28 Jun 2019

How to decide if you need an App

Mobile apps are big business in the emerging digital health sector. There are currently over 318,000 health-related apps on the market, with around 200 new apps developed each day.

Yet despite the hype, or ‘apptimisim’, apps don’t necessarily present the best solution for every digital health initiative. In fact, apps that are poorly developed or fail to solve a genuine need can negatively impact a brand’s success. If you’re going to create an app, it’s important to do it well.

If your organisation is considering developing a mobile app, here are some important things to consider.

 

Focus on the problem

Some of our clients have the tendency to come to us with an answer, rather than with their problem. So when someone in an organisation decides they “need an app”, we have to ask:

  • What is the app for? 
  • What is the problem you’re trying to solve?

Focusing on the problem may not seem as exciting as diving into app development, but it’s essential to work out what it is that actually needs solving. 

A few years ago we worked with a small business that wanted to create an online store, with capability to sell its small range of products. When we asked if customers were likely to make purchases through the ecommerce site, they answered no. The decision to setup an ecommerce store was based on the fact that a competitor had one, not because there was an actual problem that needed solving. In the same way, apps shouldn’t be developed to compete with other businesses or because they’re a ‘shiny, new thing’. Instead, they should be considered when they have potential to improve customer or patient experiences.

Working out the problem is the first step, and if developing an app still seems like a good solution, you then need to look into the practicalities of this. 

 

Consider your costs

It’s important to remember that an app is not a stand-alone product; it needs to fit into a potentially complex system of online channels. Many organisations have a number of digital products working together.

 

Simple diagram of boxes, showing how website, apps, web service and database are connected

A simplified view of how website and apps are connected

 

Most web-based systems are built on common underlying technology, such as your web server and database. Mobile apps bring with them a raft of other technologies that incur costs to set up and maintain. 

Making an app isn’t just about developing the tool itself, but connecting this tool to your wider digital landscape. There’s a significant overhead involved in building apps for mobile devices. For this reason, we often recommend building or extending the functionality of a website over investing in an app. As long as your website is responsive (adapts to different browser and device sizes), it can often perform the function of a native mobile app.

On top of increased upfront costs for building a mobile app, there are ongoing maintenance costs related to updates on Android and iOS systems. Consider if your business can manage the ongoing maintenance, from both a financial and resource standpoint.

 

Take stock of your digital infrastructure

While systems and technology may be one challenge to overcome when building an app, consider also the ‘seamless experience’ your users should have across all your platforms. If you create an app for your business, it will need to look, feel and interact like the rest of your digital products. Creating a beautiful, flashy new mobile app, only to have users jump on your website for a totally different experience may be confusing. 

In the same way, a poorly developed app can create a negative image for your brand, resulting in your audience disengaging. Releasing an underdeveloped or poorly thought out app may turn people off your business, even if you have plans to improve it in future.

Before diving into app development, we recommend conducting an audit of your current digital infrastructure and branding. Take a look at what’s working well and what could be improved. 

For example, you may have an email marketing system set up with a great database of subscribers that could be transitioned into app users. Or, you may notice that some of your resources are being channeled into an ineffective digital platform and could be better utilised. In this way, you can move into finding a solution with a clearer picture of what you need to achieve.

 

Get your website right first

Mobile apps can be incredibly useful and engaging, creating positive experiences that fit into users’ everyday lives. Take, for example, the Apple Health app, which allows iPhone users to track physical activity, sleep patterns and more. However, despite the exciting potential of mobile apps, in our experience it’s best to start by getting your website right first, as this is at the very heart of your digital ecosystem. 

If your website is built well and mobile-responsive, you may not even need the extra features and functions a mobile app can offer. You can often meet user needs effectively on your website or existing digital channels, without the extensive costs of building a mobile app.

 

If your organisation is considering an app build or needs help solving a problem, we’d love to talk about how we can help. Tadashi is experienced at helping clients in the healthcare sector take stock of their users’ digital needs and designing a solution to meet them.

Get in touch to discuss how we can help you solve your problem, digitally.
 

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