So, you want an app?

Earlier this year, I was lucky enough to meet Josh Clark at FOWD. I’d been reading his articles about flagship apps and content first, and I was very keen to have a chat with him about a discussion I’d had with a client. I had been discussing which platform they should be targeting, and depending upon who I was talking to at the client (and their opinions on the goals of the project) the decision on a choice of platform was different.

Josh, and his mobile vs native talk, positioned this decision as an “audience/content/budget” question, which matched the conversations I’d been having with my client. At the end of his talk I said to Josh, “this would make a great flow-chart, like that one that Jessica Hische did!”, “Yeah, that’d be awesome!”, said Josh.

I’m very pleased to say, that after some delay, it’s ready for public consumption.

So, you want an app?

With a lot of help from my company and colleagues Ed Hartwell-Goose,  Fin Edridge and Simon Dring we made an interactive flow-chart to guide our clients, other industry professionals and their clients through the minefield that is choosing the platform for your app. We called it, “So, you want an app?”.

It’s still a simplification of the whole process but, in researching it, three things became abundantly clear:

  1. You must know your audience – there are no exceptions to this. People use different phones for very different things. Blackberries are used by teenagers for BBM and by corporations because of it’s security and low data usage; iPhones are very high-end consumer devices; and Android phones are thought of as being for very technically minded people, but they’re also entry-level smart phones. Picking a platform without knowing what your content and its audience is a recipe for disaster.
  2. Your content needs to be simple to access – all end-points on the flow-chart will need some form of content platform behind them to drive engagement, re-use and to keep the app up-to-date. If you’ve got an old CMS, you may have to build a light-weight web service to let your app access the content easily, quickly and efficiently. People use apps to get at content, and whether they’re a game or social media, your content is king.
  3. You cannot do this half-heartedly – and by that I mean you’ve got to have a decent budget. Also at FOWD, Matt Gifford was joking that the £50 website was now a £75 website; apps are suffering this problem. Apps are viewed as small, simple bits of functionality that you can knock-up in a weekend; this is simply not true. Apps are often full-sized websites with the added complexity of fitting the core content onto a tiny screen, but since they look small clients think they’re easy to make and do, and are therefore cheap. Stories in the news of 14-year-olds making games in the app store top 10 aren’t helping either. Start with a 5-figure sum, and keep going upwards if you want your app to really succeed.

I also mention PhoneGap a lot in the flow-chart, and that’d because I genuinely believe it’s a great solution to the “discoverability” problem. This is where you have a mobile web site that isn’t getting enough exposure as people think of “apps” as items in the “app store”. PhoneGap fills this hole nicely, and gives you access to device hardware as a brilliant bonus. The tools are easy to use and PhoneGap Build now takes all of the hard bits of building for Blackberry and Windows Phone away.

Still, there are gray areas in the platform selection process, especially when it comes to tight budgets and enterprise apps. If there’s only one thing you take away from this tool it should be this: Content is King, know your audience and how they will use your app. The rest flows from there.

You can find the tool here: www.paconsulting.com/so-you-want-an-app – I’ll post the full poster version here when it’s completed.

Please, let me know what you think, and let me know if you use it for a client as well, share your stories and share the tool with your friends.

 

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Steve Workman

Steve Workman is the Head of Web Engineering at Yell. He is also an organiser for London Web Standards is an occasional public speaker, talking about web performance and web standards

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