Do you need an app? (2016 edition)

Apple will announce at some point in the next few days that they have sold 1 billion iPhones. There are around 2 million apps available in the AppStore. The numbers of Google's Android phones and apps are even higher on both counts. We get a lot of questions now about who, if anyone, needs an app when so many already exist.

#1... You don't need an app. Start there. Don't default to needing an app. Many major brands, institutions, and projects of all sorts do not have an app. Work from "no" to "yes" as you understand the unique benefits and opportunities of an app. If you start from "yes, we need an app" you will often, but not always, end up with something that should have been a website, or at least doesn't take any advantage of what apps can do.

Ok, that said...

Why would you develop an app in an app saturated world?

#1. User Experience. Yes, an incredibly overused term, but its true. Simply put - do you use the mobile website (Safari, Chrome, etc.) or the mobile app for your bank? If you said app, its because the experience is better. UX, as its called, doesn't just mean they designed a better layout for the app or the user interface (the UI - a term that's often confused with UX) is easier to use.

UX means that an entire process, from launching the app with a tap to signing in with your thumbprint to depositing a check with your camera, is designed to be better, faster, easier than an alternative. In this case, the app (for most modern banks now, at least) is the better UX than the first alternative - the website - and a far better experience than the second alternative - driving to a branch.

Dig into what you want people to do with your brand or project. If there is any part of the process that involves interacting with technology, you may be able to create a better and more personal user experience with an app.

#2. We mentioned the camera for depositing checks, so this leads us to our second compelling reason to build an app - Sensors. The sensors on a modern smartphone - proximity, accelerometer, barometers, cameras, microphones, compass, gyroscope - give the devices, along with wifi and bluetooth, ways to interact with the environment, and other users, in way that aren't as easy to wrangle with a website.

Yes, you could program a mobile website to do some of what Snapchat does with the camera, or some of what Fitbit does to collect data from a wearable device and display a graph of your last jog. But apps are your direct line to all these functions, so if you have any reason to use a sensor you are much closer to needing an app.

#3. If a mobile phone is a nice, neat way to package and sell sensors, the Internet of Things is a media name for a number of solutions built using connected sensors without a phone or tablet. Everything from crops that call the home office and request water to streetlights that come on earlier from a spike in early evening crime data, IoT as its called is a lot of data and a lot of small, cheap sensors that act together as a system that would be previously impossible - or at least prohibitively expensive.

So why is IoT mentioned in the context of mobile apps? Often these complex systems that connect data and sensors need an interface for humans to setup, control, configure, monitor or view what's going on. This is the work of mobile apps.

Next, in Part Two, we'll discuss why ecosystems and push notifications offer more reasons to consider building an app.