Top app development tips for African businesses

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Today, everyone seems to know how to build the perfect app for your business however there are several issues that companies need to address before entering the potentially costly, complicated and extremely specialised app arena.

In truth there have been very few success stories when it comes to apps, excluding Angry Birds and Fart generators. In an article I read recently in Entrepreneur Magazine it stated that most apps lose up to 76% of their consumers after the first three months of use. Scary to think when you are about embark on the sometimes-elusive app journey. Here are some things to consider when embarking on an app development project for your brand or business.

1. Audience interest and appetite for the app

Are the brand followers dying to have the app developed in the first place? Assuming the apps’ purpose is to assist in helping to serve them better. If the consumer base is not interested, the app development may turn out to be another costly accessory. One capable of depleting much needed financial resources for furthering the business in more pressing business areas. Another question to ponder is this: Why not just improve the website or mobile site?

2. Business continuity once customer is off-line, customer’s real life experience

Central to a company’s decision to offer an online brand engagement platform is the ability to figuratively/virtually take the brick and mortar store to the consumer through a screen. If what is being offered on a screen cannot at the very least replicate the online experience or better still seamlessly complete a process started offline, then an app would cause more damage than good. A great sense of disappointment is felt when one confirms a flight booking using an app only for the seat to be double booked by an airline.

The same principle may also be applied the other way round. Most brand engagement opportunities begin offline with fulfilment and brand experience being completed online. Customers are often asked to download the app through print, outdoor and broadcast media only to encounter a cumbersome registration process that loses the customer completely.

3. Support and call centre

In reality things break and they do too in the virtual world. Very often in fact. Many variables ranging from internet connectivity to the device’s speed and many other factors can break the customer’s experience as they try to spend their money with a business.

If an online experience leads to challenges, it is expected by customers that they have the option to call in for help. A ‘Contact Us’ button with an email address and a landline number to call often gives assurance to customers in case things break. Many customers do not bother with FAQs and why should they if they are the ones wanting to spend money. Businesses need to be ready to take the money, an app is an enabler but if there is back-end staff available to complete the process, let them open the tills.

4. Legal – rights management, Intellectual Property

This is a great area of infringement. The basic rules of Intellectual Property apply in the online world: if you didn’t produce it you cannot use it for free. These rules are of greater seriousness as the audiences a business is exposed to are worldwide. Promoting a business with material not created by the company is a norm in the internet world; material usage legal agreements are there to facilitate such development.
The agreements do not always have monetary exchange implications. Quite often original creators of the material may be happy to benefit from the exposure of their material to a large global audience through an app that has great download numbers.

Each case differs but brands cannot hope to promote themselves using sourced material without rights management being addressed.

5. Promotion, reviews and enhancement

Promotion is everything when it comes to an app becoming a contributing asset towards the profitability of a business. There are many expensively developed apps that brand loyal consumers aren’t even aware of. Morgan Stanley predicts that mobile device marketing will surpass desktop marketing globally by 2015. The consumers have spoken, it is time for businesses to promote the asset consumers are most likely to interact with.
This scenario translates to a business having to have an astute digital marketing team. A team capable of dealing with:

A) all the customer feedback an app receives through channels such as app reviews
B) suggested enhancements by consumers as they vent on Social Media and through the brand’s designated Support and Customer Care communication channels.

6. Choosing which Operating Sytems to support business viability

Smart devices are entering the market almost on a daily basis. Developing mobile apps that can function across the many varied Operating Systems is expensive and practically impossible. This scenario leads to a company having to prioritise its app roll out process based on market demand. It is ideal to have the app working on every Smartphone but priority is dictated by market share. The Apple and Android Operating Systems are a must in South Africa due to market domination but there is steady progress being made by Windows based devices mostly from Nokia. The jury is still out on the viability of building Blackberry apps as they have the largest numbers of the previous generations Smartphone technology but numbers of the Blackberry 10 and newer models have seen to be dwindelling.

7. Choosing an app development platform (Sencha, Kendo, Native etc) for building

When a company chooses to build an app, app functionality underpinned by software costs and development man hours, dictate the development platform.

In terms of development platforms, front end interface navigation, functionality add-ons such as information graphs, reporting metrics compatibility as well as platform compatibility with leading Operating Systems has made HTML 5 platforms such as Sencha and Kendo market leaders.

A native build is always a developers dream as it uses the devices system to send out commands, but it is often quite a lengthy and costly process to accommodate, especially when there are ready-made easy to apply platforms as mentioned above.

8. Data usage impact and its impact on usage frequency

In most Emerging Markets, particularly in South Africa, data costs are still unaffordable for many users of Smart devices. But there is hope. ICASA (regulatory body) is certainly taking action through the reduction of network interconnectivity costs starting 1 April 2014. This gives great confidence towards the dawn of an era with affordable data costs.

However, there aren’t any indicators regarding how long it will take for that war to be won by ICASA, as it will be eating deep into the profitability margins of ISPs. This then means that a key consideration in the app development process is the cost to consumers for interacting with these developed mobile app properties.
The higher the data usage, the less usage frequency the app has from customers. Heavy data usage is the quickest way to turn a valuable digital asset into a white elephant.

9. Prioritising features and building great customer experiences

The customer is always king. And customer expectations and feedback should guide the design and development of an app. Many consumers battle to spend their money in mobile app “tills” as the buying process is not simple. Products are often displayed in an app but the Buy or Pay here button isn’t accentuated enough to assist the purchasing process. Customers often buy e-tickets using an app but are often left with a feeling of uneasiness after parting with money as the “download e-ticket here” button isn’t screaming back at the buyer for assurance.

10. Business model (free apps or for sale at app store) – a notorious barrier for uptake: subscription or free content?

This issues has been pushed quite far down the list as it is not applicable to businesses that have physical stores or provide offline services. An airline is certainly not going to charge you to download an app so that you can book a flight from them. Similarly, the iTunes music store would only charge you for the content you purchase.
For businesses that develop apps so as to offer online services such as tablet magazines, news services, gaming, business databases, educational content, information services and other intellectual property driven properties, one question often arises, do you charge for the initial download at the app store?

There is also a question as whether to offer the service as a (usually monthly) subscription fee or to offer the content for free – with the plan to make money from advertising. Business strategy will ultimately govern these two decision as they determine the public’s uptake of the app. Remember the App Stores always take a fee, generally in the 30% range.

11. App store compliance

In major app stores such as the Apple app store, apps are classified by category. There are rules that apply for each category with the most known rules being the safety of the content, especially to minors. Another serious issue to be aware of is Apple’s intolerance for apps built for generating revenue outside the Apple app store purchasing process. Apple sees this as using their store to sell your products without paying your digital rent.
About 30% is the rate for an online revenue generating app, if customers do not use the app to buy then it is no charge to have the app in the app store. There is still however a rigorous compliance protocol to be followed whenever a company submits even an update to the app stores.

Apps can provide an entire new portal of interaction and purchase opportunities for companies and customers. But the key, always, is to consider all the realities and all the variables before delving into what can be murky app waters. It’s a situation of think before you leap. And always, always leave the app development to the true professionals.

Tebogo Mokobo, Amorphous New Media Digital Apps Developer

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