It appears that everyone and their mother have an iPhone application or one in development. Small businesses are no exception. A company website, Facebook page, and Twitter handle are now givens. Having an iPhone application is the next “exclusive membership” that elevates a company to bigger, faster, and farther reaching levels, and the potential for tapping into new consumers.
But does every small business need a mobile application? Is it worth the money to work with a developer to create a mobile application if your company doesn’t need one?
“iPhone apps are not for every business,” says Danny Panzer, co-creator of the iPhone application ScanBizCards. “In the beginning, companies were making apps that did nothing more than link to their company's website. Apple has since clamped down on this behavior and will reject apps that don’t really do anything, so businesses need to figure out something cool that their app can do that relates to their business.”
A good barometer for measuring an application’s potential for financial success is to consider:
1. Reuse value. Is this a game you keep coming back to or a business utility that you use on a daily basis?
2. Virality. Is this an app you show to your friends who then go out and buy it themselves right away?
While there are plenty of pointless applications out there, there are also a plethora of really interesting, useful, and innovative applications extending excellent products and services.
“We will see iPhone apps popping up from companies just because they feel the need to have one,” says Stephen Bender of Bender Media. “In all honesty it probably isn't necessary, their customers aren't early adopters, or, there are already five other ways to get that same content.” The reality? Many application are simply another version of their website with some iPhone and Blackberry functions.
“[But] to continue interaction with clients you should be available on all platforms,” says Steve Sims, owner of Bluefish Concierge. With his iPhone application, BLUEcal, an interactive social calendar, Sims’ goal is to “reach clients with news and updates faster and direct to their phone.” A mobile phone application therefore was an obvious move.
I spoke with a few mobile application experts about how to determine if a small business truly needs an iPhone or Blackberry application. Here are a few questions to ponder.
Do your customers prefer accessing your product or service via their cellular device?
Many people get their information by mobile and PDA. Some consumers find it most convenient to do everything via their phone. If your customers fit this description, having a mobile application shows that your company is meeting its customers’ needs.
“I personally find banking iPhone apps far easier to use than trying to navigate the actual site,” says Bender.
Does your company want to be in sync with its competitors? Being a member of the cool mobile application club is a cheap and quick way for a small business to go head to head with the bigs and access other markets. That’s exactly why Bryce Gruber, owner of The Luxury Spot, a lifestyle website, decided a mobile application is necessary for her company. “An iPhone application [will] allow us to compete with the established leaders in our genre like Dailycandy.com and Thefrisky.com.”
Reaching a vast consumer base is the vital perk. “You can reach a phenomenal audience,” says Kyle Bragger, developer for Cork’d, an online destination for reviewing and discussing wines. “Especially, if your app makes a chart or is just plain awesome. Making novelty apps to me is a waste of cash.”
Do you want to save your company money?
Because an iPhone application allows a small business owner to reach millions of potential customers for a fairly minimal cost, says Alexander Tiger, co-creator of Scarebear Trail Companion, (an application that provides safety sounds like the air horn and “bear bells” for those trekking outdoors), “a business owner can spend from $500 to $10,000, depending on the application's technical sophistication. The application may be used as complimentary source of advertising for a business, or as a revenue generating business in its own right.”
When you join that privileged iPhone or Blackberry club, distribution is part of the package. “Every iPhone user on the planet gets their apps from the app store so you just need to figure out a way for your app to standout there using keywords, PR, advertising, etc,” says Panzer.