The app goldrush is over – it's time to apply some business sense | April 20, 2011
The rise of smart devices like the iPhone and iPad has led to an application goldrush, with companies racing to stake their claims. In the early days we saw a few lucky pioneers strike gold with novelty apps. There were also a handful of independent developers and well-known brands that invested in user experience and captured the high end of the market.
However, as with most goldrushes, the obvious targets were depleted very quickly. Digital prospectors are arriving to find a very different market, one rife with competition and few obvious deposits to mine. Furthermore, our appetite for apps seems to be dwindling as we fall back on a few must-have staples.
Recent studies have shown that we tend to limit our use to a few core apps and the bulk of others are never opened. Also, smartphone use is still fairly low in the UK, making it difficult to gain scale. So despite newspapers and magazines hailing the iPad as the saviour of the publishing industry, and blue-chip companies rushing to create trophy offerings, does it really make business sense to jump on the app bandwagon?
For a lot of companies the answer is no. Good app design takes a level of time and investment that’s hard to justify commercially. Only the international brands have the mindshare and level of traffic they need to guarantee scale. Even then, most rush out poorly designed and undifferentiated products with no real user need. Who, for example, loves a particular generic high street brand enough to download its dedicated store finder when you can get the information from Google?
One common trend is to create near-carbon copies of your website. These apps are often paid-for in an attempt to claw back some revenue from previously free content. However, this is rarely successful because consumers are savvy and mobile usage patterns are quite specific. If you’re thinking of creating an app that’s almost identical to your web experience, why create it at all? Mobile browsers have come a long way and recent advances in HTML and CSS mean you can now create a mobile-optimised version of your site, which is likely to reach more people anyway, for a fraction of the price.
I’m not suggesting that companies shouldn’t commission apps, we just need to be careful about what we build and why. There’s still gold in them there hills, but it’s going to be a lot more difficult to find and a lot more expensive to extract. We need to view apps as a business rather than a faddish get-rich-quick scheme.
This article was originally published in New Media Age.
Posted at April 20, 2011 3:00 PM