"We've decided to go mobile. Now what?"
It's a question many business leaders are asking these days. With the online buzz encouraging businesses to become mobile accessible, reaching customers' smartphones is quickly becoming as important as reaching their PCs. As technology continues to advance, businesses not utilizing the mobile Web will be at a great disadvantage.
But there are many more decisions to be made after a business decides to "go mobile." There are several options to choose from in the mobile environment. The one that's best for your business will depend on what you want online, who you are trying to reach, and what your budget looks like.
1. Your first big decision will be between using a mobile-compatible website, a Web-based application or a native mobile application. A mobile-compatible website will likely be the quickest and cheapest way to get your message to the mobile community. This allows customers to search for you on their smartphone browsers and find a clean, mobile-friendly website to navigate. For those seeking a more advanced mobile presence, an application may be the way to go. These allow for more direct interaction with users and will be easier for them to access quickly from their phones.
Between the two types of applications, a Web-based app will be cheaper than a mobile app. These applications are based within a website, meaning users must link to the site through a mobile browser to use them. The other option is a native mobile application. These are downloadable apps that will put a link right on the user's phone for the quickest and easiest access. Native applications provide the most functionality and, oftentimes, the highest user-loyalty because of their placement directly on smartphones.
2. If you choose to provide an application for your customers, be aware that you shouldn't take everything off your website and simply drop it on an app. Too much clutter can cause a slow and confusing app user experience. There may be a time in the future when more functions are possible, but ease-of-use should still be your main concern. Just as computer users used to be impatient with dial-up or DSL Internet service, mobile users get impatient waiting for complex pages to load. Sit down with your business team and lay out exactly what you want your users to get out of the app. Then make sure it does exactly that, and nothing else.
If you decide on a native mobile application, your final decision may be the toughest: There are several different phone platforms for which to develop. The iPhone, Android and BlackBerry smartphones all require separate programming, so developing for all of them can become very costly. And that doesn't even include lesser-used platforms, like Microsoft's Windows, Nokia's Symbian, Palm/HP and others.
3. All of these platforms also have varying development costs. Many current businesses have decided to design apps for just the iPhone and Android devices, as they are currently the most popular. BlackBerry's app market is quickly falling behind because of its challenging development environment. Because BlackBerry features versions with a track ball, touchpad and full touchscreen, separate applications must be developed for each device. This can get very costly and is why the BlackbBerry app market is lacking compared to that of the iPhone and Android.
All these options should be considered when it comes to preparing your best mobile strategy. If you're simply trying to reach the most users, perhaps all you need is a mobile-ready website. For those seeking applications, a Web-based app may be most cost-effective, but a native app provides a better user experience.
Making the right decision comes down to who you are trying to reach and how you'd like to interact with them. Cost will certainly be a factor—especially for developing applications. But there is little question that "going mobile" will only become more popular as the smartphone industry progresses. Businesses looking for a better way to reach their customers should discuss their options with a developer now.