How to develop mobile apps without breaking the bank

Many smart phone apps are frivolous, others are exciting, but most often, these aren’t cheap thrills.

Forrester Research reported last year that an average no-frill app could cost a minimum of $20,000 to develop. More sophisticated apps could set back a business by as much as $150,000.

“E-commerce adds more to the cost of building the application, as whenever you get more complexity it’s going to add to the cost,” said Neil Strother, analyst at Forrester.

So he urged organizations to carefully consider if their business really needs a mobile app.

Another expert, however, offers a slightly different perspective.

Apps development for many small and mid-sized businesses need not be expensive, according to Karl Volkman, chief technology officer at SRV Network Inc.,an IT services firm based in Chicago.

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Among other things, Volkman’s company helps smaller firms that don’t have an internal IT department to run IT managed services and support as well as Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) systems.

It’s true sleek and sophisticated mobile apps can cost a bundle, but for many businesses uncomplicated apps created with minimal coding will do, said Volkman.

“Writing a mobile application can be very simple as long as you know where to start,” he said.

Leading mobile app stores, such as the Google Android marketplace and Apple’s App Store, have user friendly SDKs (software developer kits) that provide step-by-step instructions on how to write an application compatible with their systems, he said.

People with limited or no coding experience can check out the Google App Engine site, Volkman said. “Once you have an account, you can download the App Engine SDK and this will walk you through the app-writing process,” he said.

The Apple App Store provides similar service, but Volkman recommends visiting SwebApps, instead.

“This site is designed with small business owners in mind and offers an online service that lets anyone build iPhone apps and even offers pre-created templates which you can customize.”

Volkman also recommends the App Incubator from MEDL Mobile.

“If you have a great idea for an iPhone app but don’t want to write it yourself, MEDL Mobile lets you submit your ideas, which the company’s development team will then build into an app for you.”

Five mobile app development tips

Volkman said mobile apps are typically developed to serve three purposes: to solve a problem; to provide entertainment; or to enhance a marketing strategy.

Remember, free apps get the most downloads, but those on sale generate revenue, so it’s up to you to determine which model to pursue, he said.

Before embarking on a mobile app project, companies should consider the following:

  • Is there a need for the app? This doesn’t really address the question of whether or not the mobile app is useful. A lot or mobile apps have questionable utility. Companies should determine what developing and launching the app would do for their business, operations or public profile. Also the app has to be “on brand”.
  • Who will be using your app? Determine who you are developing your application for. The application needs to resonate with the intended user. Make sure the app serves a need or want within the target demographic.
  • Think beyond the iPhone — Sure Apple products are hot, but they aren’t the only game on the market. That’s why Volkman favours developing on the Android platform. “Android is open to more mobile devices and so you reach more people. Apple is a closed shop.”
  • Some apps might appeal users who favour a device other than the iPhone. For instance, a business-related app might be more relevant to BlackBerry users.
  • Test, test and test again Before the roll out ensure that your app is working as it should. A malfunctioning app could do more damage to your company than not having one in the first place. Find out what works by checking out apps from similar businesses or the competition, employ test groups and seek feedback from customers.
  • Tell people about your app When you’ve got the app down pat, make sure your target market knows about it. Don’t just rely on the app store. Use all appropriate channels to spread the word. These days it would most likely include social media channels.
  • Meanwhile, awareness of the power of mobile apps in building brand and business is growing among Canadian firms.

    Marketers and brand managers are quickly realizing the value of adding a mobile component to their branding campaign, according to a one expert.

    The numbers speak for themselves, notes Deborah Hall, managing director for Web2mobile, a Toronto-based Interactive marketing firm.

    “More than 100 million users now access Facebook through their cell phones and when they do they tend to be nearly twice as active online as their desktop counterparts.”

    Firms that fail to establish some kind of mobile presence run the risk of being left behind by competitors, Hall warned.

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