Age of the app

Get­ting your busi­ness on board with ap­pli­ca­tions

Finweek English Edition - - INSIGHT - SI­MON DIN­GLE si­mond@fin­

ONCE THE world­wide web be­came main­stream, busi­nesses be­gan scram­bling to get on­line. Whereas be­fore web­sites were a spe­cialised af­fair they be­came some­thing ev­ery busi­ness had to have. The same is hap­pen­ing for mo­bile ap­pli­ca­tions – or “apps” – with the rise of smart­phones, tablet de­vices and on­line app stores from the likes of Ap­ple and Google.

How­ever, apps are gen­er­ally more com­plex than web­sites. And whereas there are many de­sign agen­cies that can help you with the for­mer, the world of mo­bile ap­pli­ca­tion de­vel­op­ment is some­what trick­ier. So where to start?

The first de­ci­sion to make is whether or not your busi­ness re­ally needs an app. There’s a lot you can do via the web and most smart­phones have browsers ca­pa­ble of han­dling so­phis­ti­cated web­sites.

Play­boy couldn’t re­lease all its con­tent via an Ap­ple-vet­ted ap­pli­ca­tion so in­stead it cre­ated a web ap­pli­ca­tion, es­sen­tially a spe­cial web­site, for the iPad so is­sues of the mag­a­zine can be ac­cessed.

But there may be good rea­sons why your busi­ness wants an app, ei­ther for your cus­tomers or for in­ter­nal use by your staff.

Matthew Buck­land, MD of Cre­ative Spark In­ter­ac­tive in Cape Town ad­vises busi­nesses must en­sure they know what they’re in for. “The ap­pli­ca­tion world is an ex­pen­sive world be­cause the plat­forms are rel­a­tively new and con­stantly evolv­ing,” he says. “There are also mul­ti­ple plat­forms and screen sizes you have to ac­count for. Ap­pli­ca­tion plat­forms are un­like the web, where you gen­er­ally build once. You have to build mul­ti­ple times us­ing dif­fer­ent lan­guages and de­vel­op­ers and of­ten have to ad­just the func­tion­al­ity of an app for each plat­form.

“The de­vices for which you’re build­ing these apps also de­mand rich, in­volved func­tion­al­ity and de­sign. So it’s an ex­pen­sive but re­ward­ing world for a busi­ness.”

Buck­land says Cre­ative Spark has de­vel­oped apps for both big and small com­pa­nies. “But it’s not just about the size of the com­pany or bud­get. Whether a com­pany wants to have an app strat­egy would de­pend on how core ap­pli­ca­tions are to its broader dig­i­tal strat­egy and whether there’s a good fit with its cur­rent cus­tomer base.

“For those with small bud­gets and who want to just test the en­vi­ron­ment, we rec­om­mend highly tem­plated app builder so­lu­tions. Ap­ or Mo­bile Roadie are ex­am­ples for iPhone and An­droid. We’ve done that for the Na­tional Arts Fes­ti­val, which has a great look­ing iPhone app.”

But Buck­land’s point about the di­ver­sity of mo­bile plat­forms stands. Do you go for iPhone and An­droid? What about Black­Berry? Or the thou­sands of fea­ture phones still on the mar­ket?

One South African com­pany has spent six years de­vel­op­ing a so­lu­tion to that prob­lem. Vir­tual Mo­bile Tech­nolo­gies, based in the Cape, has cre­ated a mo­bile de­vel­op­ment plat­form that al­lows the cen­tral de­vel­op­ment of ap­pli­ca­tions that can then be rolled out for mul­ti­ple mo­bile phone op­er­at­ing sys­tems. It’s called RAMP and is be­gin­ning to cre­ate a stir with de­vel­op­ers.

Vir­tual Mo­bile CEO Wil­ter du Toit says there are other, sim­i­lar de­vel­op­ment kits avail­able world­wide but they don’t ad­dress emerg­ing mar­kets ef­fec­tively. “Most of them are fo­cused on iPhone and An­droid,” he says. “But RAMP sup­ports fea­ture phones and Black­Berry as well.”

In emerg­ing mar­kets such as SA and In­dia fea­ture phones still make up the vast ma­jor­ity of the mar­ket. And while the smart­phone mar­ket is grow­ing, there’s still a long way to go.

Du Toit says se­cu­rity is also a po­ten­tial concern when you’re con­duct­ing cross­plat­form de­vel­op­ment and RAMP has a high level of cer­ti­fied se­cu­rity. “When new plat­forms come to the mar­ket – as we’re now see­ing with Win­dows Phone – that can also cre­ate a prob­lem be­cause now you need to cre­ate your ap­pli­ca­tion for the new sys­tem. But with RAMP we’ll add new plat­forms as a mod­ule and then de­vel­op­ers us­ing it will be able to de­ploy their ap­pli­ca­tion for the new op­er­at­ing sys­tem with­out hav­ing to re­code it.”

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