Keeping mobile apps business apt

More Singapore enterprises opting for mobile apps to better serve customers by providing info to a handy device, but industry insiders note simplicity is key.
Written by Vivian Yeo, Contributor

Mobile apps are a bustling business in Singapore, and consumers' appetite for them is growing incessantly. However, there are factors to consider--and pitfalls to avoid--to develop a killer app.

Globally, the app industry is flourishing. ABI Research predicted in April there will be 44 billion cumulative downloads by 2016. Much of the development and innovation to support the demand will eventually be derived from Asia, it noted in a separate report in December 2010.

At the same time, analysts have pointed to rapid smartphone adoption as the driver for uptake in mobile Internet and app usage.

Tips for smooth mobile app development

Know target audience--Remember you can’t be all things to all people, so focus on what you want to achieve.

Define goals clearly
Attempt to immediately discern what the app can help a user to accomplish; this way, it will be more attractive to those who actively seek the solution it provides.

Play to device strengths
Interactive nature of the app needs to take advantage of the real estate, or lack thereof. Screen clutter will put users off. Also, be able to highlight different aspects so that they can be 'discovered' easily.

Forget slow and steady
A fast app boot-up time, even if there is a delay later on for loading more data, is vital to keep the user from becoming disgruntled and closing the app. Think of the initial start-up screen as the "fast food" window for getting to the meat of what the app can do.

Among enterprises, decision-makers are also looking to spend more on mobility-based initiatives to improve customer-centricity and expansion as well as operational productivity and efficiency, noted Sandra Ng, group vice president of ICT research at IDC Asia-Pacific, in an earlier report.

This enterprise mobility trend was also cited by a Singapore-based corporate mobile app developer, as the reason behind the "dramatic increase" in demand for mobile apps by businesses over the last 12 months. Kriti Kapoor, co-founder and director of Appio Labs, told ZDNet Asia in an e-mail interview that companies of all sizes and across all industries are today looking into or developing mobile apps.

"Early adopters or forward-looking organizations are considering mobile initiatives that leverage data assets, increase employee productivity and improve the bottom line," she said.

Citing statistics from Forrester Research on the North American and European markets, the businesswoman added the greatest benefit from the deployment of mobile apps has been increased employee productivity.

However, she pointed out that based on her experience in helping clients develop and maintain mobile apps, there are typical mistakes organizations make in their mobile app journey.

Pitfalls to avoid
Most budgets for mobile app projects, according to Kapoor, are allocated toward app development but this does not reflect the true cost of creating an app.

Rather, companies need to take a total cost of ownership (TCO) view for mobile apps in the enterprise and cater for ongoing maintenance costs as well, she explained, noting that optimization and support for multiple platforms also add both cost and complexity.

Furthermore, a lack of clarity around the functionality and guidelines relating to branding or design causes delays in the development cycle. The lack of alignment between the business units and internal IT will also lead to issues in terms of back-end infrastructure integration and ongoing support, she warned.

Drilling in on the apps, Kapoor said a compelling app not only offers a superior end-user experience but also simplicity. These factors will result in improved productivity for the organization, she pointed out.

Make apps simple, easy to use
Simplicity was also cited by Steve Lee, CIO of Changi Airport Group (CAG), as an essential element of a quality mobile application. "Simplicity is important to ensure that information is available to all users through simple steps," he said in his e-mail.

Lee, however, noted the most important ingredient is to provide relevant and timely information that serves users' needs. CAG's iChangi app, for instance, offers real-time flight and gate information, and includes a retail directory and guide to airport facilities.

It also has to anticipate needs such as by providing the exact locations of the check-in counters and departure gates when a user searches for a particular flight number, or enabling personalization so that users can subscribe to a particular flight number and receive alerts that the boarding gate is about to close.

As of end-September, the iChangi app has been downloaded over 430,000 times. There are also more than 130,000 active users of the app, conducting over 850,000 user sessions per month, Lee pointed out.

He revealed that CAG incurred "some one-time overheads" to integrate its back-end flight information system with the iChangi mobile application. The additional one-time and recurrent costs were already factored in its plans to provide real-time flight information via various channels including Web and TV.

The app currently runs on Apple's iOS, Google Android, Research In Motion's Blackberry and Microsoft's Windows Phone, with an iPad-compatible version on the cards, he shared. To make the app work on various major mobile operating systems, CAG worked with its mobile app developer to divide the source code design into two portions: one covers all the back-end server components, which are mostly common and reusable, while the second covers the front-end source codes of the iChangi application across the different platforms, which are unique and different.

"Back-end related updates are more straightforward and deployment can be done at a faster speed," said Lee. "For changes that are related to the front-end user interface design, extra time and effort will be required to update the source code of each operating platform, which can sometimes be very time consuming."

Over at Resorts World Sentosa (RWS), its mobile app, which was introduced in July this year, has garnered over 50,000 downloads, with 1,000 page views on average and 25,000 page views on days when promotions are launched, said RWS' senior vice president and CIO Yap Chee Yuen.

Apart from information such as navigation and waiting times for rides and shows at Universal Studios Singapore theme park, the app also includes latest attractions and promotions, and even a photo booth application where users can select various backdrops for their images. Yap explained that the waiting time information for the rides and shows is updated by an existing operation process and procedure, which the mobile app simply leverages.

The iOS app, he noted, was conceptualized by the integrated resort's (IR) in-house IT department, but the development was outsourced to a mobile app specialist. An Android version is also being planned.

The CIO said RWS is also considering including new capabilities such as instant reward and redemption, online booking of the IRs products and packages and reservations at its food and beverage venues.

In terms of app updates, Yap said RWS has a quarterly software update schedule during which enhancements are released as a batch. However, it adopts an ad-hoc approach for critical defects that need to be rectified.

CAG, on the other hand, updates the iChangi application every three to six months, based on feedback provided by users and business partners, said Lee. The organization classifies updates by priority level, depending on how critical the change is.

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