In this age of handheld interaction with smartphones and tablets, businesses need to engage their customer base as much as possible. What better way than with a mobile app? But before launching into the new world of app development, business owners should answer three major questions.


What do you want the app to do?

Sounds easy enough: create an app that touches current or potential customers. But just like your product or service, an app needs to provide value to the user. Your target market is not only the user, but also the marketer of your app, such as Apple or Android. Apple has become much more restrictive in allowing apps into its App Store. Rules for use of virtual money and requests for personal data such as birthdates have much tighter restrictions than before. Also, Apple expects an app to provide users with a higher experience than a web site, with heightened “entertainment” value for the user. So in developing your app, you should consider the interaction with the user, what kind of information may be exchanged, and what entertainment value the app could bring. Although Android has been more accepting of apps, still the business should consider how the user’s experience could be different on the app than on a web page.


What is your budget for app development?

A common question posed is “What does an app cost?” Well, it depends. The level of sophistication corresponds to the cost. Basic apps which utilize table formats and move the user from screen to screen for example, generally run in the $1000-$5000 range. Database-driven apps rely upon data contained in the app (native) or accessed outside the app via the web (dynamic) to allow customized views of content. Such apps typically cost $5000- $15,000, but can be even more depending upon how much content or data is sorted or accessed. Gaming apps are vastly increasing in popularity since these satisfy entertainment criteria, while engaging the user for longer durations. Developing these kinds of apps costs $10,000 up to $150,000 or more. There are many add on services available that add to the development costs. For instance, just to register with Apple as a developer requires a $100/year subscription.


Who will develop the app?

Just like web sites, the gambit runs from the do-it-yourself models to highly skilled professional teams. Keep in mind that there are two major components to an app: the design and the programming. Since apps are viewed on smaller screens than a desktop computer, graphics and images become even more important than text. The functionality of the app is dependent upon the programming that supports the user experience. So can you build it yourself? Yes, if you need a very basic app, and don’t mind sacrificing a lot of time to learn. Other low cost alternatives can be found in local colleges and universities. These institutions are teaching app development. What about off-shore? Yes, that can be a source of cost saving; however, remember you may be dealing with different languages, cultures, and time zones. Many businesses have found that the pains of dealing with foreign contractors outweigh the cost savings. As the sophistication of your app increases, so should the skill level of your app team. A professional, experienced app development team may be the better alternative if you seek a rich, engaging interaction with your app user.

As our world becomes even more mobile oriented, connecting through mobile apps offers opportunities to connect and retain clientele. Determining if a mobile app should be in your marketing plan depends upon your budget, your expertise, and the user experience sought.

(Source: Drew Tonsmeire, Area Director, UGA SBDC at Kennesaw State University)