on whatever device is requesting the information. So, instead of paying a company to create multiple versions of one app, you can put your money toward developing more apps that add value to your business.
As you may know, application development can be very time-consuming. A survey by Kinvey revealed that 56 percent of CIOs and mobile leaders said it takes between seven months to more than a year to build one app.
In fact, because many MEAPs on the market utilize Java—the most common programming language—as well as HTML5 for common, cross-platform interfaces, the development period for apps meant to run on multiple platforms requires less time and energy than if you were to develop multiple native apps simultaneously.
It’s one thing for individuals to download commercial apps—such as games—onto their mobile device. It’s a whole different challenge when mobile apps are integrated with a company’s key back-end infrastructure. If a device with access to key data via a company app should fall into the wrong hands, a breach could easily occur and cause financial damage to a business.
Many MEAPs, however, guard against unauthorized access and aid in the effort to protect data, even if the device is lost or stolen. Because these platforms offer a front to back-end solution, they are able to utilize advanced encryption standards—which make the transfer of data across mobile networks more secure.
Additionally, because MEAPs allow for an environment where security is heightened, it means that industries that must comply with strict regulations can rest assured they will be compliant.
MEAPs can also play a watchdog role because they own a centralized management component that allows for transparency throughout your mobile network. Your IT team can monitor any and all activity on mobile apps, including users, data, traffic, etc. and deliver a detailed report to boot. That includes being able to control which users can access certain applications as well as which applications can access databases and retrieve data.
The complete transparency also allows for troubleshooting problems and keeping an eye on bandwidth and server capacity as more and more mobile apps are integrated into back-end systems.
If the Rule of Three strikes a chord with you, the next step is to find a vendor that can customize a MEAP that meets the needs of your business.
So the data is kind of scary: According to a 2014 study conducted by Ansira, 44 percent of mobile app defects aren’t discovered by developers—they’re discovered by end users.
Take into account that Gartner, Inc., projects consumers will download 268 billion mobile apps by 2017, and you’re looking at a lot of disgruntled customers wondering why the app you just sold them isn’t working the way they or you anticipated.
And it doesn’t matter that 92 percent of the apps that users download are free. In exchange for that complimentary app, users generally receive some kind of advertising from the app owner, not to mention the fact that they have to submit their own personal data in order to access most apps.
Numbers like these keep folks up at night. Why? Because the bottom line is this: if businesses can’t find more effective methods for discovering errors within their mobile apps before they hit the market, then they’re bound to face a heavy siege of user resistance before that first app even launches.
So why do so many mobile apps roll out with a plethora of defects, and how do we fix the process? As with all software development, planning and testing are key to a successful roll-out.
The general solution is creating synthesized internal processes for app development, so that developers are discovering snafus before those apps hit consumers’ smartphones and tablets. This means that the age-old mantra of “test early, test often” needs to be amended in the mobile app world to include “test before it’s in the wild.”
First, let’s look at some of the most common reasons why mobile enterprise development fails:
When consumers complain about apps, those complaints typically have to do with a poor user experience—poor responsiveness, workflow design, or user interface (UI).
For example, while users will generally give a desktop app six to 10 seconds to load, speed expectations for mobile apps are much less tolerant. Users will often abandon an app that doesn’t work in a couple of seconds. KISSmetrics offers a pretty insightful visual assessment of user patience (or lack thereof) here.
As a part of this, the UX and its feedback can help drive the choice of development platforms and paradigms going forward. Some organizations choose fully native development, whereas others use HTML5 to keep complexity down and agility up. Unfortunately, even with today’s advanced mobile platforms, the functionality is not on par with a native app, yet.
The good news is, with today’s modern cross-platform software development kits (SDK), you can have one code base for multiple native application deployments as well as for your traditional web based application; in other words, you can almost have your cake and eat it, too!
Plenty of developers are recognizing the efficiency of using cross-platform tools like Xamarin and Titanium/Appcelerator, so they can write code once and then generate it for all four smartphone operating systems. Each of these approaches has its own pros and cons which need to be considered, ideally with substantial user feedback incorporated in the decision-making process.
As we previously discussed, most mobile apps that fail in the marketplace do so because there are too many bugs that aren’t discovered until the end user experiences them.
In general, this is due to a rush to get a product “out the door” to meet the market’s demand. However, while speed to market is a major requirement in today’s digital world, it’s a big mistake to rely on the end user, intentionally or unintentionally, as part of your quality assurance testing team.
Building and following a development/integration/test/refine process, which includes having a detail-oriented test engineer in the loop acting as the user can oftentimes make the difference in successful mobile app deployment.
A corollary to number three on our list, failure to iterate rapidly can be just as bad as iterating too rapidly, or, more to the point, skipping important test steps during rapid iteration.
Enterprise mobile apps, in particular, are vulnerable to failure, (due to their bespoke functional requirements) and require a dedicated analysis of user behavior and quick upgrades to address changing behaviors and/or user needs. If you can’t respond to user demands in a timely and accurate manner, all else equal, your customers will go elsewhere.
How do you make sure the above doesn’t happen to you? Here are three critical tips to ensure optimal development and deployment of your enterprise mobile app:
While one of the biggest challenges of timely and workable app development is the array of devices on which they may be used, give your app some close scrutiny.
Who is your target audience, and what are the primary devices they are using? Maybe your audience is primarily Android users, and engaging in app development for iPhone isn’t worth the investment.
Understand who is using the app before you start developing it. You may find the data surprising. For example, according to IT market intelligence firm IDC, Android holds more than 80 percent global market share.
