5 Best Practices For Compelling Mobile Apps

All sorts of evidence suggests most businesses, big or small, are considering whether or not to invest in mobile applications, either as an internal tool for employees or as an external service for improving customer or constituent engagement.

There's some pretty good rationale for doing so. By 2017, mobile apps will be downloaded more than 268 billion times, generating revenue of more than $77 billion, predicts market analyst firm Gartner. Those apps aren't just confined to smartphones or tablets. They'll find their ways into home appliances, automobiles and various wearable gadgets – with all sorts of implications for companies' data management and application development practices.

"Taking the example of a fitness-tracking device, ultimately its onboard data will need to be uploaded into the cloud, processes and then analyzed in reporting back to the user," said Brian Blau, research director at Gartner, in a press release about the firm's research. "Apps are an obvious and convenient platform to enable great products and services to be developed."

While it's safe to say that only particularly specialized small or midsize (SMB) businesses will develop content for fitness gadgets, don't assume that SMBs aren't active participants in the mobile apps craze.

Data collected by just one of the do-it-yourself platforms, Como, suggests that up to 4,500 apps are created daily using its service. The majority of all hotel apps, for example, originate in Florida while 9 percent of professional sports apps come from Pennsylvania, according to Como's analysis of the apps created using its tools.

An early 2013 survey by mobile app tools developer AnyPresence suggests that many companies are adding more than one mobile app for corporate activities, for business partners or for customers. The departments deploying them the most include customer service or support, sales and marketing, supply chain, shipping and procurement.

Given all this activity, it stands to reason many technology solution providers are considering how to accommodate the mobile app development priorities of existing or new clients. With that in mind, we convinced two specialized mobile apps developers, Brooklyn, N.Y.-based App Partner and San Francisco-based Y Media Labs to share some of their best practices.

1. Create processes that can be replicated and scaled

"We have more work than we can handle," offers Drew Johnson, co-founder of App Partner, a 15-person, fast-growing company that names Norwegian Cruise Lines, Rice University and social network Yoddle among its clients.

During the courtship phase with new clients, App Partner offers a pre-packaged set of services and deliverables, its App Prototype offerings. The idea is to help businesses determine whether an application idea will really stand up in the marketplace or -- in the case of startups basing their entire business on some game or mobile services – whether it is an attractive funding proposition. 

"That operational expertise is something we have optimized: how we design it, support it and so on," Johnson said.

2. Understand the real budget

At least half of the roughly 100 IT managers responding to the AnyPresence survey believed that it would easily cost at least $50,000 for the initial development of a mobile app -- including environment setup, mobile service development, user interface design, testing, deployment and project management.

Indeed, approximately one-quarter of the respondents expected to pay between $100,000 and $250,000 per app.

From the get-go, that amount will guide whether or not the business is a candidate for a cross-platform application or one that is focused on just on specific mobile platform, Johnson said. "This is one of the biggest decisions they will need to make. They will want to be everywhere, but sometimes it just isn't practical," he said.