Earlier in the year, Mary Meeker, a partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, released a report showing that combined sales of smartphones and tablets overtook PCs for the first time. You may have noticed that you yourself are spending more time on your smartphone or tablet these days as well.
While creating a mobile website seems like an easy, cheap way to maintain visibility in this environment, another option is to create your own app. A few years ago, that wouldn’t have made any sense. But now prices have come down, the audience has grown and there’s a good chance that if you don’t have a mobile app, your competition will offer one.
How much have prices come down? Jay Shapiro, CEO of Infinite Monkeys, a startup that lets companies make their own mobile apps, says the average cost of creating a mobile app is around $10,000, while Matthew Perry, CEO of Mobients, another app creation firm, pegs the average cost at between $30,000 and $50,000.
Mind you, that’s the average cost. As Shapiro points out, an app like the one developed by Yelp will run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars, perhaps even in the millions.
iOS or Android?
Now that your expectations are more grounded, it’s time to take a look at your options. You may, for instance, have a budget that will cover one version of your app, not two. Which to choose then: iOS or Android? (Developing one for BlackBerry doesn’t make sense for most companies.)
There are two schools of thought: One is that iOS is the standard and affords you the opportunity to create an elegant app. “We typically start with iOS,” says Perry. “Everything is done a little bit more intuitively.”
On the other hand, Android has a bigger potential audience — the OS has claimed more than 50% of the worldwide market since August. Shapiro says, despite developers’ continuing bias towards iOS, going Android makes more sense. “With Apple, you’re completely at their mercy,” he says. “Let’s say you raise some funding and spend six months building an app and then Apple rejects it. There’s no appeals process. You’re out of luck.” Google‘s pathway to Android Market is much easier, Shapiro says.
So what, exactly should be on your app? That depends, of course, on what type of business you run. However, your app should only do a handful of things — and do them well. In fact, the best way to go about creating your app is to ask yourself how your customers would most like to interact with your brand on their mobile device. Will they be grabbing their phones to get directions to one of your locations? Then a store finder or directions feature is a must.
“Find four or five things that you can do very well and focus on those,” Perry says. When considering those features, take a look at some of the top apps to get ideas. For instance, one of Perry’s favorite apps is Home Depot’s, which is a Swiss Army Knife of functions that might appeal to a shopper at that store. There’s a store finder, of course, but also a scanning function, online shopping, a measurement tool to find the size of the nut or bolt you’re looking for and a library of instructional videos.
You might not be able to mimic Home Depot’s app functionality, but perhaps it makes sense to include video or a visual search feature. Another app that Perry likes is Target’s, which, despite the retailer’s huge size, keeps things really simple. For instance, as soon as you launch the app, you see a search bar at the top, plus six functions at the bottom. That’s it, really. You can use the app to buy stuff, see what’s on sale, see what’s featured, make a shopping list, find a store and sign in to your account (if you have one) with the retailer.
Even if you have lots of money to spend on your app, it’s a good idea to borrow from Target’s minimalist design approach. “People have very limited attention spans,” Perry says. “They may be walking around while they’re [looking on your app]. Their attention will be split in a lot of different ways.”