If I had a Dollar for every time a potential client approached me and said “We need you to develop a mobile app for our company”, I might have built up a small stockpile of cash for myself by now. At least on a weekly basis, the Sand Dollar Design team receives a request from a potential client to design and develop a new mobile app for their company or a business idea. Being focused more on long term relationships with our clients and not in short term profit making, we do not simply go ahead and build these requested mobile apps without first spending a bit of time to understand the reasoning behind the requirement.
In many cases, after spending only a few minutes consulting them, we agree that a mobile app is probably not the best possible solution, and we help them identify a better strategic route to achieving their goals.
In this article, we provide some insights into why a mobile app should not always be the “go to” solution for every business trying to do something digital.
First things first
As Simon Sinek says, always “start with the why”. When designing and developing mobile apps for our clients, we follow a user-centered design process. Step 1 of this process is to understand the underlying problem we are trying to solve. It is essential to understand who your target users are, how they would interact with your product and what their needs are, before defining whether this solution should be a mobile app or another type of solution. These types of insights can only be obtained by spending time researching your users, and probably doing some form of validation that there is in fact a need for the mobile app you are thinking of building. If your reason for wanting to build a mobile app is that “everyone has an app these days”, it would be wise to take a step back and ensure the need does in fact exist.
The reality of mobile app downloads
According to Statista, in 2018 over 60% of Android Apps in App stores had less than 500 downloads in total, and less than 4% of Android Apps had over 100 000 downloads. It is clearly not easy to design and develop a mobile app that is successful in terms of downloads. Even after the app has been downloaded, many users will not use it more than once, unless the app is really successful at meeting the needs of the users.
Mobile Apps vs Websites
There are quite a few cases where we’ve advised our clients to rather invest their mobile app development budget into a website, instead of a mobile app. Mobile App development is typically more expensive than website development, as you need to build a different version for Android and iOS, and you need to constantly keep the app code up to date with the latest operating system changes.
With the advancement of HTML 5, responsive websites work very well on mobile phones these days and can include very slick and advanced interactions that were previously only possible in native apps. Especially when it comes to following a lean startup approach, a website may be a better Minimum Viable Product(MVP) to validate the need for your product in the market. There are, however, still many instances where mobile apps are the best choice, even for an MVP launch, and recent advancements in cross-platform development tools such as Flutter, have made Mobile App development more accessible from a cost and effort perspective.
Mobile apps are more suitable when:
- There is a large existing user base for your products or services on other channels and they are looking for more convenient ways to interact with your company
- You have an existing user base for your products or services and want to engage with them in a more regular and personalized manner
- The mobile app experience itself is a core part of the product/service, such as entertainment and social media apps.
- Users want to / need to interact with your product or service regularly, for example checking balances in a banking app, or chatting to friends through a messenger app.
- When you are disrupting an existing business model through the use of the mobile app as a new channel
- When you have a large existing customer base and need to save costs in traditional channels such as call centers and branches/stores, and would like to move some of your servicing functions to a “self service” model through an app
Mobile apps are typically not suitable as a channel when:
- You do not have a large user base and need to first sell your products or service to new potential users, i.e., people rarely download an app in order to register for something or purchase a product or service
- You want users to do self-service, but only have a small number of existing customers to serve (unless you are expecting drastic growth and are gearing up for larger volumes and do not want to scale up in traditional channels) – the cost might not outweigh the benefits.
- All aspects of the interaction cannot be automated – if you still need human intervention, rather relook your business processes and identify how it can be automated.
- Your clients typically engage with your products/services on an irregular / infrequent basis – in such cases it’s much more likely that they would visit a website than download an app of yours when they do in fact need to engage with your company.
Designing and developing a mobile app is a big investment of both time and money and given the difficulty of getting users to download and use apps in general, it is critical that the underlying need for an app and decision about which digital channel to invest in, is made after thorough validation of the concept and clarity around the specific benefits an app can bring to your organization.
Partner with Sand Dollar Design to design and develop your next solution
Sand Dollar Design is an award-winning global design firm. If you or your company are considering investing in developing a mobile app, or would like our input into the decision-making process, book a free consultation with us to discuss how we can partner with you to deliver something great.