2012 saw the 30 billionth download from the Apple App Store and there are now over 650,000 different apps available to consumers. Apple’s assertion that “There is an app for that” does indeed appear to be correct.

2012 has been labeled the year of the app, but as you consider your mobile strategy it is legitimate to ask: “Do I need an app for that?”

This video is adapted from a talk I gave at this years IWMW and explores the context in which an app is the right solution. It also highlights the situations in which other mobile web solutions are the right approach for your organisation and your users.

Voted the best talk at this year’s conference, this presentation is a must watch for anybody deciding on their mobile strategy.

In the early days of the web organisations were in a rush to get themselves online. In the main they had no idea what to present or how to present it they just knew that they had to have a website. This led to all and sundry taking their print media, digitising it, and putting it on a website.  

No thought was given to how this new medium was to be used and how users interactions and expectations may be different from that in the world of print.

A similar thing happen when Social Media arrived. ‘We need to be on Facebook, because everybody is on Facebook’ was the cry. Again no thought was given to how to leverage this new medium to engage with users and customers. Organisations needed to be on Facebook, because they need to be on Facebook.

And that’s it. Even today, many organisations are just on Facebook. Done.

So, here we are again. This time the new medium is mobile apps and everybody just needs to be in the App Store. Like in the early days of the web when print broachers just found their way onto websites.

Now organisations are taking their websites, wrapping them in an app, and having them published on the App Store. Yes they now have an app. But it is a complete waste of everybody’s time. This is not how to approach apps.

Apps vs Websites

The desire to be in the App Store has arisen from a genuine change in the way that content and services are being consumed online. The phenomenal growth of mobile can leave us in little doubt that all organisations need to consider how to present themselves in this new landscape.

However, apps are not a replacement for the web. Apps and the web are not in competition. They have different roles and serve different purposes.

Your content that currently sits on your website should not be hidden away in an app. All this approach will achieve is to put up barriers between your users and the content that, both you and they want to access.

A user will need to find your app, no easy task, download your app, install your app, load your app and then find the content that they want. This doesn’t make any sense. Content should be on your website, optimised for mobile access, but on your website all the same.

There are only three reasons to consider developing an app for your online presence. 

  1. Are you enabling users to complete clearly defined tasks?
  2. Are users interacting with the service on a regular basis?
  3. Do you want to leverage the hardware of the mobile device (camera, GPS, compass, NFC, etc)?

But that is it!

Content or tasks

Our online offerings are either content driven or behaviour / task driven. Most often they fit somewhere between the two. Where your service fits on this scale is what will drive the decision to pursue an app or a mobile optimised website.

A very simple rule to follow is that content belongs on the web and tasks belong in an app.

Your organisation must take mobile seriously. Your users are trying to access your content and services on their mobile devices and you have to engage with them on this medium. An app is not the only tool available in the mobile world.

Your website, optimised for mobile, still has an important role to play. Apps are available to augment this offering, not to replace it.