To app or not to app

2013-05-06 10:27
Prakash Patel, chief executive officer of Prezence Digital

Prakash Patel, chief executive officer of Prezence Digital (Prezence Digital)

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Prakash Patel, chief executive officer of Prezence Digital spoke to News24 about whether it is a good idea for businesses to develop an app.

According to him too many companies develop apps to please their committee or board over their actual consumer target market.

News24: Would you say some companies in South Africa are developing apps without doing their research first?
Prakash Patel: Unfortunately it seems clear that South African companies are not doing enough research before developing apps. We have seen lots of South African companies developing some great apps, but not necessarily apps right for their target market.

A classic example is developing apps solely for iPads or iPhones.

While Apple and Android devices may dominate the smartphone market on a global scale, in South Africa the smartphone landscape is markedly different.

BlackBerry’s global market share has dropped dramatically due to increased competition from Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android operating systems, but in South Africa BlackBerry couldn’t fare any better. According to Vodacom, BlackBerry outnumbers iPhones and Android smartphones on its network by seven to one.

Against this background, and the fact that South African BlackBerry apps are few and far between, it seems clear that South African companies are missing a potentially profitable target market and more importantly a relevant platform.

Some would argue the difficulty in developing apps for the BlackBerry platform, particularly for BlackBerry OS 5, 6, and 7, is why so many companies choose not to build for BlackBerry. In my opinion, that shouldn’t be an obstacle. If your audience uses BlackBerry, that’s where you need to be.
 
News24: Why do some companies have apps and a mobi site?
Patel: Good mobi sites are extremely powerful and can rival apps in what we call “visual bling” and functionality. With a single deployment a mobi site can service the entire smartphone market as well as the 30 million feature phones in South Africa.

Mobi sites also offer economic and management benefits.

By building a central mobi “stack” that services everyone, app development, deployment and subsequent management becomes much cheaper and easier where core functionality is already built and paid for. This makes it possible to concentrate your budget and effort on the extra value and reward the apps will deliver. It’s a win-win situation for the brand and the user.

However if the budget allows and more importantly need, it can be argued that starting with a mobi-site caters for ‘all’ or majority-reach as a phase 1 approach, then depending on brand, type of rich engaging experience and functionality desired, going down the App route can also bolster and compliment your mobi efforts as a seamless offering.

News24: Is it wise to have both?
Patel: To my mind, with only 20% of mobile phones in South Africa being smartphones, it is a waste of your marketing budget to enter the world of mobile marketing without very solid reasons as to why a mobi site isn’t part of your communications mix as part of Phase 1.

News24: Do you think companies should invest in a mobi site rather than spending money on building an app?
Patel: This depends on how your company is branded, who your customers are, and what you’re aiming to achieve with your mobile strategy. It’s not really a matter of either/or.

A good thinking through of these factors should answer the question whether a mobi site, an app, or a combination is best for your company.

News24: How long does it take to build an app?
Patel: This depends on what kind of app you want and the team building it.

Generally, building a basic app should take two to three months from the design phase to submitting the app to the app store.

Building a feature rich app such as a game or an app that is graphic intensive, could take six months to a year. Another consideration is the type of app for example site app going to be HTML based wrapper app or a Native designed and built for each specific OS.

News24: What is the process in building an app?
Patel: The first step is the brief. Agree on the goals you want to achieve with the agency developing the app. Do you, for instance, want an app that has mCommerce functionality, or are you looking to raise awareness for your brand?

When Prezence Digital started developing the Bidorbuy Android app, our core aim was creating the ultimate shopping experience app on the Android platform for users of Bidorbuy – keeping in mind that Bidorbuy is Africa’s largest online marketplace.

Once an agreement is reached, the functional design period – being the most important – is next. This is followed by the development period and then a period of repeated testing, before it is finally submitted to the app store.

Of course, one is never completely done testing an app!

Whether its bugs picked up post publication, new elements clients want added or just basic updating, an app should be worked on continuously.

News24: Can you give me an idea of what it costs to build an app?
Patel: It depends entirely on the app you want, and who is building it for you.

To give a ballpark figure, with a few graphics and tables here and there, a basic but adequate app can cost between R250 000 and R500 000+.

However, if you want to develop something that will be memorable, engaging and provide true value to your audience – as you should be – you need to contract app development specialists who can provide you with the right mix of technological know-how and creativity.

