By Todd Bacile | January 28, 2013
Mobile ubiquitous connectivity is changing how consumers connect with brands. The proliferation of consumers using mobile websites is ushering in widespread mobile app usage. Whereas mobile apps were once considered quirky, fun, time-saving applications, the truth of the matter is that some website offerings by firms are better through a company’s mobile app. It’s possible mobile apps may ultimately become the preferred method for consumers to connect with a firm via smartphones, tablets, and other mobile devices.
Usage of Mobile Apps Increasing
The increasing availability of apps and consumer usage time of apps signals a seismic shift is about occur: mobile website browsing will eventually be supplanted by mobile apps. The infographic below illustrates the percentage of brands using the following different forms of mobile interfaces to reach consumers: brand websites, iPhone apps, Android apps, Windows Phone apps, and BlackBerry apps. As shown below, 95% of firms have a mobile compatible website while less than half offer a mobile app.
Despite the availability of firms’ mobile websites dwarfing firms’ apps, two factors suggest app growth is exploding. The first factor is the growth in availability. Mobile compatible websites increased by 157% from 2010-to-2011. During this same period of time the growth rate for each respective app was iPhone 100%, Android 230%, Windows Phone 233%, and BlackBerry 200%.
Mobile websites are close to a saturation point, while mobile apps are experiencing phenomenal growth. Ultimately, it would not be surprising to see 90-plus percent of firms each offer a branded mobile app to consumers.
The second factor supporting massive app usage is time. Even though the number of firms which have a mobile compatible website strongly outnumbers firms’ mobile apps, consumers are spending a greater amount of time with apps. The infographic below illustrates this fact: during 2011-12 the time spent using mobile websites remained relatively flat, while time spent with apps increased dramatically. This surge in usage time suggests the way consumers use smartphones and tablets to connect with brands is transitioning to mobile apps.
How Mobile Apps Differ From Mobile Websites
The spike in app usage is not surprising when one acknowledges that apps play to the strength of mobile devices by seamlessly adapting to a device’s native features, such as the camera, GPS, calendar, text messaging, and processing power. This is an important aspect when considering how firms are trying to reach consumers via rich multimedia social network campaigns and location-based marketing.
However, apps differ from websites in ways that must be addressed, such as installation on a device by downloading from a provider. Plus, different versions of the app must be developed for different devices (i.e. an iPhone app cannot be used for Android). In addition, each app must go through each app store’s approval process – something that can take several weeks or months.
How To Create Mobile Apps
Firms can develop their own mobile apps “from scratch” with in-house programmers, choose off-the-shelf boilerplate software, or hire a mobile marketing development firm which specializes in customizable, feature-rich apps. While the last option may sound expensive, it actually may be the most cost efficient option.
One such firm app development company is App Innovators based in Tallahassee, Florida which has a large library of pre-approved features from Apple and Android, The pre-approved status means the lengthy approval process can be cut from months to less than a week. In addition, apps are developed from dozens of feature-rich templates or customized by their programmers. Costs range based on custom requests, but most apps cost very little – similar to the expense of setting up a website – along with a small monthly hosting fee.
Firms must assess if their mobile consumers’ experience will be enhanced with a company’s own mobile app. While not everyone believes apps will prevail over sites, many signs are pointing to this possibility. But this much is certain: consumers love using mobile apps and firms typically cater to the preferences of large masses of consumers.
Todd Bacile is a marketing doctoral candidate and instructor for Electronic Marketing and Services Marketing in the College of Business at Florida State University. Social Media Marketing Magazine ranks him as one of the Top 100 Marketing Professors on Twitter. You can contact him on Twitter @toddbacile