Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Don't Build That crAPP!

Apps are sexy, apps are cool, apps are oh so sexy and cool.
Apps are money, apps are fun, apps are full of value for everyone.
Apps are crAPP, apps are crAPPY, apps rarely make investors happy.

"I have this idea for an app" is how the conversation starts.  I brace myself. I want to be open minded, but I can't help it.  The app ideas floating around, especially in the promotional products industry, are crAPP.  I listen, I wait for it, and it never comes.


It is the reason someone needs to download your app rather than access your idea on the web.  But it never comes.  So I ask about it and I'm looked at like I have just asked the person if their kid is ugly.  They get defensive and tell me all sorts of reasons the idea needs to be an app.  A few of these ideas are reasons to write an app, but none apply to their idea.  Most of the reasons are crAPP and would work fine in a web browser.

Sure, I hate playing Words With Friends in a browser so I probably would have never played if they didn't build an app. But Words With Friends and most other great apps do things that are significantly faster or easier as an app compared to doing the same tasks in a browser.  What if Facebook had started as an app, would it have seen the same growth?

In the promotional products industry, the dominant service providers SAGE and ASI both have apps and with good reason.  They didn't start as an app, they started as DVD tools and then migrated to "online" software before building apps.  They had a big user base to build from.

So when you think "Someone needs to build an app for that", think about the following before you invest your company money into the app.

What prevents this idea from working on the web?
Many items previously unavailable to web apps are now available to web developers.

Can I get more users with the app than a web site?
In most cases, the answer is absolutely not.  People can stumble on your website. It's very hard to get someone to stumble on your app.

How will I get someone to download the app?
Send me an email to check out your app and I have to open it in the app store, click download, put in my password, and then open the app.  Send me a link to your web site and it's a single click.

Where are my users?
Thanks for the link to your app, but I opened it on my Galaxy S4 (Android) which means I can't use your iPhone app.

How will I train my users?
If you have a website and an app for IOS and an app for android, there will be nuances to each platform.  So your users will ask questions.  Evernote is different on each platform and while it is largely the same, users are confused when they switch from the desktop version to the app.  Do you have time to support and train users across platforms?

Instead of focusing on the app, you need to focus on the user.  What does the user want from your app? If it can be done in a browser, start with the browser and build your site specifically for mobile users. This lets you reach Android users, iPhone users, Windows phone users (all 4 of you), and desktops too.  And you can build your site with "responsive design" which means that if a desktop user is using the site, you can give them more information and/or functionality than a mobile user.   Then, work with your users to help them set up a shortcut to your app on their mobile device (click here to set up a shortcut on IOS or Android).

For Geiger, I am following my own advice, yet I'm still looking for a reason to build an app.  We will create an app at some point but only when the app provides more value than a well designed mobile site.

The web is sexy, the web is cool, the web is oh so sexy and so cool.
The web makes money, the web is fun, the web has value for everyone.
The web is excellent, the web brings delight, the future of the web is bright.