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App-solutely Fabulous: Using Apps in your Business

Cover of The Small Business Guide to Apps by David Howell M-commerce looks set to outstrip E-commerce as the main retail channel for Internet connected consumers over the next few years. Indeed, Emarketer forecast that the worldwide market for mobile marketing could reach $19 billion by 2012. Forrester report that they expect US mobile commerce to reach $31 billion by 2016.

The latest research from Ofcom also reveals the love affair that Britain has with the smartphone. Over a quarter of adults now own a smartphone with this figure rising to almost half when teenagers are considered. With almost 60% acquiring their smartphone over the last year, the market is certainly burgeoning with handsets ready and waiting for your business? apps.

Ofcom also report that the smartphone is changing behaviour. In the teenage market, 23% claim they now watch less television and 15% stating they read less books. Focusing on the App market, Ofcom found that nearly half of smartphone users had downloaded an app for their handset.

And if you thought that the App market was just about games, think again. Businesses in every sector that have built their own apps are reaping real commercial rewards from this market. An excellent recent example is Addison Lee, London?s largest minicab company. In one month alone after releasing their own App to allow customers to book minicabs from their iPhones the company took 75,000 bookings that equated to in excess of £1.4 million. In 2011, the company was expected to gross over £20 million from its iPhone App alone.

Should your business move into App development?

Clearly as with all business decisions you must carefully assess your desire to move into App development. This must not simply be a knee jerk reaction to a new market that perhaps your competitors are entering. Ask yourself whether there is a real business case within your enterprise to develop an App. Building a website that is optimised for mobile devices has now become an industry in its own right. Some of the leading services you could use to built your business? mobile web presence include:

Net Biscuits
Mobify
Onbile
MoFuse
Wapple
MobiSiteGalore
MobileiQ

It is, though, important to delve a little deeper into the headline figures that companies like Apple like to highlight at their tradeshows and keynote addresses. Over 80% of the apps that are downloaded ? not just from the Apple App Store ? are free. The business case for these apps can be a simple extension of your company?s brand.

What kind of App should you create?

Once you have made your decision to build an App for your business, the most critical decision you must make is what kind of App you should create. For retailers in the bricks and clicks sector, the development of an App for their businesses was an obvious decision. Extending their commercial reach to existing and new customers via an App offers these companies an additional retail channel that will massively expand over the next few years. .

The kind of App your business could benefit from should be carefully assessed, as the level of resources your company may have to commit to your App?s development could be substantial. Apps in the commercial space tend to fall into a number of key categories:

Apps that extend the core business proposition of the enterprise with mobile access to their catalogues.

Apps that reinforce a company?s branding via lifestyle apps that can often be linked to games, other multimedia or marketing via App based competitions.

Apps that have embedded advertising for a company?s goods or services. Apps like this can also be used to co-brand with commercial partners.

Apps that save users time and/or money. Price comparison Apps and the new range of QR code scanning Apps are good examples.

Don?t think that your business has to reinvent the wheel to be successful in the apps market. Many businesses develop apps that already exist in the marketplace. Their unique selling point is that their apps are better than anything else on the market. Better can mean higher quality design and graphics or a more intuitively designed interface. Often, innovation can simply mean doing things better than the competition.

Initially spending some time researching your new app is vital to gain an insight into how the current app market links to your business sector. Look for the market leaders that have apps that rank highly on the Apps Store and the other apps stores for each of the operating systems your business wants to support.

Many of the best apps have come out of a need that a business has identified. Ask your customers what they would like to see in an app if you developed one. And don?t forget your business? commercial partners. You may be able to develop an app together that could be mutually beneficial especially if your business operates in the B2B sector that is just beginning to see how apps can be used to forge close commercial partnerships and reach new customers.

As a business owner you must take a step back and survey the current app market and the hardware and app stores that support it. What is clear is that any business entering the app market for the first time must ensure it clearly understands which handset and operating system its customers will be using. Many businesses develop multiple apps to offer their goods or services to the widest possible consumer base, but it?s clearly a commercial decision that has to be made based on detailed customer profiling.

The Small Business Guide to Apps

Dave Howell is the author of The Small Business Guide to Apps. The book is sixth of ten titles in the Business Bites series which consists of guides from leading experts.

The Small Business Guide to Apps provides a unique introduction and overview of the possibilities for any small or growing business. It's a focused guide about the business of apps for those whose time is money.

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