When it comes to building mobile apps, one size doesn't fit all. There are a multitude of devices with different capabilities running different operating systems and apps need to be developed specifically for each. This can become costly and timely if you want your campaign to hit as many devices as possible. 

Code Computerlove's mobile technology expert Ste Brennan explores cross platform app development and offers advice on approaches to consider for cost effective mobile campaigns that can reach the mobile masses.

A Diverse Mobile Market 

For apps, Android and Apple dominate the market, but these are not the only players. There’s also Blackberry and Windows Phone 7, which is set to experience significant market growth with Nokia’s move away from Symbian to the Microsoft platform.

To consumers this offers great choice, but for marketers it makes it time consuming and costly to maximise reach and target all devices. Typically, each operating system requires bespoke app development. To complicate this further, devices running on the same operating have different capabilities or require a different end user experiences. 

Mobile Websites vs Native Apps

Current mobile app development eschews the principles of the web to build once and deploy anywhere. With a well written website, you can be confident that it will work on various platforms and web browsers. So in the same vein, maximising the potential reach of your mobile presence is a primary goal for our mobile development work.

Mobile websites offer many advantages. They embrace the cross platform spirit of the web, they don’t tie you to an app store eco-system and allow you to be more responsive to issues and user demands, which can be especially difficult in a tightly managed environment like Apple’s App Store.

However, there are cases where native apps offer opportunities for brands that simply cannot be achieved with mobile websites. Arguably delivering better usability, they also allow access to features on mobile devices such as a camera, notifications, compass and lower level hardware access. Plus they offer convenient monetisation opportunities like “in app” purchasing, and despite certain drawbacks, visibility in the App Store and Android Market etc.

What Approach Should I Take?

Firstly, when weighing up what approach to take, it’s vital to have a holistic mobile and digital strategy and not view apps in isolation. Building an app just to tick a box is obviously the wrong approach. Mobile is set to become the primary digital marketing channel between businesses, brands and consumers, and how an app and website integrate with an overall platform and digital strategy is critical.

Secondly, it's important not to get too hung up on the technology and general perceptions as to the 'right or wrong way' of developing apps. A good digital partner will ensure your solutions continue to push the boundaries of what can be achieved and which is why we put so much emphasis on R&D, to develop new ways of achieving client’s mobile objectives.

For example, you can build mobile apps utilising one of the many cross platform development tools available such as Adobe's Flash platform, Appcelerator's Titanium X and PhoneGap. All of these can ease the investment and time required to hit as many devices as possible, leverage features not available to mobile websites and enable distribution via mobile app stores.
It's true that these solutions may not offer all the latest ‘whizz bang’ features of a device at the rate that true native development does. However, to get hung up on this is missing the point.

Remember, technology isn’t the only driver, the customer experience is. If the end user doesn't see the difference between an app written in Flash for instance versus a "true" native app, then who is to say that this is not a valid mobile app experience?

At Code, we recognise and apply technologies best suited to client’s needs. For example, to a recent brief our suggestion of developing a core application that can be re-purposed for multi-platform use proved a cost effect and wide-reaching solution. In this instance, our advice has been to build an application in Flash that can then be deployed across many devices and channels from App Store mobile apps (smartphones and tablets) to traditional desktop websites with the core reusable code working in tandem with the company's back-end e-commerce systems.
For another client, it was clear their target audience consisted of Apple users and therefore a true "native" iOS app was suggested coupled with a strong mobile web presence.

Flexibility in approach is key
So, apps are blossoming (especially in retail), brands are embracing mobile websites and consumers are using both. Both are an important part of a mobile strategy.

Our advice is not to get pre-occupied with apps in isolation or be single minded in your approach. Take a holistic view on your mobile marketing strategy and consider how it fits into a business and its strategy.
To the end user, it doesn't matter what technology is being used as long as it meets their expectations and needs. Certainly consider native apps, but don't be afraid to run with cross platform tools to help you reach a wider audience in a timely and cost effect manner.

Digital agencies that can deliver this in the most cost-effective way are surely where the sensible marketer takes their marketing spend?

Published on: 1:25PM on 24th November 2011