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Data Doctors: Should I build an an app for my business?

Wednesday - 7/2/2014, 4:15am  ET

iphone 2007 and 2013 (AP/Getty)
Many small business owners believe they need an app -- Data Doctor Ken Colburn offers things to consider first. (AP/Getty)

By Ken Colburn, Data Doctors

PHOENIX, Ariz. -- Q: I want to create an app for my business, but I need to find someone that knows how to build apps that I can trust or someone that can teach me how to do it. How do I get started?

A: There is no question that the use of mobile apps is on the rise and continues to dominate how mobile users interact on their smartphones. But before you take the plunge, make sure you think it through.

Most of us have dozens of apps on our smartphones, but really only use a handful on a regular basis.

According to Flurry Analytics, gaming and Facebook make up nearly 50% of time spent on mobile devices, followed by web browsing, social messaging and entertainment.

The problem with most apps is that they lack any real utility value to the user, so they get downloaded and used once or twice.

A 2013 Compuware study found that 80 to 90 percent of downloaded apps are used once, then eventually deleted.

Who needs it?

Take a minute to see how many apps you've downloaded but don't really use; then, think about why your app would overcome this very difficult barrier.

If you can't explain what your app does to a stranger in a few minutes, or they don't seem to get it, you might want to rethink things.

Businesses that believe they need to have a mobile app often make the mistake of simply replicating what's already on their website.

If you're trying to make your website relevant to mobile users, you're probably better off forgetting the app and going with a "responsive web design" that automatically provides a customized version when it detects a smartphone or tablet.

And don't forget: Apps specifically designed for iOS won't work on Android devices, so you'll have to spend more time or money if you want it for the two most popular platforms. And the Android platform is very complex because of the numerous versions you'll have to consider writing for, if you want widespread compatibility.

Once the app is created, it has to be kept updated with new content, features, bug fixes and potential rewrites when updates to the various operating systems are released. Creating an app is like bringing a new child into this world; if you want it to thrive and be relevant, the cost of the birth is just the beginning.

Decisions, decisions

You'll also have to decide whether to write the apps in the native code for each platform or attempt to use HTML5 as a cross-platform option; the best option depends on what you want your app to do.

The question of whether you should hire someone or attempt to do it yourself can be answered quickly based on your time horizon and previous coding experience. If you aren't in any rush to roll the app out and have the time to invest, you can certainly take a stab at learning how to get started via any number of Google searches on building apps.

If you are constrained for time or have never coded anything in your life, your best bet is to hire someone to build the app for you.

Be sure to find someone you can trust; as you can see, you will be entering into a long-term relationship with them. Don't get into a rush when choosing a vendor and talk to as many customers of each potential option as you can. You also need to try out many of the apps that they have developed, to see whether they are intuitive to use and functionally appropriate.

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