Mobile AppsDon't develop a mobile app

I hear the following from small businesses and entrepreneurs all the time:

“The one thing our company is missing is a mobile app…”

“I’ve got a great idea, it is a mobile app that lets you…”

“My target audience only uses their cell phones to access social media so we are going to develop a mobile app.”

Stop! Step away from the UpWork website. Listen to what I am about to say…

You do not need a mobile app!

Since July 2008, small businesses and entrepreneurs have been obsessed with designing a mobile app that will help them make more money for a new business or existing business. To be honest, they are not to blame nor are they wrong to think that they need a mobile app for their business. According to the Pew Research Center, 95% of Americans own a cellphone of some kind, which is a 77% increase from 2011; 12% of all American adults uses their cell phone as their primary means of internet access at home.

During the mobile device boom, it may have been necessary for an internet company to have a mobile app to improve the user experience on a mobile device. The first “flexible” websites began popping up in early 2009 but were not mainstream or common until a few years later (Mashable called 2013 the Year of Responsive Web Design). So, for a company to be completely mobile-accessible it was necessary to build an app to enhance the user experience. But, not anymore…

Advancements in website development and third-party applications is making it easier for entrepreneurs to run digital businesses across multiple devices without needing to develop a mobile app. Here are a few reasons why a mobile app should not be the first priority for entrepreneurs. 

Website Publishing Platforms & Technologies

In the year 2000, you needed to understand HTML to build your own website. Now in 2017, you can have a full website built, published, and live in 10 minutes for the low cost of $5.95 per month. Not only is it easier to create your own website online but the majority of website builders are mobile responsive so your website can be easy to use across all devices. In addition, there are endless amounts of responsive marketing platforms that integrate well with content management systems (CMS) so you can leverage existing technology instead of developing your own.

Your app is only mobile accessible

Mobile apps can only be used on mobile devices (duh!), however, unless the majority of your traffic is coming from mobile devices the extra development time and money might not provide a positive return on your investment. Most web applications are flexible and can be developed for a variety of screen sizes so needing an app designed specifically for mobile devices is probably unnecessary. Unless your product or service is exclusive to mobile devices you do not need to develop an app when you launch your company.

You need to develop for two (or more) mobile operating systems

If you didn’t already know, a company needs to develop two different versions of their app for it to be on both Android and Apple devices, which means more work and budget. The good news is that both markets are very large so opting to launch an app on only one operating system won’t prevent a company from success, but it definitely limits the potential market size.

The onboarding and sales process has multiple steps

Despite advances in mobile responsive websites and auto-pay technologies, the e-commerce checkout process is still more cumbersome on mobile devices compared to desktop devices. According to, the average conversion rate to add-to-basket or cart in the United States during the Q4 2016 was 1.50% for mobile devices, 3.55% for tablets, and 4.31% for desktop devices.

When should you develop a mobile app?

At this point, you are probably getting really mad that I have been bad mouthing mobile apps, which is not true. I have a plethora of mobile apps that have been developed by companies that first started out as internet services (e.g. YouTube, Amazon, RueLaLa, etc.). They can do it because they have more money and people than some small countries. You on the other hand probably only have an idea and a 16-year-old nephew who, “knows how to work the internets.” Here are a few guidelines to help you decide if you should go the mobile app route or stick to a mobile-friendly website.

You’re a mobile company

This is another “no duh” answer but it needs to be mentioned. If your customer is going to use their mobile device as the primary method of using your service then you should build a mobile app. The best example of this is Instagram. Instagram would not have been as successful as it was when it first started if it was a desktop app – no one would have gone through the headache of taking a photo on their cell phone, transferring it to their desktop computer, and then uploading it online. If you go to on a desktop computer the first thing they do is to try to get their app on your cell phone.

A mobile app significantly improves the mobile user experience

As a marketer, I use a lot of third-party platforms for performing my everyday tasks, but most of them have been designed for use on a larger screen like a desktop or laptop device. However, some of these platforms have stripped-down mobile apps that give me the ability to monitor campaigns and analytics on-the-go. For example, I am a regular user of MailChimp, an email marketing platform that businesses use to engage the customer, fans, and leads. Designing and writing an email campaign on my iPhone could take three times as long to complete than with a keyboard and mouse. However, MailChimp published a mobile app that I can leverage to monitor my active campaigns while away from my desk.

You have a bunch of money and/or developers

Unless you know how the develop the mobile app yourself and/or you have developers working for equity you will need to pay at least $50,000 for a reputable firm and upwards to $500,000 to $1,000,000 for the best agencies. And that doesn’t take into account the costs of maintaining and updating the app. You will be able to find offshore freelancers who will build apps at fraction of the costs of domestic firms, but as the saying goes, you get what you pay for.

There is no doubt in my mind that mobile technology will continue to grow and more companies will choose to launch mobile apps to accompany a web app. However, mobile apps are not universal for all companies, products, or services and should not be considered unless it is a core component of the business model or the addition of the app significantly improves the mobile experience.

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