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PC Today

  1. 1. MOBILE OFFICE BUSINESS ON THE ROAD Does Your BusinessKEY POINTS▲ A mobile app mustcontribute to a com- Need An App? Criteria For Going Mobilepany’s operations or rev-enue in order to justify by William Van Winklethe time and expense ofdeveloping it. Y▲ Apps developed for ou wouldn’t expect a Georgia-based If even a trucking company needs a mobile app,the Web may be easier trucking outfit to need a mobile app. what about your organization? According toto develop and more Amazon? Sure. Banks? Obviously. But a Research in Motion’s Tyler Lessard, vice presidentuniversally accessible, trucking firm? of global alliances and developer relations, busi-but apps written to runon specific phone plat- Sure enough, developer Killer Mobile Software nesses tend to start with using smartphones for ac-forms tend to be richer (www.killermobile.com) is bidding on a job to re- cessing email, basic calendaring, and collaboration,and higher performance. place a $3,000 piece of equipment sitting in each of but over time it becomes apparent where and how▲ Expect an average its client’s rigs. The old device used GPS, CDMA other applications could be beneficial.mobile app’s develop- network connectivity, and a little keypad to track “We obviously see a lot of activity with con-ment to cost anywhere truck location and driver activity. Its replacement: sumer-facing applications today in app stores,”from $2,000 to $10,000 a $200 smartphone running a custom app. says Lessard. “What we don’t hear a lot about—and require three weeksto code, depending on but it’s happening everywhere—is internal appli-project complexity. cations that people are building or procuring for▲ App stores may pro- their employees. We increasingly see the impor-vide a lot of exposure, tance of smartphones growing in the SMB space asbut apps are in many companies try to use technology to be more com-ways just another petitive, more productive, and get more thingsproduct in need of done. Apps are key to enabling that.”aggressive marketing. Sometimes, companies get lucky and the apps they need can be downloaded straight from the de- veloper or an app store. But if one-size-fits-all apps don’t do the trick, then it’s time for some soul searching. Just because “everybody” is hopping on the app wagon doesn’t mean it always makes sense to do so. “A mobile app has to fit the business model,” says Metodi Filipov, managing director for mobile software developer Bianor (www.bianor.com). “It has to do something—help customers or help you BlackBerry now leans heavily toward communicate with those customers or even im- running mobile apps prove business processes internally.” as server-based Web Apps can do everything from direct marketing apps accessed through to repeating sales goals, but they should ideally be the phone’s browser, backed with a purpose that can be measured an approach that can help reduce an app’s against an ROI target. Also remember that apps are development time. useful, but they don’t necessarily have to be (and sometimes shouldn’t be) optimized for mobile de- vices in order to succeed. Device Or Web? When a company decides that a mobile app is necessary, there’s one major choice to make before44 December 2010 / www.pctoday.com
  2. 2. MOBILE OFFICE BUSINESS ON THE ROAD any other issues can be addressed: Should the ap- plication reside on the mobile device or the Web? This is key for several reasons, including that com- panies tend to have more Web design experience on staff and that virtually any smartphone can ac- cess one version of an app on a properly formatted Web site. If the company wants to pursue an on-de- vice approach, then multiple app versions will be needed. These days in the U.S. that means at least Android, Apple, and BlackBerry platforms, but also possibly Symbian, Samsung’s bada, and the Intel/ Nokia mobile OS, MeeGo. Does that mean that you should immediately jump to a Web approach? Not necessarily. From a For those with little mobile app coding skill, Google’s App Inventor can be a quick user perspective, all other things being equal, com- shortcut to writing simple apps for Android in-house. puting on-device is superior because it eliminates loads of network latency and data transfer times, so and individuals to develop better apps with lower workers access what they need more efficiently. expertise requirements. Google, for example, has its (This can also translate into lower network usage App Inventor for Android (appinventor.google fees.) In larger deployments, emphasizing on-device labs.com/about). With this, even first-time devel- can also take some load off of central Web servers, opers can use the environment’s building block- lowering costs there. based interface to construct mobile apps for But if a mobile Web site Android devices. Just makes more sense, what know that the level of app sort of site should it be? sophistication such tools “Say I’m looking for a can achieve is not on par book,” says Pankaj Dhing- with more traditional ra, CTO of the mobile tools found in Google’s finance solutions provid- SDK and NDK. You get er mFunds, LLC (www what you pay for. .mfundsllc.com). “Once I Research in Motion know the author or the provides developers with title, it’s no problem to a full set of Java tools