With the ever-increasing numbers of smartphone users across the globe, businesses have started taking online selling more seriously. While hundreds of businesses are beginning to establish their online selling websites, several companies venture into developing their mobile apps.
With more than 3.5 billion smartphone users worldwide, the two leading app stores — Apple’s App Store and Google’s Play Store — are undoubtedly influential. Each is accessible through over a billion devices spread around the world.
There are advantages to having an app, of course: it ensures 24/7 visibility to both potential and current customers, makes an effective connection between the business and the customer possible, and provides valuable exposure via app stores. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that any given company should invest in one.
Today, there are more online companies than ever before due to the COVID-19 pandemic causing offices to shut down and high streets to lose most of their foot traffic. The market is hotly competitive, and every business wants to stand out. Is investing in an app a necessary step if you’re going to set yourself apart? Let’s consider it.
Mobile devices are increasingly used for work
At this point, eCommerce companies all have websites that work extremely well on mobile devices and offer personalized elements (and can even be turned into pseudo-apps — more on that later), but there’s one area where apps are particularly vital: productivity. SaaS tools geared towards productivity are all about convenience and ease of use, which means doing better than mobile-first sites.
Aren’t mobile devices chiefly for personal use, though? Well, now that people are working remotely far more often, they’re getting used to the digital nomad lifestyle. That means being able to work from anywhere, whether it’s your home, your garden, or a coffee shop. People are now becoming less dependent on their laptops and are beginning to depend on their smartphones due to its functionality and portability.
Take task management, for instance. The best task management apps help you manage things you’ve got to do, and it would be hard to deal with your general workload if you were rooted to a laptop or desktop all the time. That’s why all the top SaaS developers offer great mobile apps. Integration is a key ingredient: the more platforms a tool supports, the better. And since Apple devices’ future lies in using the same processors for mobile devices and laptops, a dedicated app seems like a very smart investment.
There’s only value in having a high-quality app
A word of warning, though: developing an app is only worth your time and investment if the app is at least as good as your website. Ideally, it should be significantly better, tailored to fit the mobile view, and take advantage of mobile ecosystem features. Look at it this way. If your app is worse than your website, all it will achieve is making your company look incompetent.
It will also cause palpable disappointment. When a mobile device user sees your app, they’ll get their hopes up, only to see them dashed when it turns out to be terrible. They’ll regret putting time into installing and configuring it and blame your business for that lost time. Now, while you can never guarantee that you’re going to get a great result when you develop an app, you can take the sensible step of hiring a top-notch developer with an outstanding track record.
Progressive web apps are useful alternatives
If you don’t want to spend heavily on a developer, or you’re not sure how you could make your app better than your website, then maybe you don’t need an app at all. This is where progressive web apps (henceforth referred to as PWAs) enter the picture. PWAs are regular websites optimized for mobile views to the extent that they can be run through app containers.
When a user visits a website with a PWA version, they’ll be presented with an option to create a shortcut to the site on their phone. That shortcut will appear as an app: when they open it, the website will load in an app window that’s distinct from their mobile browser. It will otherwise work identically, but that doesn’t really matter.
Of course, taking this route means you don’t get the huge benefit of being accessible through mobile app stores — but it also means you don’t need to spend heavily on app development to give your users a mobile-centric experience. There are various ways to create PWAs (and depending on the CMS you’re using, you might even be able to generate one automatically using a PWA wizards plugin).
So, do online companies need to invest in apps? It really depends on what they’re trying to achieve and what they have to offer. SaaS providers should definitely develop great mobile apps, while eCommerce companies unwilling to create entirely new interfaces should just offer PWAs. And other company types shouldn’t worry so much about apps. Provided their websites work well on mobile devices, they should be in strong positions.
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