With the ubiquity of smartphones, it's easy to get caught up in the app hype. But the question is, should you?
While there's no doubt that mobile applications can be great for keeping customers engaged with your brand, they aren't right for everyone. Among other reasons, roughly 80 percent of apps get fewer than 1,000 downloads, and a huge chunk of them register very few downloads at all. They'll often get buried under the other million-plus apps in every app store.
It can also be costly to develop a mobile application. According to Blue Cloud Solutions, an iPhone app consultancy, you're going to pay between $1,000 and $4,000 for the most basic of mobile apps. If you want features like in-app purchasing or connection to a database, you'll see costs increase substantially.
So, how do you decide if your business needs an app or not? Here are three questions to ask yourself before going down the app development path:
1. Who are your customers, and what do they expect? Believe it or not, not everyone has a smartphone (only about 50 percent of U.S. consumers, according to Comscore's "2013 Mobile Future in Focus" report), and not everyone with a smartphone downloads and uses apps. Evaluate your customer base and determine how useful a mobile app will be to them. If it's not obvious, a survey of your market is a great way to get the answers you need.
2. Will a mobile website accomplish what you need? Once you figure out the needs of your customers, it might be clear that a good looking, easy to navigate mobile site is what you really need. A mobile site is also a great transition into mobile if app development is outside your budget right now. The other advantage of this approach is that it works across all smartphone platforms, whereas you need to develop different apps specific to iPhone, Android, Microsoft and (maybe) Blackberry.
3. Do you have the bandwidth to maintain an effective mobile app? A mobile app isn't something you can just set and forget. Not only do platform updates demand frequent upgrades to your app, but if you want your app to be a success, it needs to be refreshed and updated on a regular basis. Developing new content and functionality takes time and money, so be sure you know what you're getting into.
Ask yourself why you want to develop an app. Are you getting caught up in the fury of activity in this space and afraid you're missing out? Or do you have a genuine need to develop a mobile app for your business? If you find that an app would benefit your company, engage your clientele and be cost-effective, go for it.
What other factors should you consider before launching an app? Let us know in the comment
The author is an Entrepreneur contributor. The opinions expressed are those of the writer.