Mobile applications made the number-two spot on Gartner’s Top 10 Strategic Technology Trends for 2012. The information technology research and advisory company certainly called this right: This year has been a virtual app-a-palooza with applications that promise to do everything but tie our shoelaces and pour our breakfast cereal in the morning.
The question as 2013 approaches is this: Is it too late for entrepreneurs to enter a market that seems to have gotten oversaturated almost as quickly as it became viable? How can a mobile application development company stay app-happy in a world that’s gone app-mad?
My answer is that there’s still plenty of opportunity for companies to build useful mobile applications — particularly for businesses — but that the app-feeding frenzy is over. The “shiny and new” phase for mobile applications has come and gone. Great apps will be around for a long time, but ones that don’t work well or that interest the designer more than the user won’t survive.
For success in the business app market: define and meet needs
Any worthwhile business app should solve a real business problem. And it must meet the needs of a specific industry.
As more and more businesses turn to mobile devices, opportunities in this market will continue to grow for a long time.
The key to being successful in this market is understanding — and meeting — the needs of the market. In the first decade of the new millennium, laptops made it possible for salespeople to carry their presentations with them across town or across the world. But a sales rep had to fill in awkward pauses while his system booted up and then attempt to look graceful while holding a six-pound machine in one hand and maneuvering its touch pad and keyboard with the other.
Tablets — and apps — make selling cool again. Salespeople can dazzle potential clients with stunning presentations and a wealth of information about costs, specs and delivery times without letting technology get in the way of their pitches.
Great apps for a mobile sales force provide fluidity and access to the corporate system without jeopardizing company security. Apps for a mobile sales force should protect proprietary content from falling into the wrong hands. Details like access control lists, multi-factored user authentication and role-based permissions make the difference between an app that functions well and one that meets a company’s bottom-line needs.
There will probably never be a one-size-fits-all app for the business market, so flexibility is crucial to staying ahead of the curve. So is the ability to really listen to clients.
It’s not about what you, as a designer, think is clever or necessary. It’s about what your client needs and wants. If you’re building a mobile app for an ambulance company, it should be something easy to use under difficult and chaotic conditions. If you’re building a mobile app for lawyers, they might not mind a lack of glitz (many remain diehard BlackBerry fans) but will crave easy access to information and demand security features that protect client information.
Opportunities to meet — or create — needs for mobile apps in the business market are almost endless. If your app can help a business stay competitive in a tough market, soar in an emerging market or rebound in a declining one, it will find a happy and profitable home.
To conquer the consumer app market: bring the WOW factor
The consumer market is a tougher, more fickle market than the B2B market. A consumer-targeted app that makes life better or easier will hold up, but an app that is merely entertaining — unless it’s extremely entertaining — may get deleted almost as quickly as it’s downloaded onto a person’s tablet or smartphone.
This might be OK if the consumer had paid for the app (exercise equipment companies make just as much money on treadmills that collect dust as those that get used.) But, if you’re giving an app away for free and counting on advertising to generate profits, you can’t afford to create apps with short life spans.
If you want consumers to love your apps, design them with the user in mind. This seems pretty basic — Marketing 101 — but it’s easy for developers and designers to get so caught up in the excitement of building a product that they forget to consider that people who use their products don’t care about the elegance of the designer’s code or the ingenious use of technology.
Consumers want apps that live up to their promises. And they become loyal to apps that deliver more than they expected.
For survival in the consumer app market, bring the WOW factor to your products.
Mobile apps that deliver WOW moments include these:
- Shazam, which “listens” to a song and gives you the artist and title. Shazam, which also includes a feature that lets TV viewers access gossip and trivia about their favorite shows, has been used more than five billion times by more than a quarter of a billion users since its launch in 2011, according to statements released by the company.
- Google Navigation, which alleviates users’ eyestrain by changing its background color from light tan to dark gray at night.
- Upad, a note-taking app that includes a fantastic PDF editor.
- GoToMeeting, an app that allows you to schedule meetings using your iPad.
- GoToMyPC, which lets you control your PC from your iPad.
- Keynote, a presentation tool designed for the iPad.
Some other consumer-targeted apps fall into the category of “almost awesome” but don’t quite make the cut because something got lost between concept and final product. DLR Lines, an app that measures waiting times at Disneyland, is a fantastic idea, but fails on two counts: a clunky user interface and unreliable statistics. It’s frustrating to ditch the queue at Splash Mountain and hurry over to Indiana Jones Adventure only to be stuck in a line much longer than predicted.
Apps that are just OK are no longer good enough, particularly when the consumer has options. The Weather Channel Max for iPad is so notoriously buggy and has so many annoying ads that it’s easier to check the conditions by listening to the radio or, even more retro, by stepping outside.
And, although the Wall Street Journal is a great publication, it’s not the only source for business news, and the alternatives look more attractive because the WSJ app for iPhone makes it tedious to find articles.
Apps are growing up. App developers and designers with grown-up ideas will do well in the emerging market.
Matt MacKay is the founder and CEO of Surge, a multimillion-dollar software and technology firm ranked 530 on Inc. Magazine’s 2012 list of fastest growing companies in America. Surge provides products and professional services to clients ranging from small startups to Fortune 500 companies and recently released Surge Hub, a mobile content and sales platform. For more information about Surge Hub and other Surge software solutions, contact Matt at firstname.lastname@example.org.