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Does your SME really need a mobile app?

You have a website and it’s optimised for mobile devices. Your customers can find out everything they need to know about your business and contact you quickly and easily using various options, including online messaging and live chat. They can buy goods and services, pay you and leave reviews, but aren’t you worried that just being online isn’t enough?

As users expect more from websites and mobile apps, the development of technology and systems that will satisfy their needs is vital. People can live in homes that are almost fully controllable from a mobile device. They can monitor their alarm, adjust the heating, control lights and curtains and even communicate with the fridge; all via an app on their smartphone.

Then of course you can add additional apps to the mix; the ones that most people now have, for messaging family and friends, telling the world what we’re doing on social networks, buying the weekly shop, logging our runs, navigating our way home and ordering dinner. It’s no wonder that we are spending an increasing amount of time staring at a small screen, interacting with a virtual assistant of some kind.

For business and professional users, there is even more demand for cutting edge applications that make it easy and efficient to perform key functions within a commercial setting. This is especially true when the requirement is for an app or web interface that enables customers to engage or receive service more easily.  If you think of any major retailer, fast-food outlet and utility provider, they all have a bespoke app. Even schools, doctor’s surgeries and local shops are embracing apps as an easy way to interact and allow users to make payments, book appointments or order goods and services. Is it any wonder that SMEs are increasingly feeling under pressure to have an icon on the home-page of their customers’ smartphone?

That said, there are many pointless apps available to download; some do much less than the corresponding mobile website and they do it less efficiently! Offering a mobile app for download, just because you can, is never the right reason. Apps lend themselves more readily to some businesses than others and a good mobile website is sometimes sufficient. It really is something all businesses should consider though.

When beginning the process, the planning stage is crucial; there is a whole raft of due diligence to complete before the development stage can begin and any good developer will make sure you do this before even discussing specs with you.

Besides the obvious questions about what you want a mobile app to do, the key things to consider when deciding if you want to invest in an app are;

  • How will it benefit your target users?
  • What advantages will an app will bring to your business?
  • What are the potential costs in terms of development and are there any ongoing resources that will be required when the app is up and running?
  • How will you market and promote your app – and what will this cost?
  • What back-office support, if any, will you need to put in place to support app users?

Only when you have thoroughly investigated these points will you be able to properly assess whether an app is the right way to go. Then you can get stuck into the exciting world of mobile app development!

Once you have decided that a mobile app is the way forward for your business, you then need to make sure it does the job, whilst being easy for your users to interact with. As well as operation, design is a critical element to consider.

As web and mobile apps become more complex in what they can deliver, graphic designers are working out how to combine this complexity and functionality in the user interface.  Our developers have found huge differences across the industry in terms of the creative development of the user interface – in both style and function.

At MXMG, our years of experience have taught us that the user comes first in app design and that urge for dynamic creativity must come second to functional usability. Our clients want to enable their user to complete the required task or achieve the necessary outcome as quickly and easily as possible. No one wants to wait for a data-heavy application to load, for unnecessary title screens to flash up, or the same text to appear and be agreed to every time they open the app, before they can get on with the job at hand.

Whilst there are sometimes differences in what clients and their users want, in terms of content and abilities, they both agree on the need for apps to be functional, reliable and efficient.  Often, a complex function needs a relatively simple interface, with clear and easy-to-follow elements.  This is where many app developers go wrong, thinking that only an over-thought, complicated user-interface will do justice to the complex system that sits behind it. Like with web design, sometimes, you just have to embrace the white space!

Using clear margins and white space helps to guide the user to the useable functions more easily. There is a key difference in how people read information when it is presented in a book and how they read it from a screen. With a book, we are programmed to look immediately at the top, left-hand side of the page and begin reading left to right, top to bottom. However, when information is presented on a screen, the natural place to look first, is the centre of the display. This is a key influence in designing any screen-based interface.

When the basic app is ready, the next thing to do is test, test, test… and then test again. Users will quickly abandon your app if it is glitchy, runs slowly, crashes or makes the process more complicated than it needs to be.

If you have assessed the needs properly, planned effectively, designed sensibly and tested thoroughly, you should have an app that will both benefit your business and enhance your customers’ experience.

One huge benefit of going through the app development process, is that you will learn a great deal about your business and customers. One of the key advantages your app will give you in return, is the ability to understand and keep up with the changing nature of what your customers want and how/when/where/why they want it.

In short, a mobile app makes it easier for your customers to engage with your business, creates the potential for a mine of information to be gathered, a more personalised offer to be made and for your business to become part of the fabric of your customers’ mobile devices.

So, is a mobile app what you need? Or is the real question, can your business afford to be without one?

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