When You Need an App

An app is a program downloaded to a smart phone or tablet computer. There are zillions of apps.  Most people's mobile devices are cluttered with them.

Because of that, apps produce a lot of noise: that is to say that the clutter from all of those apps makes it more difficult to use the device.

Over time, people instinctively try to cut down on the noise and manage the number of apps they own. They prune, categorize, and delete the apps they don't need.

If you create an app, you're competing against a ton of other apps for a very small space on the smartphone.

Many small businesses that I meet are all over this craze and want to create an app. Ooo we've got to have an app, they say! So when I ask what it'll do and what value it'd bring to the user experience, they look at me puzzled. "It will tell them about our services and give them a fast way to contact us," they say, and I shoot back, "Oh ... like your website?"

Then I try to get them to think about how quickly such an app would be deleted because it's noisy. It doesn't add any real value or differentiation, so why would anyone keep it?

And that's the trick with apps. Good apps should enable the user to do something:

  • it should be a tool;
  • it should be a way to collect and review information;
  • it should extend your customer service to the palm of their hand;
  • it should be a way to reduce friction (calling or emailing your offices to get something done);
  • it should be a way to share experiences with your products to potential customers in their social community.

Apps should empower a user. If an app doesn't do this, it's valueless, and will likely be perceived as clutter and deleted from the mobile device.

Meanwhile, companies should make their websites mobile-aware so that they change perspective to fit a smaller screen with less resolution. If a website isn't mobile-aware, it'll present itself as a site better viewed on a desktop machine, making it very difficult to read and access information. Companies should make their website mobile-aware so that they're easier to read, consume, and use, thus making it easier to work with the company.

But a website isn't an app. And even more horrendously, an app's purpose shouldn't be to just drag the user to a website. If you want to get into the app business, think about how the app extends the consumer experience and empowers their relationship with you. Otherwise, stick to the website, and make that as easy as possible to use on mobile devices.