Does your business need an app?
With sales soaring of smartphones and tablet computers, businesses are looking for ways to deepen their connections with customers and also attract new ones using mobile devices. An app is one way to do that.
Research by venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers suggests 46 million apps are downloaded daily from Apple’s App Store. And the number of users willing to pay for apps is high, as Nielsen research suggests 93 percent of users will spend money on a game, 87 percent on an entertainment app and 84 percent for a productivity app.
Because of the explosion in interest, business-created apps has been a hot trend this past year. Even though it seems everyone is doing it, you need to give serious thought about whether developing an app is a good choice for your company.
When making your decision, consider factors such as whether an app fits your business. More importantly, it would need to fit into the lifestyle of its users. It should make their lives easier, cheaper or offer some fun.
One major question to ask is whether you just need to offer a mobile website instead of an app. The answer may come down to the amount of resources available. If you already have a website, why not make it mobile-ready for your customers so it’s easier to view and interact with on phones and tablets?
Making your website mobile-ready can be cost effective as there are free options and others as low as $8 monthly based on the site’s traffic. By contrast, developing an app can cost between $500 and $10,000. That should give you pause for thought.
Should you want to pursue an app, you really need to know your customers, their needs and what mobile devices they use. You’ll have to decide what type of app would interest them. Apps can be categorized into a few basic categories such as entertainment (games), content (news, sports, etc.), utility (simplifying tasks) and transactional (purchasing like the Starbucks app).
You’ll then have to decide the ideal operating system platform, such as Apple’s iOS, Android, BlackBerry or Windows Phone. Most companies develop for iOS first then other platforms. That’s because the Apple operating system boasts the most active users of apps when it comes to not only researching but also purchasing via their iPhones and iPads.
How easy is it to develop an app? It comes down to your skill level and knowledge of programming language. You have two options: build it yourself or hire a developer. There are do-it-yourself options such as and in which you use templates to create your app. They can cost upwards of $500. Hiring a developer to produce your app can cost anywhere from $2,500 to $10,000 depending on the app’s complexity.
All apps must go through a submission process to be approved and appear in an operating system’s app store. Any updates to your app will also have to be submitted for approval.  Apple has strict guidelines and the approval process takes time.
Lexington’s Adam Martin, owner of boutique creative shop A. Martin Design, developed a tailgating app that was available from 2010-2011. It provided information on parking, tailgating rules, bars and restaurants, hotels and so forth for each college football city in the Southeastern Conference. Ultimately, he decided to forgo the app as it was a side project to his design business and in reality was never going to compete with services like Yelp and Google. Not to mention, he said the revenue it brought in didn’t really offset the development and content creation costs of keeping it online.
His advice to fellow business owners is to first decide if an app is really what you need. Many people think because apps are so popular that they need to create one for their businesses when they could get by with mobile-optimized websites or improved web design. If an app is what you need, though, then find a good developer that has an extensive knowledge and portfolio in Objective-C or Cocoa programming.
He also says you shouldn’t expect to become wealthy from your app. Very few hit the jackpot in the crowded App Store and even if your app is great, how will people find it? You have to combine it with great marketing, great development and a great experience for the user.
The bottom line on apps is it always comes down to the goals of your business and the needs of your customers.
This column was originally published in the Lexington Herald-Leader on Monday, November 26, 2012.
Ann Marie van den Hurk, APR, is an accredited public relations professional with over a decade experience bridging the gap between traditional public relations and emerging technologies. Need help reaching your business’s customers, call 302.563.992 to schedule an initial consultation, or contact Mind The Gap Public Relations.

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