Does your business need a mobile app?

We discuss mobile app development at the Bangor Daily News’ What’s Next conference in Bangor on Friday. That’s me on the left, along with Justin Russell, Pattie Reaves, Anthony Wing Kosner, and Kerry Gallivan.

While we still talk about how the Internet has fundamentally changed the world we live in and how businesses reach and interact with customers, there’s a new revolution going on that is already ushering in new challenges for businesses.

The mobile revolution is happening, and businesses should pay heed.

As mobile becomes more ubiquitous — and it will; think SmartWatches, Google Glass and every car having its own touch-screen computer — businesses need to reassess how they reach their customers.

Just like business owners once asked the question, ‘Do I need a website?’, now the questions is ‘Do I need a mobile app?’

In regards to the latter question, the verdict from a panel of experts the Bangor Daily News brought together on Friday for the What’s Next conference in Bangor was ‘Yes,’ though with some qualifications.

In preparation for the panel, which I moderated, I came across some startling stats about mobile app use in this country. People spend an average of 158 minutes each day on their smartphones and tablets, according to app analytics firm Flurry, which tracks app usage on 300,000 apps on over a billion active mobile devices.

Eighty percent of that time is spent using an app, while only 20 percent is spent in a browser, surfing the old-school web. So if you own a business — whether a retail store, a service provide or a corner sandwich shop — a reasonable question to ask yourself is whether a website is still sufficient given how little time people are surfing the web using a browser.

The panelists who tackled this issue were Anthony Wing Kosner, a designer, developer and content strategist who writes a blog for about mobile and web development and the app economy; Kerry Gallivan, CEO of Chimani, a Yarmouth-based mobile app startup that is developing user-friendly apps to help tourists explore national parks; Justin Russell, a web and mobile applications developer with Sephone Interactive Media in Bangor; and Pattie Reaves, the user experience and audience manager for the Bangor Daily News.

The primary takeaway for me was that all business owners should definitely think about having a mobile app. The first question to ask, though, as a business owner is what kind of data or information or service do I possess that could be bundled and provided in an app. The panelists suggested thinking outside the box, and that most businesses could, if they thought about it, find something interesting to offer customers via an app.

A pizza shop is an example that got used multiple times during the conversation after it was revealed that Pattie has several apps on her phone that allow her to easily order pizza from a range of shops, including Domino’s. The app makes the pizza-ordering process painless and almost fun (I downloaded the app over the weekend so I could test it out) as you get to build your own pizza and add or subtract toppings with ease.

But not all businesses have the budget of Domino’s. Cost is a big issue, and the panelists did not candy coat the situation. Just like website design several years ago, mobile app development isn’t cheap at the moment. There are inexpensive services out there that a business owner could use to create a bare-bones mobile app, but to hire a developer to help build a custom one could easily reach into the five figures.

So, while every business owner should at least take the time to think about how a mobile app could benefit their business, it may still be too early for every business to make the investment.

Following the What’s Next conference, Kosner wrote a more in-depth post on his blog about the considerations businesses should make when contemplating the development of a mobile app. You can read Kosner’s take here.

One aspect of the conversation that we did not have time to address, but I think is very important, is what kind of valuable customer data a business owner can collect using an app and how should they go about mining it for valuable, actionable intelligence.

We’ll have to save that conversation for next year’s What’s Next conference.


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Whit Richardson

About Whit Richardson

Whit Richardson is Business Editor at the Bangor Daily News. He blogs about Maine business, entrepreneurs and the economy.