Mobile is obviously becoming an increasing part of the communication chain between you and the world; but that is not new, we have been hearing that for years. What is new is that we are starting to realize it is not so much a shift to “mobile” as it is a shift to new computing platforms – platforms that are more energy efficient, built around both touch and voice interaction and around devices that contain more environmental sensors such as light detection, movement and location awareness.
So do you need an app?
Put simply, no. What you do need is to support these new platforms! An app is really an extension of your current presence both in print and online, providing a more enriching experience with your content and often highlighting specific core aspects of your brand.
Then why create an app?
Even with the advancements in HTML 5, there are some things that are just not available or done as well on the web. In general, native applications provide you the ability to create a more integrated and personalized experience for users. The main thing to keep in mind is that users tend to use applications in addition to websites, and often at very different times and for different reasons. For instance, general lookups and information inquiries are accomplished on the web, whereas apps are used more effectively for data entry and storage, exploration and content reading.
Things to keep in mind
Offline usage: If you expect that your users will want to engage your content while a network connection is not available, you will almost certainly need to develop an app. Logical caching of resources can also be used to reduce network bandwidth usage, making for faster access to the information and lower data usage. While this is available in HTML 5, it has not matured to the point where websites are as effective while offline as native apps tend to be.
One of the main features of mobile apps over web apps is the ability to integrate in notifications.
Location awareness: While also available to websites through HTML 5, full location awareness does not seem to be as popular of a feature with limited or non-existent integration. Most native apps, however, tend to provide several options including “what’s nearby,” distance to and logical location-feature awareness. I also find this can be used to provide relevant articles and content based on the users location – consider those audio tour sticks and now apply this to articles, photos and videos on a driving tour or city tour.
User content: Apps also provide easy integration with data storage options, allowing users to create and manage favorites, cache articles and record notes – all without requiring a user account to be created, removing one hurdle for users.
Camera integration: One thing that is often difficult outside an app is integration of additional device features, especially things like the camera. Integrate in QR codes or bar codes to landmarks or printed material, again providing access to information quickly and easily. Experiment with augmented reality by labeling landmarks and scenic routes right over the image.
Notifications: One of the main features of mobile apps over web apps is the ability to integrate in notifications, flagged through the devices calendar, triggered by a GPS location and pushed by a remote server. These notifications come in through the system and are passed through the app: while it is active or not, making the app a central hub in providing direct communication between you and your users.
These are just some of the features that go beyond just the improved animations and content navigation designs. While apps are not required, they definitely can be used to enhance your destination. Treat them wisely and they will be a rewarding experience for your users.