It’s no secret, more and more people use phones and tablets to do things they used to do on a desktop – things like checking email, buying products and services, searching for information, and making business transactions.
But individuals aren’t the only ones benefiting from mobile technology – companies are, too. Increasingly, companies are using mobile devices to increase workers’ productivity, support their sales teams, train their workforces and enhance employee communications.
Mobile development means building the websites and apps that people use on their cell phones, smartphones and tablets to accomplish all these tasks. At the very least, businesses should optimize their traditional websites for mobile users if a significant amount of traffic is originating from mobile devices, a stat that’s available in the site’s analytics.
However, there’s no point in developing a mobile website or app just to have one. A company won’t see a return on its investment in mobile development unless it satisfies the needs of users, offers them a real benefit or improves their mobile experience in some way. If it falls short, the organization can look incompetent or foolish.
Well-crafted mobile solutions demonstrate a thorough understanding of the target audience by providing compelling, context-appropriate content that’s of real value to users. Therefore, a comprehensive mobile development strategy is needed to make the most of the opportunities that mobile devices present.
Types of mobile development
There are three options when it comes to mobile development. Here’s the lowdown on each one:
- Mobile websites
- Mobile websites are websites that are optimized for viewing on the small screens of mobile devices.
- Mobile websites are device agnostic.
- Web-based mobile apps
- Web-based mobile apps are accessed via the device’s web browser. The part of the app the user interacts with runs on the device but the back end functionality is handled by the host server(s).
- Web-based mobile apps are device agnostic.
- Native mobile apps
- Native mobile apps are downloaded and installed on the device. They are tightly integrated with the hardware and software of the device such as the menu buttons, finger swiping and pinching, camera, GPS, etc.
- A unique set of code is needed for each mobile operating system and device/operating system combo. However, there are cross-platform development frameworks available that go a long way toward simplifying the development process. Two examples are RhoHub and Application Craft.
- Native apps are the way to go if the app: is supposed to deliver a highly quality, visually impressive user experience; relies on access to device functionality like the camera or GPS; must work off-line; and is dependent on a high level of functionality and responsiveness.
Which solution is right for your organization depends on a number of factors:
- What is the ultimate goal the company is trying to accomplish?
- Who is the target audience? What devices are they using? How tech-savvy are they?
- Which option will meet the company’s content delivery needs with the best user experience possible?
- Which option is most cost effective?
Whether the work is done in-house or outsourced to a third party, IT managers oversee the development, deployment and integration of mobile solutions into their organization’s existing technology infrastructure. This means there are additional decisions to be made regarding: equipment such as servers and storage; data connections; security; and the support and maintenance of the website or app and the devices used to access them. Expect to be called upon to offer your technical expertise.
Mobile development in five steps
To make sure your development team’s efforts are aligned with the company’s overall goals and objectives, take the time to complete the following five steps before starting a project:
When developing mobile content for customers or anyone outside the organization:
- Define your objective.
- Create a user profile.
- Determine the best method for delivering your mobile content to your target audience: mobile website, web-based mobile app or native mobile app.
- Decide which marketing channel you will use to engage users: social media, i.e., Facebook, Twitter, etc.; QR Codes; mobile marketing and advertising campaigns.
- Plan for integrating the website or app into broader marketing and advertising campaigns.
When developing mobile content for employees or business partners:
- Define your objective.
- Create a user profile.
- Determine the best method for delivering your mobile content to your target audience: mobile website, web-based mobile app, native mobile app.
- Decide how to generate interest and prompt users to take action: email, intranet, in-house app store (using Mobile Device Management software).
- Plan for integrating the website or app into the organization’s collective operations, such as the company’s business processes or Bring-Your-Own-Device program.
- Once it’s deployed, train users on what the website or app has to offer and how to use it. In the training, go over security policies and procedures to help them keep the data they access via the website or app secure.
Current trends in mobile development
Some of the biggest buzz in mobile development is coming from champions of HTML5. HTML5 is the latest version of the open-source programming language used to build websites. Even though the standard is not yet finalized, some of its components are already supported by the major web browsers. Its primary appeal is that it enables developers to create rich user experiences on the web quickly and easily. Plus, it’s browser-based, so developers don’t have to write different sets of code for each mobile platform and platform/device combination. Experts are touting HTML5 as the future of mobile development.
Another sector generating a lot of buzz is the market for mobile cloud service providers offering Backend-As-A-Service. A recent Appcelerator/IDC Mobile Report “revealed that nearly 60% of Appcelerator’s developer partners wanted some kind of backend cloud functionality for their apps” such as location services, notifications, ratings & reviews, photo collection, check-ins, and places. Mobile cloud service providers are rushing in to compete for their business. But with the industry still fairly new, the vendor landscape is still shaking out.