3 considerations guiding SMB mobile app development

More adults are downloading and using mobiles applications downloaded to their smartphone or tablet, but their attention span for these apps is limited.

You and I both spend far more of our time interacting with our cyberworlds through some sort of mobile device, increasingly a smartphone or tablet computer. It stands to reason that your customers are doing so, as well. That trend has made it imperative that small businesses consider optimizing their Web sites for access via a mobile device ("Make the most of your mobile Web site"). But should your small or midsize business invest in developing a mobile application for your customers or business partners?

If your organization is toying with that question, you should consult some research conducted in August 2011 by the Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project. The data show that close to 40 percent of adult mobile phone users have downloaded some sort of mobile application to their smartphone, up substantially from 22 percent about two years ago. Far more of the survey respondents, 75 percent, said they have downloaded applications to their tablet computers.

But few of them are interacting with more than three to five applications per week on their smartphone or mobile tablet, the Pew Research data shows.

Specifically, approximately 30 percent of the 2,260 adults surveyed said they used three to five mobile applications on either their smartphone or tablet computer once per week. Another 18 percent to 20 percent of the respondents DID use six to 10 applications at least once per week; but about the same number also used only 1 or 2 applications, the Pew Research data show.

Approximately 53 percent of the respondents said they would only download an application to their smartphone or tablet if it was free. Generally speaking, only 17 percent of them have downloaded an application that cost more than $20.

What do people consider to be the most valuable sorts of mobile apps? Here are the top 7 reasons that those who DID download a mobile app chose to do so (the percentage given is the percentage of people who said "yes" they had downloaded an app for that reason):

  1. Provided regular updates on news, weather, sports or stocks (74 percent)
  2. Helped you communicate with friends or family (67 percent)
  3. Helped you learn about something you were interested in (64 percent)
  4. Helped you get more information about a destination you were visiting (53 percent)
  5. Helped you with work-related tasks (48 percent)
  6. Helped you shop or make purchase (46 percent)
  7. Allowed you to watch movies or TV shows online (43 percent)

Any small business thinking about mobile applications definitely should consider these factors carefully in plotting its development strategy. Here are some questions that should help guide that decision:

  1. When it comes to mobility, are most of your customers using smartphones or tablets to interact with the mobile Web? Tablet users are downloading and interacting with more applications, probably because of the form factor. You need to get a handle on the mobile device usage trends within your target audience.
  2. Would the application meet one of the needs in that list of priorities? I would add another consideration: Is your application one that offers constantly changing or updated information, which would drive people to come back repeatedly over time.
  3. Who is the mobile application for? A consumer? Business partner? Employee? If the audience falls into the two latter buckets, it is more likely that you'll be able to shape and encourage usage. It stands to reason that retailers should be exploring the various mobile payment and shopping/incentive applications that are emerging. Any business with a Web site that serves an information need -- such as pricing information or schedules -- is also a great candidate for a mobile application development project.

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