A Mobile App For Your Business

One of the most common requests we get at Agilx is from small to medium-sized business owners inquiring about a mobile application (mobile app). “My marketing lady said we need a mobile app!” Indeed, mobile applications (more on how fuzzy that term is later) are the new WordPress sites.

In the beginning…

A little more than five years ago, businesses were scrambling to find web designers to create a digital presence for their business. It seemed as though every one of their competitors had a great looking site and that they would need to play catch-up fast to compete. What if a potential customer was looking for a provider and saw your competitors site and you didn’t have one? Worse yet, what if your site was still the same old static, table-based gem that your nephew built in 2002 using Dreamweaver and Flash? It was the golden age for WordPress designers, who for the most part had a collection of themes from which they would choose one to customize with the clients logo, photos and copy. Viola! Your very own ‘custom’ web site with that fantastic WordPress SEO baked right in. You could login and update your content and photos to keep your customer informed of new product and service offerings. The site ran very well for very little money. Life was good.

The man behind the curtain

Fast forward five years. WordPress is still the defacto platform for business marketing sites. Granted, much of the glamour has tarnished as business owners have learned just how easy it is to create a great-looking professional web site using WordPress in combination with prebuilt theme managers like Divi. Using these modern tools and little to no development knowledge, business owners can drag and drop their way to a well done site in a matter of hours. We all still get the myriad of spam messages telling us how important it is to have ‘SEO ninjas’ provide their services at prices ranging from $20 to $200 a month. But that smoke and mirror show has run its course as well. WordPress does SEO out of the box; content is king and business owners love to talk (and write) about their business, thus generating all the SEO they will ever need.

Enter the smartphone and the app revolution

Apple introduced the iPhone in 2007 and the App Store in 2008. For the first time, developers, for a small annual fee, could write and publish apps to be included on the Apple iOS App Store. The early days are referred to as the “the app gold rush” by many developers. In the beginning, the heavy lifting of developing an app for the iPhone was still a highly technical process, with Apple remaining very secretive about the app review and approval process. Developers who managed to get an app published were almost guaranteed a high number of downloads. Early traction meant the potential for big profits and many developers did very well in the early days creating what, by today’s standards, were sub-par applications. Like any gold rush, soon the bounty became much more difficult to come by as the number of competing apps in the store began to skyrocket.

A brave new world

Present day: there are 1.5 million apps in the iOS app store, 1.6 in the Google Play store. There are now no fewer than a dozen development options for creating mobile apps. Solutions ranging from responsive web-based apps, ‘transpiled’ platforms like Apache Cordova and React Native, Native-wrapping tools like Xamarin, and of course author-supported native development using Objective-C or Swift for iOS and Java for Android all exist to attract as many developers to the mobile channel as possible. What was once a skill-heavy technical task, now appears to be a burden of function rather than engineering. If only it were that easy. Just like in the days before WordPress enlightened the world of digital marketing, we find ourselves in a very tumultuous time for mobile app developers and customers. What is a mobile app and how do you differentiate that from a mobile-friendly web site? And developers don’t always provide clarification. It really comes down to a skill set. If your developer is more comfortable with HTML and JavaScript they might tell you that a mobile-friendly web site or Apache Cordova, aka PhoneGap, is the answer. A Java developer might tell you to worry about Android only. The best answer is to find a developer that can provide you with two things up front:

  1. A portfolio of apps they have written that have been submitted to and approved by both the Apple iOS App Store and the Google Play store. The proof is in the pudding and being able to examine and interact with a developers past apps is an excellent way to predict their likelihood of success with your app.
  2. A solid development plan containing clear product use cases and test cases, high-fidelity, functional wire frames and a realistic milestone schedule that involves testing, quality assurance and app revision cycles.

Go native or go home

Let’s start this paragraph by agreeing not to speak in absolutes. There are apps that have been created using non-native platforms that look and perform very well and that succeed in accomplishing their goals. There are also some REALLY terribly 100% native apps out there. Like really terrible. But the quality of the app is directly related to the quality of the developer. We won’t go into that today, but will focus on the merits of the technology. At Agilx, we have written both 100% native Objective-C, Swift and Android applications, and more often, we have used Xamarin to create native-wrapped C# code that is compiled to Apple bytecode and Java prior to being submitted for approval and publishing. Why Xamarin? The answers to that question are mostly technical, but for the most part our developers like Xamarin because they get to use one of the best programming language ever created, C#. C#, created by Microsoft in 2000, is an object-oriented, strongly-typed language originally written to sit on top of the .NET framework. C# has since been ported to all platforms via Mono and, more recently, the decision of Microsoft to make C# and the entire .NET platform open source. The resulting applications benefit from both a modern and powerful programming language in C#, and from having access to every native goodie that Objective-C, Swift and Java enjoy. Recently we have become interested in React Native from Facebook; mostly due to the advanced development tools that are available.

Let mobile do what mobile does best

We tell our clients this every time we talk about creating a mobile app for their business. Just like web designers will tell you not to simple recreate your print marketing on a web site, a good mobile developer will advise you not to simply place your web content into your mobile app. Mobile apps live on mobile phones; smart phones. They have access to things like geo-location, high-quality cameras and push notifications. Can your business benefit from such capabilities? Most can, but some can’t. Therein lies the real question: does your business needs a native mobile app; or would your customers be served just as well by a responsive (read WordPress with Divi) web site that looks just as good on a phone as it does on a laptop? A good developer will ask these questions and hope that your answers align well with his or her analysis of the situation. If you disagree from the start on how native your app needs to be, or if you even really need a native app, that is your first, and probably your only FREE warning.


To find out more about creating great mobile apps with Agilx, contact us and set up a time to visit.