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appsBuilding a mobile app may be all the rage right now, but it's still a potential marketing misfire. You should always take time to consider exactly why you are investing in an app and how useful it will be for your customers.

Is your business best represented through a branded social media, games, digital brochures or another service entirely?

That said, the continuing growth in mobile commerce and mobile use in general means that a well considered app can be a valuable addition to your marketing arsenal, connecting you directly with customers who will increasingly engage while on the move.

With quick processing time and ease of use, iPhone, iPad and droid apps all making headway into everyday life, there's plenty of great reasons to step into development.

With this in mind, here's a few quick pointers to help streamline your development process.

The customer is always right

Whenever you start a new project, the natural order is to gather your data and begin thinking about functionality and processes.

With apps however, you should always keep usability at the forefront of the process. Begin by designing your interface and planning the user experience.

If your product is difficult to use it will put customers off, so let function come after design.

Know your limits

Phones are constantly improving, and with 1GHZ of processing power the iPad is no slouch either, but they are still a long way behind the latest desktop.

It's easy to get caught up in the design process and forget about the device the app will be running on, so constantly run checks on a variety of devices and make sure you stay within those limits.

Something that looks incredible at design stage may clog up slower processors or push out clunky graphics.

Onwards and outwards

You want your app to be used by as many users as possible, so stay away from feature overkill.

Remember, scalability isn't just about avoiding crashes. Your app should be designed around a simple, solid core that's easy to adapt and enlarge upon later.

It's easy to market an upgrade directly or using a micro-transaction, but by cramming in too much before you go to market you run the risk of having an overly complicated clunker.

Apps should be as quick and simple as possible while remaining useful.

Think on your feet

The apps market is fast moving and changeable, so make sure your development teams set up an agile process if possible.

By allowing multiple teams to develop and test simultaneously you’ll improve your turnaround and have a more predictable delivery date.

Make sure your timeline remains flexible so that last minute client requests or technical tweaks can be incorporated more easily.

If something works...

As mentioned earlier, mobile devices have already made massive market penetration so users are already familiar with a set of basic gestures and controls for both mobile and tablet devices.

While the iPad's increased capability does give you scope for a lot of very advanced functionality, you may find it better to utilise basic 'tap and drag' navigation so that users can quickly grasp your idea and get to work.

This may seem anti-innovative, but again think about usability.

Navigation should be didactic rather than a chore.

Measure your success

With the huge growth of mobile markets, you'll need to be sure you're tracking the right data at every step.

Your app should seamlessly blend with your existing infrastructure and enhance your multichannel approach, rather than being a separate funnel.

Make sure you're able to track CRM, sales, response and abandonment accurately so that you can change and update any problems as they arise.

Above all you should concentrate on simplicity. Make sure you have a user friendly app that's clear and can be used out of the box.

If you're successful then you can add unlimited new functionality as and when needed and keep pace with advances in mobile computing, so don't try to run before you can walk.

Mobile commerce represents a huge market and you'll be best placed to exploit that by having a solid, useful base that can be developed as needed.

Matt Owen

Published 2 August, 2010 by Matt Owen

Matt Owen was formerly Head of Social at Econsultancy. You can follow him on Twitter or hook up on LinkedIn.

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