The mobile app gap? Why the world is still a billion apps short

Think 1.5 million apps is a lot? Pfffft.

Think 1.5 million apps is a lot? Pfffft.

Netcraft reports 175 million active websites globally. Each one of those sites has many "apps" embedded in it - one for shopping, one for service, one for each region or product line. I'm guessing we have a global app potential of one billion.

The ancient elders of the web era - vendors, webmasters, marketers, technology managers, agencies - all appear to operate under the delusion that if they add responsive web templates to their site, they can make each of those billion experiences a mobile moment.

Pfffft. They can't.

Responsive web techniques are better than nothing - at least Google will stop cramming your site to the bottom of the search list. But it's not enough to serve customers in their mobile moments of need.

To do that requires know exactly what someone needs, then creating the shortest path from I want to I get. And that means nailing the mobile moment.

We know already that people spend more time shopping on their smartphones than on computers.

We know already that 70 per cent of the traffic to Walmart.com around Black Friday 2014 came from mobile devices.

We know already that 69 million Americans go online more often from smartphones than any other device. [Source: Forrester Research]

Mobile is not an option. It's your reality. Mobile is as urgent for business customers and employees as for consumers.

Here's what one manufacturer had to say: "Our customers look for us when they're installing our equipment in their datacenter. If we're not on their smartphone, then we don't exist."

Making this wholesale change from ancient web to mobile moments is neither easy nor direct. You can't make your website responsive and get there in one step.

You need instead to deliver apps or app-like experiences for each chunk of value you bring to the world.

That will take you many years, but please please please stop making investments in web without designing and architecting for mobile-first.

Here are the guiding principles of the mobile mind shift:

Start with your customers and your assets:

Don’t start by thinking about your current business. Think about your customers - what do they need? What’s their biggest problem?

When Johnson& Johnson thinks about its customers - parents of new babies - it realises that they need help with getting the baby to bed.

That’s why the company created an app called Bedtime, not one called Mobile Baby Powder. Alternatively, think about your assets - partnerships, manufacturing plants, institutional competencies.

In what new ways could you apply those assets in a world of mobile moments?

Design for mobile moments:

That’s where your customers will be. Even if they’re in your store, they are mobile. Even if they are on your website, they are mobile.

Even if they are waiting for your call centre agent, they are mobile. That means you must “follow them home” in the words of Intuit CEO Brad Smith.

Know their habits and context because you care to serve them. Know what tasks they care about, what actions they want to take, what information they need to feel confident in taking that next step.

Rent what you need, own what you must:

Don’t expect to have all the equipment and skills you need at first. Rent servers and software. Hire expertise.

A horde of technology and service providers is out there to help. But don’t abdicate responsibility for the essential components of the application and platform.

Transfer skills from partners to your staff. Establish long-term relationships. Pay for success, not just completion.

Be ready to launch, learn, and adjust:

Nobody gets it right the first time. It’s why we’ve continually reinforced the importance of agile, multidisciplinary teams throughout this book.

No successful person we’ve interviewed has done it alone. The teams include business and marketing and design and technology people that use two or three-week development sprints and a continuous improvement cycle.

There’s a lot buried in that idea: testing on every device and network, setting up the right feedback loops, listening carefully, analysing the data you’ve collected, rapidly fixing broken things, and explaining why.

So start by thinking of a small engagement, but prepare for how you will grow and improve it.

By Ted Schadler - Research Analyst of Application Development & Delivery Professionals, Forrester Research

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