Small software applications, so-called apps, are revolutionizing the digital industry, and hence marketing.

Apps are all-rounders that can be loaded on a variety of devices over the internet, thus it is not surprising that about fifty billion app downloads worldwide are forecast for 2012. Internet access via mobile devices can be expected to be used more than on desktop PCs and notebooks. In addition, there are up and coming app stores for desktop PC applications, games consoles, televisions, and even regular phones apps can be downloaded, adding value through Skype, Facebook and weather forecasts. App-enabled devices have become mass media.

Excess supply of software

The number of applications available is exploding with users downloading and on average around eight new apps per month. The battle which app will make it onto the devices, however, is pretty tough and often just the "Top 10" are getting the attention of users. To be among the top 25 free apps in the Apple iTunes store, an average of more than 50,000 downloads are - in general - necessary every day. Still, the real art is not only to get the app installed, but to inspire consumers to use it on a regular basis.

Unfortunately, what is even more difficult is to deal with the highly fragmented market. There are more than 4,500 devices with partially different software and hardware components using currently five to six mobile operating systems and apps stores all following the different philosophies of the operators. All this poses a great challenge to marketing decision makers and developers, as its adoption as a universal marketing weapon must be planned strategically and conceptually extremely well, since the respective apps are technically not compatible. Hardly any software vendor or agency provides cross-platform solutions or can operate in all mobile operating systems.

Your market and target audience, therefore, decides on which operating system serves what kind of end device. It is that simple. If you are dealing with a business-to-business (B2B) target group, you have to develop an app for, at least, Apple and BlackBerry; business-to-consumer (B2C) for Android and Windows. Hence, you usually have to deal with two to six software projects on your own, not to mention the maintenance and upgrades you need later on. Therefore, from an economic point of view it is often not possible to achieve high coverage effectively. A short-term solution could be provided by mobile websites in HTML5 and CSS3, but many in the industry share the view that both developments are needed. Always keep in mind that the browser remains the first contact point between business, brand and interested parties in the long run - even mobile.

Advantages and disadvantages of both approaches

In general, cross-platform app solutions are cheaper and have lower maintenance costs, but differentiation, unique features, added value and sustainable use can only be guaranteed by providing access to device-specific apps, where software such as Smart Web App from Yoc or crOSs-App of conVISUAL can help a bit.

Alternatively, HTML5 apps can be used to behave like apps. Parts of the services, such as accessing databases or accounting systems, are attained via the Internet. Distribution, service and maintenance are much more efficient, while the look and feel is like having a real app.

In addition, at the core of any strategy should be mobile and touch-optimized pages that can be used via all kinds of internet-enabled devices - via smartphone, tablet, the TV in the living room, the clock radio next to the bed, the telephone at work or the navigation device in the car, making clear that everybody has to deal with any technology and gain step by step a unique experience.

Complex websites will definitely complement mobile in the future, but be aware that mobile isn't just a reduced version of the site – it is unique and therefore requires its own ideas. 

By Daniela La Marca