for buy with a phone. You can Killer Mobile Software crafts its mobile apps, such as building apps that con- do it with a simple WAP Calling Card Dialer (shown here), with interfaces that nect out to on-premise or are simple, familiar, and intuitive. site. But to buy jeans, there hosted servers. The draw- may be many more vari- back, says RIM’s Lessard, ables. The more browsing that’s required, the more is that most small businesses tend not to have Java- sophisticated the site needed to support it.” savvy programmers on staff. But this is also part of Fortunately, the phone platform vendors are in- why the industry is migrating to standard Web creasingly trying to make it easier for companies technologies for app creation. These screen grabs for byte2’s Office2(www.bytesquared.com) come from Apple’s App Store. Note how byte2 combines feature explanation with its screen captures. PC Today / December 2010 45
  3. 3. MOBILE OFFICE BUSINESS ON THE ROAD Time & Money The real black hole in mobile app development is The amount of time and money an SMB should testing time, which only magnifies with each addi- put into developing a Web app should correlate tional phone platform supported. “Our Call Re- with how integral that app is to the company’s line corder has 40 different settings, some of which have of business. Our sources agree that a simple busi- multiple options,” says Alner. “Multiply everything ness app will typically take a few weeks to build out and you’ve got tens, maybe hundreds of thou- while a complex project can take up to six months. sands of variable combinations and any number of Killer Mobile has produced over 100 apps for environmental situations. So probably half of your clients, and most fall in the $3,000 to $10,000 range. project time is debugging and testing.” Bianor’s Filipov states that an average app will cost from $20,000 to $30,000. Pankaj Dhingra from Distribution mFunds pegs $5,000 to $50,000 and notes that this An app for in-house use obviously takes little to is still far preferable to hiring a full-time developer distribute. For customer-facing mobile apps, in-house for at least $100,000 annually. “In most though, the usual vehicles are the company’s own cases,” says Dhingra, “it’s much easier to find site along with the various app stores provided for someone. At the end of the day, unless you’re a the major platforms. These app stores may come technology company, it’s better to outsource. If you with their own requirements and limitations. For know what needs to be done, you can find example, the Android Market (www.android.com someone for a couple thousand dollars.” /market) contains a very low barrier for entry—$25 Understanding the development process, to register with nearly instant posting—but the knowing “what needs to be done,” is key. Market is notorious for being a barely regulated en- Otherwise you’re likely to be quoted a lowball vironment in which legitimately useful apps swirl figure that in actuality only covers coding time, not freely with spamware and bug-ridden dreck. At the planning before the coding or testing after coding. Knowing the process is doubly critical when shop- ping a job overseas. “You could go to Rent a Coder [now vWorker.com] and get 20 bids ranging from $50 to $10,000,” says Alner. “Half of the bidders won’t have read it or can’t read English, and you’ll As a platform developer, get wildly mixed results. Often, it’s a huge waste of mFunds has the advantage both time and money.” of being able to sell its mobile apps to multiple The common denominator in app development clients, often with little is man-hours, according to Filipov. When one de- more than a skin change. veloper quotes 10 hours and another quotes 100, you know one of them is likely under- or overesti- mating. Hiring a consultant can help you know what development time ranges are fair, especially Mobile apps increasingly need to address suitability to both when your engineering requirements are clearly smartphones and tablets, such as RIM’s new PlayBook. defined; this prevents getting tied up with a devel- oper that doesn’t understand your requirements. opposite extreme sits Apple’s App Store (www Filipov adds that just as you don’t want to hire a .apple.com/iphone/apps-for-iphone), which, quips painter when it’s really an interior designer that’s Alner, can take as long to review and post a sub- needed, you should avoid simple coders when mitted app as it takes to create the app in the first more complex development is called for. place. For paid apps, Apple and Research In Motion both do a 70/30 split with the developer, keeping 30% of the paid price for themselves. The real black hole in mobile The trick is to realize that a customer-facing app, like any other product, requires marketing and ef- app development is testing fort in order to become known. “People put their app in the app store and wake up the next day time, which only magnifies thinking that magically they’re going to have one million users,” says Filipov. “No, you’re competing with each additional phone with thousands and thousands of people in one store. It’s like getting twelve inches of shelf space in platform supported. Walgreen’s. You still have to sell the product.” ▲46 December 2010 / www.pctoday.com

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