does your business need an App?

These days if you're in business you don't just need a website, you need an app, and with an ABI Research estimating 44 billion cumulative app downloads expected by 2016 (over six Apps for every living human on the planet), no IT manager should fail to take a look to see if there's a nice company or marketing-focused angle they could take to boost their mobile business profile. Get it right and your business could explode, it's about getting vital for viral.

Most readers will be familiar with the way YouTube has created instant overnight success when a video goes viral. Take Rebecca Black's 'Friday' as an example of what happens when bad taste gets good. The video was watched 150 million times at last count, and has turned the US teenager into an instant viral star, complete with a record deal. That's what a good app can do for your business.

There's functional apps, entertainment apps, silly apps, educational apps, all designed to bridge the gap between business and consumer, or business and business. Successfully-executed apps can help boost engagement between your business and your customers.
Take Carling as an example. The brewers worked fast to bring their iPint app to the iPhone in 2008 at the beginning of the app tidal wave. The result? It was downloaded six million times within its first year. Not bad for a gimmick.
What about useful apps? US bathroom fixture manufacturer, Bradley, recently released the Bradley ColorSpec iPhone app. This is a fantastic example of a company taking part of its core business expertise to wield inside a useful app which helps reach potential customers.

In the UK, NHS Direct will soon release apps for Android and iPhone, these include symptom checking apps, apps to help find your local doctor and more. In the case of the latter app, NHS Bristol paid local mobile marketing company My Oxygen £2,500 for the development and maintenance of the app, which has had 10,000 downloads in the last year.

Also in the UK, VisitEngland this week introduced the free 'Enjoy England' app, a tourist-focused app which uses GPS and location sensing to deliver relevant content on destinations, attractions and days out.

Tim Holt, Senior Marketing Manager at VisitEngland, said, “To remain competitive ... we must ensure the quality of our visitor information online, via mobile technology, and in-destination is the best it can be. This is the start of a modernisation programme that will ensure visitors get the very best out of their trip in England.”

The app was developed by mobile marketing company, 2ergo. We asked the company how much an app costs to make. "The answer to your question all depends on the functionality of the app," a press spokesman replied, "but an entry level app is between £20-80K."

A Forrester report last year estimated that a no-frills app costs at least $20,000 (c.£12,500) to develop, while more sophisticated apps could cost up to $150,000 (c.£92,500).

Development costs are of course the biggest constraint, particularly for cash-strapped technology purchasing chiefs dealing with eroding budgets and multiplying responsibilities. There's independent specialists such as Bappz  who can create apps for you for a fee. Shop around and you can find independent developers who'll take on app building projects for around £50 per hour. As a comparison, the first edition of popular Angry Birds app cost €100,000 (around £87,000) to build.

You don't need to build your own app. There's thousands available at the various App Stores. Perhaps one of these is already popular and could be adopted as an ambassador for your business. Don't neglect the power of casual games and brand sponsorship as seen in Angry Birds Rio, which helped boost public perception of Disney's latest 'Rio' movie.

The customers are out there. Global smartphone shipments grew 83% to 101.0 million units in the first quarter this year. The US remained the largest country for these shipments, with Apple achieving a share of 31 percent and growth of over 150 percent year on year, Canalys claims. Worldwide, Android leads the market with 35.7 million units shipped.

For developers, Apple's platform is renowned as the one to target first, that's because iOS users tend to be more relaxed with spending money both on and within apps. This gives you a chance to recoup some of your costs. Equally, as recent Canalys figures prove, Android smartphones are growing in popularity, and while the fragmented nature of that ecosystem makes it difficult to deliver a guaranteed end user experience, most savvy developers are now building for both key platforms, even if they target a single one initially.

The challenge for any brand in such a busy sector is to create apps which grab the attention of the end user. "Given the vast number of choices available, app developers and app stores need to innovate continually in order to maintain consumers’ interest," comments ABI research analyst Fei Feng Seet.

Anthony Plewes

After a Masters in Computer Science, I decided that I preferred writing about IT rather than programming. My 20-year writing career has taken me to Hong Kong and London where I've edited and written for IT, business and electronics publications. In 2002 I co-founded Futurity Media with Stewart Baines where I continue to write about a range of topics such as unified communications, cloud computing and enterprise applications.