Companies that are considering developing an iPhone app as a brand or service marketing vehicle are being warned not to ignore other mobile platforms such as Google's Android or RIM's BlackBerry.
A report by analyst Forrester Research entitled Is an iPhone App Right For You? states: "For the moment, most consumer-facing brands can concentrate on an iPhone application because the App Store distribution model is widely understood by consumers and has the most traction. But pay close attention to other stores like BlackBerry App World, Android Market, Windows Marketplace for Mobile and Nokia's Ovi store."
The analyst points out that, with the exception of Android, these other stores offer the short-term potential to reach a larger base of handset owners than the iPhone does. Forrester therefore suggests companies be ready to port their apps to other platforms, or even provide new apps that take advantage of unique capabilities the iPhone doesn't have, such as Android's compass feature.
"Competing app stores will likely offer slightly different capabilities and processes," the report notes — for example, BlackBerry App World requiring users to have a PayPal account to buy apps or the Nokia Ovi store focusing on location and social networking to suggest app downloads to users. "These differences will affect how you develop and deploy your applications — as well as each store's chances of success."
A poorly conceived application or one that is buggy could spoil your best efforts and damage your brand.
The iPhone is also hamstrung by its limited distribution-deal model: typically being available from only one mobile operator in each market. This again limits market reach, the analyst says. However, Forrester reckons Apple's hardware is "within striking distance" of RIM's worldwide reach — with 17 million and 50 million respective devices shipped.
Apple's device also "represents a rather large base for a single handset", in the analyst's view.
Another problem for would-be iPhone app launchers is that of standing out in a very big crowd: with more than 25,000 apps now available on the iTunes App Store, Forrester says companies face a challenge getting their app noticed.
The most successful types of apps for companies hoping to drive sales or customer engagement are those which are practically useful or give consumers easy access to important information. The analyst cites a Bank of America application which combined an ATM locator with access to mobile-banking services as an example of an app that has utility value.
However, according to Forrester, companies simply looking to drive brand awareness may do better focusing on fun, such as a virtual lighter app from Zippo, while businesses wanting better customer engagement with their brand should look at incorporating interactive elements in any app so users are brought into contact with a community of fellow users.
Another issue to consider is the cost of developing an app, with the analyst saying a bog-standard no-frills app will start at a minimum of $20,000 (£13,000) to develop, while a more sophisticated app can cost up to $150,000.
The report adds: "A poorly conceived application or one that is buggy could spoil your best efforts and damage your brand. Early adopters can be unforgiving."