An app is not for life...

The always-connected expectation of the ‘Facebook generation’ continues to drive the use of personal communication tools such as smartphones and tablet computers in the workplace. Despite ongoing concerns about security and...

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The always-connected expectation of the ‘Facebook generation’ continues to drive the use of personal communication tools such as smartphones and tablet computers in the workplace. Despite ongoing concerns about security and productivity, organisations are now recognising that this can be harnessed to benefit employer, employee and customer.

But as information on the move becomes a necessity, it is easy for organisations to succumb to the current ‘app for everything’ philosophy. Therefore, before progressing with the development process an enterprise needs to make a realistic assessment of whether this is a strategic extension to its unified communications plan.

The uncertainty of an emerging ecosystem
While mobile phones are now considered mature technology, apps are still an emerging ecosystem with no ‘best practise’ or guidelines on how to progress. Organisations must therefore be comfortable working on a ‘trial and error’ basis. They must also ensure that development partners acknowledge the resulting uncertainty. For example, it is unrealistic to expect that the 3G / wifi signal will be consistent. An app developer must therefore accommodate this limitation, building in the functionality that will enable sessions and data to be easily restored. Failure to do this is potentially more damaging to a brand than having no app in the first place.

An app is not for life
The emerging market also requires businesses to consider the longevity of their potential app. Apple, for example, has undertaken a major upgrade to its operating system every year, and there is no guarantee that an app that works on iOS4 will work on iOS5. This potentially requires that an app is continually developed so that it will always work with the most up-to-date technology. Therefore, from the outset, it must be decided whether the app warrants this budget and, if it does not, the user’s expectations must be set - if they are suddenly unable to find the app, it can damage the reputation of the brand in question.

Balancing complex design requirements

When it comes to the all-important design of the front-end of the app, the process is a complex one that must balance the technical specification of the device, the identity, brand guidelines and style guide of the organisation, as well as the protocols of the operating platform. The rigorous nature of the latter often requires the enterprise developing the app to relax its own corporate standards.

A design specialist is often the best option. However, the competitive market in which it is critical that an app stands out can result in ‘style over substance’, so it is important to ensure that technical specifications are taken into account.

Preparing to launch
The organisation must decide on whether its app will be free or require payment, privately advertised or available from an app store. Other revenue-generating options must also be considered - for example, iAd rich media sales provide the opportunity for advertising at the bottom of the screen to be sold, with the app provider receiving a revenue share. A function to request feedback should also be incorporated in view of the most successful apps being those with at least three star end-user reviews.

In addition, any app for Apple devices needs to go through the sometimes-lengthy Apple App Store approval process, so this timeline must be factored in if there is a specific launch date requirement.

The future is…user-driven
Forrester recently coined the phrase ‘splinternet’ to denote that the web as it has been known for the past 15 years is disappearing. Digital communication is no longer as simple as ensuring that an organisation has a website that works on a browser. As Web 2.0 moves to Web 3.0, the user increasingly commands how and when they want to consume data, and on what device.

Organisations that invest resources to understand today’s app development environment will be well-placed to meet future challenges and opportunities, as consumers continue to drive the communications channel.

Posted by Gavin Adam, head of product management, Formicary Collaboration Group

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