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Mobile applications, or apps for short, are the future for today's businesses. While many people associate apps for the iPhone, Blackberry, and Google Android devices as simply fun and games, the fact is that any business can create an app that generates customer interest, garners client loyalty, and positions your company as the industry leader.

Just how prevalent are apps? A recent New York Times article reports that nearly half (48 per cent) of phone users shop for apps more than once a week.

About the same number (49 per cent) report using apps on their phone for more than 30 minutes a day. Additionally, people download an average of 23.6 applications to their phone and use an average of 6.8 apps every day.

Clearly, the app trend is taking off, and smart businesses are claiming their share of this market niche by developing their own apps for both internal and external use.

Since most people's mobile devices are always connected, when you offer your customers a useful app, you're giving them the opportunity to access your services from anywhere or to simply build a bond with your brand. For example, a pizza delivery chain could offer an app that enables customers to order their pizza right from their phone. As part of this app there is location awareness technology so that the pizza comes right to their door without them having to type in an address. It also has the ability to save the customer's favorite menu items for easy ordering the next time.

Additionally, the customer's credit card information is already pre-loaded, or they can put the charge to their cell phone bill. If you were the only pizza delivery company with this app available, you would definitely get a share of your competitors' loyal customers.

But apps don't have to be that complex. For example, a large retail store could have an app that gives a detailed map of the store aisles so customers can easily find what they're looking for. Or an amusement park can have a map of the park with estimated wait times on each ride clearly defined. You can make your app as simple or complex as you like so long as it's something that offers value to your customers.

Whether you've considered creating an app for your company or are just learning about this business development option, following are some points to keep in mind.

· Your customers are always on the go.

Companies need to realize that their customers are busy and rely on their cell phone to stay connected with the world. In fact, most people consider their cell phone their most important tool and couldn't imagine life without it. So if you think your customers will naturally think of you in the midst of their hectic life, you need to think again. By not having an app that keeps your customers engaged, you are potentially losing market share to those companies that do offer apps. Any company, large or small, can develop and benefit from a customer-focused app.

· Today's mobile phones are complex all-in-one devices.

People today rely on their cell phone for much more than telephone calls.

For many people, their cell phone is also their GPS device, their camera, their day planner, their radio, their customer relationship tool, and their handheld video gaming device. Today's phones are essentially mini-computers.

Since customers are using their phones for so many varied tasks, it's essential that your company creates an app that will make people's lives easier or more productive.

· Know who your customers really are.

With so many mobile platforms out there, you need to know which one the majority of your customers are on. Each platform has different app requirements and development framework. That's why you need to know your customers. For example, if your target market is business professionals, you'd likely want to create your app for the Blackberry; however, if your target market is general consumers, then the iPhone may be your best choice.

Since developing an app will cost money, you want to create it for the right platform that will reach the majority of your customers. Then, as your app grows in popularity and success, you can redesign it for the other platforms.

· An app can boost your bottom line.

A well designed app can help your company's profits in two ways. First, when you engage your customers, create a bond with them, or simply offer them a useful application, they will think of you whenever they have a need for your product or service, and they'll refer others to you. You'll attain the coveted top of mind awareness with them, which will naturally result in more sales. Second, the app you offer can be either free or for a fee. Free apps tend to be promotional in nature, novel, or designed to support an existing app that already brings in revenue. Fee-based apps are generally more thoroughly developed and designed to actually have a value that a person would be willing to pay for. For many companies, their fee-based app can be a new revenue stream. In fact, some companies are built entirely around mobile apps.

· Seek out an experienced app vendor.

Creating an app could be a big undertaking for an organization without a technical background and that doesn't have experienced people in house to do it. Therefore, you need to find the right company to develop your app. It's best to find a vendor that has previously developed mobile apps, and one that has worked on multiple platforms so you can eventually put your app on all cell phones. Ultimately, any company of any size and in any industry can have an app; it's just a matter of finding the right partner to walk you through it.

Mobilize Your Business

Mobile applications are a great way for companies to stay in contact with customers and build their brand. If you ignore this emerging business trend, you could potentially lose a lot of business by not catering to your mobile audience. Remember that today's consumers are addicted to their cell phones.

Some people don't even have a home phone anymore - their cell phone is their connection to the world. Smart businesses are taking the steps to make sure they are part of that lifeline people have. The more useful your apps are for your customers, the more profitable your business will be.

About the Authors:

Brendan Lim, partner at Intridea and director of mobile development, has years of experience as a systems architect. Co-author.

Chris Selmer, is a senior partner at Intridea, and director of client solutions.



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