Smartphones and tablets are dominating technology, and apps are among the top selling points for each mobile OS. With Apple’s and Google’s app stores each having over 500,000 apps and tens of billions of downloads, the desire to be a part of this growing market is strong, especially as RIM is now joining the market with the Playbook. Apps can be useful for internal use by your company, or as a way to collaborate with clients, vendors, customers, and the public. Before deciding to develop an app for your business, though, take these considerations into account.
When developing an app for internal use, can your existing systems interface with an app? Do they offer APIs or import/export functions that an app can use to get data in and out? Many systems, especially those developed in-house, may not offer a way to interface with an app, requiring a move to a different system to communicate with mobile devices.
Many off-the-shelf business software solutions, including customer relations and POS systems, include apps to interface with mobile devices. If yours doesn't, you'd be better served by a platform that's quicker to respond to business needs. Evaluate the benefits of a new system, the costs involved in migration, and the costs involved to remain on your current system, including app development.
Many off-the-shelf, server-based business software solutions, including customer relations and POS systems, include apps to interface with mobile devices. If your system doesn't, considering a new platform who's vendor is quicker to respond to business needs instead of writing your own app may make more sense. Evaluate the benefits of a new system, the costs involved in migration, and the costs involved to remain on your current system, including app development.
When developing an app for internal use, which platform will it run on? Android is currently a strong choice for smartphones, while Apple is dominating tablets, and Windows 8 is just around the corner. Standardizing on one platform will simplify app development, but limit your hardware options as well as your selection of other apps that could serve your business. Developing for multiple platforms will cost more, but be more flexible.
Do you have people on staff capable of writing an app, or will you need to outsource development? Fewer developers are capable of writing apps for multiple platforms, so you may need to hire more than one. Keep in mind that you'll need to retain a relationship with the developers as bug fixes and new features are an inevitable part of maintaining an app. If you do decide to develop in-house, using a platform like Appcelerator's Titanium can simplify the process, especially if you're writing for multiple platforms.
Developing your app in HTML5 rather than for individual mobile operating systems will generally make it easier to implement on multiple platforms. Using native code for each platform can improve performance, better integrate with built-in features, and use standard interface elements for a more familiar appearance. Which is more important for your needs--ease of implementation or performance and appearance?
Developing an app involves not only writing the code but also testing it, which is critical for internal and B2B usage. Consider if you have the time and people required to properly test and debug the app, especially if developing for multiple platforms. This factor alone may determine if you narrow your choice of platforms or go with an off-the-shelf solution.
Your business may be set up to support internal tech support needs, but if you release an app for B2B or public use, your support needs expand. Consider how you will support customers, clients, and public users who seek help. Adding help-desk software, such as VMWare’s recently released Desk.com, which ties into Twitter and Facebook, is one way to accomplish this.