Given these audience-related challenges, I’d like to propose some rules of thumb as guidance for those evaluating the choice between a smart phone app vs other approaches to mobile development. In this approach, the more “Yes’s” that you can assign, the more certain that app development is a reasonable choice.
- Is the content already optimized for the web? The first (and often the only needed) step in mobile will be to ensure that the content is easily available via a mobile browser. Although optimization can itself be a challenge (i.e. full site vs. selected content), the ROI of this approach may be much higher as costs will frequently be lower and reach greater.
- Is the content, “mobile” content? Mobile phones are very personal devices and the intimacy we have with them make them very effective channels for reaching individuals with contextually relevant information. This includes content that is either time-sensitive or location-relevant. In all honesty, content that fits this criteria may be rare in the federal government OR SMS messaging might be the more effective approach to consider in scenarios with a high degree of urgency (e.g. emergencies). Local government, on the other hand, may be in a very good position to develop content that is particularly relevant in the mobile context.
- Is mobile functionality being leveraged to promote behavior change? As noted above, the fact that we are rarely without our mobile devices make them excellent candidates for recording, sharing and/or receiving prompts related to behavior change.
- Is the app storing data (even locally) that improves functionality? Privacy issues certainly need to be investigated but apps that help facilitate and speed up transactions can be very useful.
- Is the content accessed on a (very) frequent basis? Frequent access by many users supports the argument for an app that can essentially function as a bookmark for high-value content.
- Are there adequate resources for maintain the app? The best apps continue to evolve and improve. It is VERY unlikely that you will completely nail an app the first time out. Building in time and resources for continued development is critical. This includes ensuring that there is an “owner” for the app and its content (just as every web page should have an owner).
- Are there adequate resources for promoting the app? An app without adequate promotion is a lonely app indeed.
Finally, while researching this issue, I came across a clever tweet from @roprice | “Mobile decision tree: if it requires a login, make it a mobile app, if not, make it a mobile site.” Hard to beat the wisdom of 140 sometimes.
I hope this post stimulates some discussion, I am always happy to be proven wrong and, as always, these thoughts are mine and mine alone.
Mobile Gov Resources
Better for Business: Mobile Web or App?
Why You May Not Need a Mobile App
So You Want to Build a Mobile App? 8 Things to Consider
MOBILE SITE VS. MOBILE APP: WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT GOING MOBILE