What is an "App"? What is an App not?

People get really excited when I say I do iPhone app development.  When I talk to them, it usually turns out that they are just talking about a mobile version of their site.   Then I have to explain that this is NOT what apps are for.  You can use an app to create a connector or wrapper for your site, but that doesn't make it a mobile version of your site.  You can create a mobile version of your site with an app, but it's not a good fit for a lot of businesses and then you have 2 sites to maintain.   And only a programmer can maintain the app version.   So don't do it!  I'll talk about what you should do in just a minute.  Let's talk just a bit more about apps first.

So what are apps good for?   First of all, 'app' is short for application.  Application is another word for program.  Programs are what makes computers do things.  They have been around as long as computers have been.  Your computer wouldn't work if it didn't have programs.  'Apps' usually refers to programs that run on the iPhone, iPad and Android and now to programs that run on the Mac.  Apple coined the term, so they get to use it however they want.  I expect to see the term 'apps' on Windows as of Windows 8 as well.     If you think of an app as something that does things, that's where they are really useful.  The parts of your website that are really interactive may make good apps.  For example, do you have a mortgage calculator or investment analysis?  That would make a great app.  Point of sale systems make great apps.   Take a look at the best apps on the Android and iPhone.  They are all really interactive.  My current favorite is Pinterest.  I actually like it a lot better than the website version.  My son's favorite is Waterslide.  It's a pretty cool game where you move the iPhone to move your character down a water slide. 

Take a look at what apps are already out there.  Your idea may make a great app or it might already have been done.  If you're interested in finding out more or you would like to talk to me about your idea, please feel free to give me a call at 810-560-7181.  There are lots of great resources out there.  I'll be happy to point you to the ones I know, and I would be glad to hear of ones you've found.  I've barely scratched the surface of app development so far.

Okay, I did say I'd get back to what you should do for your site if an app isn't the right solution.  Here's the answer:  your site should be designed in such a way that it adjusts how the site looks depending on what system is accessing the site.  Every website has the ability to tell what operating system is accessing it.  If your site sees that it's running on an iPhone, it should adjust the look and feel to match the dimensions and capabilities of the iPhone.  No java, for example.  Nothing annoys me more than a site that won't work on an iPhone.  The way to adapt your site to whatever device is accessing the site is called Responsive Web  Design.

The Drupal Content Management System has some very neat ways of doing Responsive Web Design.  I'll talk more about that in a later blog post.  

Mean while, here are just a couple of fun resources for Apps:

  • Appillionaires by Chris Stevens.  This probably my favorite.  It details the rise of some of the most succesful apps and also talks about the pitfalls of app development.
  • App Empire by Chad Mureta  - This is also good, but it feels like gold rush fever to me.  The vast majority of app developers don't make millions.

There are lots more good books out there.  If you find one, let me know too :-).