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Mobile Apps are programs that run on mobile devices, such as the iPhone, Android phones and tablets, and iPad.  Mobile Apps are similar to that of computer programs that are actually installed on your computer, in that they are installed on your device.  Although, most mobile apps still have an Internet component that requires them to connect to online services at a certain point, if not all the time.

Several app stores exist to download both free and paid mobile apps, but perhaps the most popular ones are the Android Market and the iTunes App Store.

These are thing things you should consider about mobile apps before having one developed.

Rich User Experience

Mobile apps are typically known for having a more rich user experience then mobile websites.  However, this is often not completely true.  I’ve used several apps for iPhone, Android, and iPad and often I find myself using the app once, then returning to the website from the mobile device instead.  This is usually because companies either A) hire programmers who have no concept of design, or B) the app does the same thing as the website but gives me less options.  Either way, it is an epic fail.  If your native mobile app does not provide a unique value proposition or experience, don’t fork out the cash.

Costly

Developing apps time-consuming and therefore expensive.  The average cost to develop a mobile app according to this article is $12,000 to $200,000 per app, per device.  However, as a developer myself, I would lean towards the $50,000 range to have a quality app and/or to develop for multiple devices.  The lower range is for development in India or China, where milage may very.  Which leads me to my next point:

Multiple Devices

Did you know that the majority of active smartphones are Android devices, not iPhones?  Most people don’t, they just assume since iPhone gets all the buzz and press, it must be the the most popular.  Wrong.  According to the research firm Gartner, iPhone actually only has 15% market share, while Android has 52%.  This is why it is important to not ignore non-Apple devices.

Unfortunately for you, each company uses a different technology to develop apps. For example, iPhone and iPad use a language called Objective-C, whereas Android and Blackberry use Java.  However, even though Blackberry and Android use Java programming language, each have their own software development kits (SDK) that layers the programming language, making it more difficult yet.

Furthermore, because of the vast differences, you will most often need to find a programmer for each of these specialties.  It is like finding a surgeon that specializes in both brain surgery and heart surgery; they probably DO exist, but are much more difficult to find than one or the other.

App Store Approval

This one is specific to Apple – sorry Mac-heads.  Although I am a fan of Apple products, I am not personally a fan of their politics.  Say you do decide to build an app and it looks great!  You paid your programmer $50,000 so he is happy, your marketing team has everything lined up from weeks of planning and is just waiting on you to flip the switch to release the app.  You upload the app to Apple for approval and approximately one week later they say: “Sorry, your app was denied.”

This does happen all the time.  At one point, it got so bad that the media was even taking stabs at it.

Takeaways

The moral of the story is that typically mobile apps have the ability to have a very good user experience, but have several pitfalls as well, depending on your tolerance for proprietary systems and your bank roll.  For the foreseeable future, they will have relevance in the mobile world as it continues to grow rapidly.  Just be sure you think “utility” when you build an app and you have the right partners before you leap.

This article is part of a three article series on the different types of mobile products.

Read the previous article on Mobile Websites or the next on HTML5 Apps [Coming Soon].