For many businesses, creating a mobile app is akin to what creating a website was 15 years ago--it's expensive and time consuming, and you can probably get along without one for a while. But then again, if you don't invest now, you'll regret it when you're playing digital catch-up in a year.
Enter Mobile Roadie, which, when it launched in 2009, was the first self-service app creator on the market, allowing businesses to customize and publish apps on all formats for a tenth of what it would cost to develop an app from scratch. Though many more app-creation services have jumped into the game lately, Mobile Roadie still has the advantage by being first to market.
"Being first had even more advantages than it normally does. We're six months ahead of the competition, and six months in the mobile world is like five years in any other industry," says Michael Schneider, the former web design agency owner who co-founded Mobile Roadie with Brock Batten. "Our other advantage is that we're the only service that supports our apps on Android, BlackBerry and iPhone. And BlackBerry is not the easiest thing to develop."
But just because Mobile Roadie is relatively cheap--about $500 to develop the app plus $30 dollars a month to manage it, versus tens of thousands for a custom app--doesn't mean it produces a cheap product. In fact, Madonna, Taylor Swift, the Dallas Mavericks and the Wynn Las Vegas have all used Mobile Roadie to build their apps.
"Just because a big brand can afford to build an app from the ground up doesn't mean it should," Schneider says. "We update our software every two to three months. Big brands realize that chasing all the changes in mobile technology is a pain in the butt. It's easier to hire a third party to do it."
So far Mobile Roadie, which employs 32 people and has offices in Los Angeles, Tokyo and London, has kept on top of the trends. But if the mobile world evolves even further, Mobile Roadie is primed to keep its clients on the cutting edge.
"There's been a lot of chatter about HTML5 and the mobile web. I think users will go wherever the best experience is, and right now the best is an app," Schneider says. "That being said, we're going to be wherever the best mobile experience is. We're about mobile engagement, even in a world beyond apps.
More Mobile Brilliance
CiviGuard In case of emergency: Government agencies, universities and businesses can use this app to quickly send out alerts and recommendations to the affected public.
FaceCash Credit cards are so last year. This payment app verifies purchases by matching a customer's face with a digital image linked to their account.
GadgetTrak Using GPS, Wi-Fi positioning and cell tower triangulation, this app helps recover stolen laptops and smartphones. It even snaps a photo of the thief.
GameSalad Mobile gaming made easy: A platform for creating sophisticated games without the need for code or special skills. These gamers raked in a cool $6.1 million in funding this year.
Location Labs Helicopter parents unite: This mobile tech company hosts a suite of family safety apps that allow parents to monitor and track the location of their children in real time.
Mogwee This social app allows groups of people to chat live, share photos and videos and even play mini games. Who's up for some Sheep Tennis?
SPOT Connect This compact satellite GPS messenger can get even the most adventurous outdoorsmen out of trouble. One click alerts emergency personnel to a person's location.
TransFire Hablas Español? No need. This real-time translation app from TNT Creations allows users to instantly send messages in more than 50 languages.
Vers Offers hip, environmentally friendly mobile device cases made from sustainable materials like bamboo, cherry and walnut wood--and a chance to donate $1 to plant a tree.
Jason Daley lives and writes in Madison, Wisconsin. His work regularly appears in Popular Science, Outside and other magazines.