One thing that puzzles us is the lack of understanding of the purpose of developing a mobile app. There are too many articles and developers pushing for all businesses to develop their own mobile app, citing reasons for “being visible to all your customers all the time”, “boosting customer loyalty”, “creating value for your customers”, which we believe are simply highly nonsensical claims.
Mobile Apps in Short
A mobile app essentially is an application that is mobile. Yes, this is a tautology and yes, this means that it’s just a piece of software that you can take with you on the go. That’s all it is, is it not? Looking at it from this perspective, answering “why you need a mobile app” is ridiculously easy.
But first, let’s present some truths so you can develop your own thoughts as well. We do sincerely hope you agree with what we present at the end.
Successful software can be grouped into two extremes based on what they accomplish, one that simplifies hard things to make your life easier, and one that makes your life better by presenting content you enjoy. We’ll refer to the former as efficiency based software (or the much overused “mobile-apps” if it pleases you), and the latter as entertainment based software. According to our grouping, there is room for a “hybrid” type of software where it creates efficiency somewhere in your life while presenting you with entertainment. We go into each of these types below.
What we call “efficiency based software” helps reduce the resources you need to complete a task, or increases the number of tasks you can complete with the same resources, or even reducing the resources you expend while completing more tasks. The keywords here are automation and standardization. They are faster and more reliable than their non-technological alternatives. Examples of this include:
- Your calculator app: you no longer have to use pen and paper to make calculations or even your head, so it’s less effort expended to achieve the same result
- Your e-mail app: you no longer have to remember your contact’s addresses, you no longer have to write letters on pen and paper and mail it via post, and you can easily copy and paste it to multiple recipients
- Your search app: you no longer have to filter through stacks and stacks of paper and books in order to find a piece of something relevant to you, you simply type a keyword and whatever search app you have will try to pinpoint the relevant pieces to you, which reduces your time and gets even better results (better as in more rapidly and more relevant)
What we call “entertainment-based software” simply put is anything that is purely for entertainment purposes. This should be a bit more self-explanatory. These include:
- Games: aren’t we all guilty of spending a bit too much time on them
- Video streaming apps: YouTube seems to be the biggest, but you get the point
- E-commerce: you shop for fun right? Is there any other fundamental reason why you bought that pair of jeans last week? Because you like it, right?
Lastly and most importantly, are the hybrids of both efficiency and entertainment. Anything that can be classified within “Social Media” falls here. It virtually reduces the effort you have to expend to be entertained.
How would you classify the “others”?
Now, software and applications, either mobile or immobile, are successful by inherently creating value through automation, standardization, and/or entertainment. Following this chain of thought, then the types of businesses that mobile apps are relevant to are software providers and entertainment providers or. These are the businesses and the applications that the public spend their majority of their time on.
However, we do see a lot of apps in the app store that seemingly do not create any value for their underlying business. Below, we list a few of these apps by type:
- The “Cataloguer”: some industrial or trade businesses have launched mobile apps that function exclusively as a catalog of the products they sell
- The “Booker”: Some individual restaurants and small hotels have launched apps that allow you to see their basic details, with a form for you to book a reservation
- The “Contacter”: Many small service providers, like health clinics, caterers and such, have spent money to create an application that doesn’t do anything aside from being a contact form.
These businesses’ core advantage probably cannot be automated, standardized, or entertaining.
From the users’ perspectives
Having established this, let’s take a look from the user’s perspective. All people have limited time and act in their interests to optimize the time they do have. The “Cataloguer” is effectively competing for a mobile user’s time with e-commerce platforms who are drastically better at being a “Cataloguer”, with embedded purchasing functionality which creates additional value. The “Booker” is competing with booking platform apps that aggregate all hotels together, like Travelocity, who have significant advantages in automation to create value. The “Contacter” is competing with any search app, even Google. In short, these lower-value apps are competing with the highest-value apps platforms, and it’s obviously “more value” wins in the end.
At the same time, having an application that creates low value in many ways hurts a business, and it hurts hard. Typically the businesses that have launched these low-value apps have acknowledged that they need to be a part of the new economy, the new ecosystem in which participants are highly reliant on digital and internet technologies. However, launching an application with minimal value simply illustrates how far disconnected these businesses are from understanding this the digital reality. It subtly brings to the user’s mind that maybe this business is quite traditional and unable to grow effectively. That maybe this business needs to change to survive but doesn’t know how to do so effectively. That maybe… it won’t survive. Maybe it’s not that extreme, but it remains a possibility. The only certainty is that a bad app hurts, and it hurts in ways you don’t realize until it’s too late.
So we conclude with the following Banana’s Law of Apps:
Principle 1: Apps only make sense if your business can provide value through automation, standardization, and/or entertainment, and you have enough content to warrant a standalone piece of software.
Principle 2: Apps that don’t help you, hurt you.