Mobile applications — “apps” — are the newest must-have addition to the arsenal of any Web-based small business. And with good cause: The numbers are huge. Mobile app downloads across all handsets worldwide are projected to approach 50 billion in 2012, according to Chetan Sharma Consulting.
But, like the lottery, you have to be in it to win it. If you want to make sure your business stays in the game, especially if your users want to access you while they’re on the go, you’re going to need a mobile app . And if you want to succeed, it will take more than just shrinking your current website to create a “Mini-Me” for small screens.
“You can’t have a successful offering without a mobile application,” Alex Iskold, CEO of GetGlue.com, a social network for entertainment, told BusinessNewsDaily. “If you don’t have a mobile offering, you’re missing a giant opportunity to engage audiences. Mobile gives you an opportunity to instill the essence of your service.”
For Bizzy.com , which is in the process of developing its own app, the essence of its service is helping people find the best places to eat, shop and play, based on their personal profile and recommendations from people with similar preferences. It’s a personalized local business-recommendation engine, said Ryan Kuder, Bizzy.com’s VP of marketing.
To create a successful mobile app, he said, you have to start at the beginning. That’s not as obvious as if may seem; many businesses get themselves in trouble by trying to get by with a translation of their existing website, bells and whistles and all. Simplicity is a mobile app's best friend.
“Identify the use case,” said Kuder. “What’s the 'pain point' you’re trying to solve? What’s the scenario the person is in? What do they want from the app?”
Kuder believes most of Bizzy.com’s app traffic is going to come from people making eating decisions.
“When you make food-related decisions, you’re typically out and about,” he said. “Cutting features is key. When someone is using a mobile app, they’re not looking for an in-depth experience. Write a review on an iPhone? It’s not going to happen. You need to make it easy to enter data on the fly.”
The notion, Kuder said, is that users will be on their desktop or laptop computer when they fill out their profiles and add information and recommendations. They’ll use the mobile app when they’re away from home or office.
In building a mobile app, he said, you need to start with what is necessary, then layer in what is nice as you go along. He said the company plans to roll out its mobile app in a few weeks, after it has gathered enough user data to formulate meaningful recommendations.
The ability of today’s smartphones to understand where they are on the globe and transmit that information is opening new worlds for mobile apps.
"Geolocation lets site owners provide their users with targeted and more-relevant information,” said Sudeep Patra, founding partner of Cora Interactive. "At the same time, site owners will be able to track exactly how and where their users are interacting with their apps, which will allow them to craft their sites to be even more effective. They should try to integrate with mobile-specific features such as GPS-enabled maps and location-aware messaging and sharing.”
Good graphic design is a given, but it shouldn’t become a fetish to the point where it interferes with the user's experience.
“Design is crucial to creating an engaging and effective mobile site,” said Patra. “However, given the limited real estate of mobile phone screens , a smart and streamlined design will get you much further than too many bells and whistles.
"Mobile design presents very different challenges from web design, because you’re not able to spew everything out all at once — you’re forced to be very thoughtful about how your content is prioritized and presented.”
The story for small businesses doesn’t end when their mobile app is finally out the door.
“It’s a constant process of refinement of the user experience,” says Bizzy.com’s Kuder. “We make it a priority to talk to our users as much as we can.”
After launch, said Cora’s Patra, app publishers should carefully watch the analytics from their apps to better understand their users and gauge what’s most and least successful.
“The learnings should help shape future versions of the apps and help publishers discover new ways to interact with their users,” he said.
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