Usage behaviors can change over time. Gartner advises AD teams to make an optimal user interface as the starting point for development in combination with an awareness of how to establish a workflow that reflects how users actually use the app.
Developers can deploy in-app instrumentation and analytics through vendors like Flurry or those that come with MADP solutions to learn what users are actually doing within the app they’re using.
With the lightning-speed changes in the mobile market, AD teams not only need fast development and deployment practices that constantly upgrade mobile apps as user expectations change but also as manufacturers release new versions of operating systems. Unlike desktop applications that may take 18 months to develop and deploy and then are often in use with minimal upgrades for as long as five years, almost all mobile apps experience constant demand for continuous iteration.
One of the biggest challenges of testing mobile applications is preparing them for use on a wide array of devices with different operating systems and variable wireless networks.
Some of the most common issues include user interface issues, inconsistencies across platforms, and excessive consumption of resources. We recommend, at a minimum, a two-tier testing approach on device simulators as well as on a subset of the most widely used and latest devices.
Developing an app and then testing it for quality just doesn’t work—you need an agile development strategy where testing is going on simultaneously with development. So it bears repeating: test, early, test often, and test before your mobile enterprise app is in the wild.
Before you venture into app development you should ask yourself why building a mobile app is important to your business. It’s easy enough to say that you want to create a customer facing entity, but what verticals are you fulfilling by doing so? Just take a look at Uber and Facebook. Both companies possess apps that create an experience like no other, which also means that both are fantastic examples of how a B2C app can increase user engagement. From FB messenger app alone you can order an Uber (in some locations this has rolled out), pay a friend, and keep connected with friends and family.
But, most likely, you’re company isn’t either Uber or Facebook, right? So if you’re contemplating a B2C App build, here are some key points to consider:
You need to know your users so you can engage them—and having the best data is the key to unlocking who you consumers are, as well as understanding their behavior, and tracking their interactions across all channels. You want to capture the users’ attention, and you need data to create personalized engagement campaigns that can do just that.
Once you’ve created your B2C app, you’ll need a top-notch app analytics and marketing platform to set yourself up to learn what areas your business is succeeding in, as well as which ones are lacking. When choosing an analytics tool you’ll want to look out for something that has real-time data for knowledge discovery and timely actions, as well as in-depth data on acquisition, activation, retention, referral and revenue.
For example, Google Analytics is a free analytics tool provided by Google. The app overview tool gives you four metrics: Acquisitions (which help you discover info about new users), Mobile App Audience (statistics on new versus returning users, as well as country/language) Mobile App Behavior (event tracking, and reports on speed and crashing) and Mobile App Conversion (helps set up goals, and see goal flow, as well as tracks conversion.)
Another free analytics tool is Flurry, which is for iOS, Android, Blackberry, Windows Phone and mobile web. Top companies such as Skype, AOL, Google, MTV Networks, Facebook use this tool for many of their apps, and it gives info on active users, sessions, session lengths, frequency, retention, audience persona and demographic.
App analytics allows the business to develop customized marketing campaigns that can fuel growth, customer retention, and business improvements.
Some of the youngest modern consumers have grown up on mobile apps, and they expect their app to speak their language in a personal, connected way. Use your app to understand the behavior and demographics of your users, and then create unique experiences that are custom made for each segmented audience.
With a mobile app, you have the ability geo-target your users, which is when you deliver content that is specific to a user’s geographic location. According to the Local Search Association’s Local Mobile Search Study, 70% of consumers will share their location information if they believe they will receive something in return. One way to geo-target is to have an advertising campaign appear through the mobile app specifically when a user is within a certain distance of an accompanying outlet. Another way is to provide offers that are location specific: coupons for coats only available to users in the Midwest; or offers on swimwear if your users live in a warmer area during the winter months. Geo-targeting allows you to offer your customers something that is unique to where they reside.
Furthermore apps can send real-time messages that will prompt the user immediately after they’ve completed a specific action. If your user has just finished reading an article, your app can suggest a new article based on similar material. Or like with Uber, and other sharing economy businesses, as soon as the ride is done, the app will prompt you to rate the experience.
In the last few decades, businesses have almost exclusively used email to send notifications to their consumers. Unfortunately the open and click rates of email has dropped, but with a mobile app notification you can communicate with your users in a much more successful manner. In-app notifications appear as soon as the user opens the app, while push notifications appear regardless of user activity.
Personalized push-notifications are not only a good way to engage users, but are very important in bringing back inactive users to the app. Push notifications speak directly to the consumer by providing insightful reminders, personalized offers, breaking news that is of interest to them, and account status alerts. The most important part of a mobile app is to show the user direct personal value, and in-app notifications as well as push notification keep your user engaged.
When designing your mobile app, you’ll want to consider creating dedicated sections that contain extra resources that can only be accessed by app users. This makes your app users feel unique as well as provides incentives for using the app over and over again.
The New York Times App is a great example of this—it’s free to download and allows users to access up to 10 free articles a month. But after the 10 articles have been read, users are encouraged to subscribe to a paid plan that offers unlimited access and also provides a device-tailored version of the app.
Consumers commonly turn to apps to satisfy needs they can’t find on a website. Mobile apps have the upper hand on websites, because they can take advantage of all the features on the mobile device like, a camera, contact list, GPS, and compass.
For example, the Bank of America App takes advantage of the mobile camera, and lets users take a picture of a check in order to make a personal deposit. As long as they’re using the app, users never have to find a branch; instead they can do all their banking from home.
These above examples show just how powerful, and important, a mobile app can be for your business. We live in a time when consumers are demanding personalized interactions from their companies, and a mobile app delivers them a unique experienced tailored specifically to their needs.