News24: In South Africa, do more people download apps than visit mobi sites?
Patel: Data costs and the price of smartphones is a barrier to the majority of South Africans, and therefore feature phones are more popular by far. I believe mobi sites are still the primary point of contact with the majority of South Africans when looking at the mobile economy.

News24: What apps are popular among users? Why?
Patel: Apps enabling the user to perform functions that historically were only available sitting at your desk in front of your PC or laptop, such as sending emails or updating social media are perennial favourites like Facebook, Pinterest, LinkedIn and Twitter. Apps that compliment a utility or service are also becoming increasingly popular.

The reason for this is they provide real value to users, which is what we at Prezence Digital strive to achieve with the apps we develop. From a commercial perspective popular apps can be found in industry sectors such as banking, entertainment, travel and retail.

For instance, the apps we developed for Ster-Kinekor, were not only as simple as possible to book a movie ticket with, but we also factored in that even when a user wants to make a booking, doing it via an app means they’re likely to be distracted by something. To counter that, a reminder will pop up on your device if for whatever reason you did not complete the booking process.
 
News24: Do most companies get it right or wrong the first time they develop an app?
Patel: This is entirely dependent on who you partner with developing your app.

Choose an agency with care – check their credentials and track record carefully. There are a terrifying number of so-called mobile mavericks and digital gurus out there who have nothing in their portfolios to justify these self-given titles.
 
The proper agency can guide you towards finding the right strategy for developing your app.

News24: What is the best practice for firms to monetise apps?
Patel: For firms looking to monetise their app, there’re a number of strategies they can embark on.

Of course mCommerce functionality is the best option in my opinion.

Apps are great for marketing purposes when you create and maintain a direct communications channel with your audience. As we have seen with both the Ster-Kinekor and Bidorbuy apps, your “audience” can immediately be converted to customers by allowing them to not only access information about your products and services, but make a purchase right there using the app.

News24: What are some of the challenges companies face when developing an app?
Patel: The first challenge a business looking to enter the mobile economy encounters is to question whether an app strategy is best-suited for your purposes.

If that is satisfactorily answered, you need to decide which platform is best suited in communicating with your audience. Yes, Blackberry reigns supreme in South Africa’s mobile industry, but if you’re a provider of high-end products and services, perhaps developing apps for iPads and iPhones first may prove your best strategy or across platforms to ensure you have catered for all user-types from the bottom up.

Next you need to decide how to build your app. Do you develop a native or HTML 5 wrapper app ?

Even big players like Facebook have stumbled  trying to face these challenges, proving again why finding an expert partner in the digital game is paramount.

News24: Is it true to say that most of the time companies develop an app without knowing how it will do? They must wait and see if it worked?
Patel: I don’t believe so.

In fact, if a developer tells you that, I’d say they’re running away from accountability and are probably one of those digital gurus or maverick mavens I warned about earlier on.

Whether its reaching a certain number of downloads to increase awareness of your business, or seeing a set number of transactions going through in a month, like any business action, your app needs to have a set of realistic KPI’s.

Without that, how do you know you’re not merely throwing money down the drain? There are far too many apps that end up in the app-Graveyard!

News24: What is the future for apps?
Patel: Apps will continue to develop as a primary contact point in not just the mobile economy, but the digital economy as a whole. We all know that one item most people carry with them 24/7 and ‘use’ for multiple purposes is a mobile phone. So to build an app that meets your target markets needs and adds value to their daily lives – from socialising, comparing, finding product and services, through to buying products – has to be mobile-first.

In South Africa, falling data prices and the introduction of low-end, yet relatively powerful smartphones such as the Samsung Galaxy Pocket, mean that businesses increasingly need to look to apps if they want to stay in contact with their consumers and audience.
 
News24: What kind of apps can we expect in the future?
Patel: So far, applications have been the domain of tablets and smartphones.

In future we can expect apps for your smart TV, game consoles and the slew of new products that are in development, such as Google Glass.

News24: Do consumers care about brand apps, or is content more important?
Patel: In the digital world, Bill Gate’s famous statement from 1996 that “content is king” still is and will always be true, but in line with ‘Context’.

With the mobile user experience, content compliments context. Both go hand-in hand.  Delivering core functionality should always be the focus; however this needs to be delivered to the mobile consumer in the context that suits their situational needs.

Content should always be the focus of not just your app, but all your digital real estate. There are many considerations to be made in developing an app, but content must always be the core of that followed by context.
 
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