Economics and User Acquisition for Mobile Apps

Scott Francis
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Vijay Dheap of IBM recently posted about the economics of Mobile Apps, and there were a few good points to take out of it:
Mobile web apps leverage highly available skills in web development to deliver a mobile specific user experience.  Technologies such as HTML5, JavaScript and CSS have matured to a point where they can support rich user experiences.  These apps also have the added benefit that once created, they can be repurposed to support multiple mobile device platforms with relatively minimal effort.  There is a greater level of standardization in the browser engines than in any other components of mobile platforms.   Mobile [web] apps are the most economical approach to serving your mobile users, however they do have a significant drawback in that they cannot provide developers access to native device resources or capabilities (i.e. contacts, camera etc).
That’s exactly the issue.  Doing cross-platform apps (HTML5) optimizes around development cost, rather than around user experience.  In many cases this is the right thing to do.  But of course it comes at a cost.  Likewise, building a native app has a cost of implementation that is higher, with the benefit being better user experience. Hybrid apps offer some of the benefits (and tradeoffs) of both worlds. In some applications (e.g. consumer apps), we have to worry about user adoption.  Adam Nash wrote a detailed blog on the topic of user acquisition for mobile apps and the mobile web…
If you are religious about the web as a platform, the most upsetting thing about native applications is that they work.  The fact is, in almost every case, the product manager who pushes to launch a native application is rewarded with metrics that go up and to the right.  As long as that fact is true, we’re going to continue to see a growing number of native applications.
What I love about Adam’s post is that he acknowledges the facts as well as how they make web advocates feel.  It is frustrating that native apps “work” and web apps just don’t, when it comes to user acquisition.
On the web, no one knows how to grow organic traffic in an effective, measurable way.  However, launch a native application, and suddenly you start seeing a large number of organic visits.  Organic traffic is often the most engaged traffic.  Organic traffic has strong intent.
I think he sums it up well:  “Focus on Experience, not Technology” – in other words, build the right experience for your user base, rather than just designing around the technology you want to use or want to win. Applied to enterprise software – this is a huge shift from the 1990’s and 2000’s.  Enterprise software has been almost always focused on the technology underpinnings at the expense of the user experience.  If I had a nickel for every time I had to discuss the app servers a product supported, which version of a database the product supported, which javascript engine, which Java version, etc… Well, I’d be retired.  The point of the focus on experience is that those technical decisions need to be very sound, but then they also need to be abstracted away so that we can focus on the problem at hand and not on some of the irrelevant technical details.  Enterprise software is being increasingly “consumerized”, however – and user experience is emerging as an important factor in that market as well.