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Do you really need an app for that?

Do you really need an app for that?

This might sound like an odd question for the founder of an App Development Agency to ask. After all, building apps is how I feed my children. *smile*

We often have potential clients come to us on a regular basis with dreams of their own app. Dreams is the right word. They are often chasing the promised gold offered by the lands roamed by Angry Birds or they just want to hold their app aloft in front of their peers saying; ‘look, I have one too’. But in this maturing app world of over 500,000 apps on the Apple app store alone, where most are never downloaded, that simply isn’t enough. Apps have a very clear use case and need to sit within the overall online strategy of an organisation. You need to think very carefully. You need to get a return on your investment! Do you need an app?

You need an app if…

A few key things to remember:

  1. Apps need to do something. They are task driven.
  2. Apps support repeatable tasks. Something that your users do again and again.
  3. Apps can make full use of device features and offline capabilities.

But that is it. You should not be looking to serve up the same old web content in an app. There is no need to be on the app store, just for the sake of it. If you are presenting content, or if findability is very important (most organisations), then the web, not an app, is actually the best solution for you. The rise of mobile smart devices has changed a few things though. It is expect in the next few years that mobile internet access will overtake access on a traditional desktop or laptop. This needs to be considered in how you present your content and services online. So what are the other options?

Do nothing

This might not be as crazy as it sounds. You have a website after all. There is a case for allowing your site to be rendered, in all of its desktop browser glory, as is on a mobile device. Users are now well used to panning and zooming around. While this is awkward it is doable. This is certainly the cheapest option. However, the Tablet is more than a small PC and the Smartphone is not just a small Tablet. These are distinct devices with unique user behaviour and context. To maximise your impact on such devices they need to be considered independently. Optimising your website for use on a mobile device; considering both the smaller screen and the touch interface, is the best approach.

Adaptive Design

This approach automatically applies a specific style to a site when it is viewed in a browser of a predefine size. This can be on a desktop when the browser is resized or when it is viewed on a device with a smaller screen. This approach allows you to define a specific view, of the same content, per screen size (or device). This enables you to tailor the visual appearance of your site to each device, without needing separate mobile websites. This is a relatively simple way of tailoring your website or application to specific mobile devices without having to redesign your existing desktop version. However, it does require you know which screen sizes and devices you are targeting in advanced.

Responsive Design

Unlike ‘adaptive’ design, ‘responsive’ design does not require you to know your target screen sizes in advance. The page will rearrange content constantly as the screen changes size. While you may still define specific screen sizes at which your page changes layout (adapts), taking a ‘responsive’ design approach means that your site will be optimised for all potential screen dimension. This offers the advantage of future proofing and is worth considering as new mobile devices are constantly being released and you do not know what size the next shiny new device will be. There is a degree of extra complexity in this approach which will often be reflected in development time scales and, ultimately, cost.

While it might seem a little strange that someone selling apps is trying to stop you developing them, at Dootrix we look at the whole mobile strategy of the organisation. You need to take mobile seriously and you need a return on your investment. Apps are right in a very specific set of circumstances. Every organisation, without exception, needs to optimise their web presence for mobile.

If you need any help in working out your mobile strategy then please do get in touch.

About the Author: Rob Borley is a founding director of Dootrix from Portsmouth, England. Dootrix are a multi-platform agency. You can view their AppBooker profile at

About The Author


Rob has spent the last ten years working with the web. Leading complex online projects with organisations big and small. He has specialised in e-commerce & web based applications. Rob is now the Founder and Director of Mobile Strategy and Application Development Agency Dootrix.

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