Going live with a mobile app: Part 1 – Planning a mobile app

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There are many concerns when going live with a modern mobile application, from project planning, to development, to quality assurance and managing a successful launch. In this series we will dive into what it takes to go live with a mobile application on iOS and Android.

Whether you are a brick-and-mortar retailer or an eCommerce web site, the need to go mobile is greater than ever. With mobile market share growing year over year, mobile applications are the new web site. If you don’t have one available you are missing a major market. According to a report from Kleiner Perkins, mobile applications now account for 15% of all Internet traffic, with 1.5 billion users worldwide. Mobile adoption has accelerated like never before:

The path to 50 million users

As of May 2013, 91% of American adults own a cell phone and 56% of American adults own a smartphone according to a recent survey by Pew Internet. So you want to launch a mobile application and skyrocket to your first 50 million users. Here is what you need to know to get started.

Planning a mobile application

Planning a major mobile application is the one of the most difficult parts of the project to execute. Which platforms should you build for and which devices should you support? Do you build your own backend or use a Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS)? Do you build a native mobile application or a web-based HTML5 application? All of these questions and more will come up and you need to understand the market to make decisions you won’t soon regret.

Design consideration: Native or HTML5?

The promise of HTML5 has always been to write once and run everywhere. This promise comes at the expense of the features and user experience. While HTML5 mobile applications are a good start, they will never have the fluid user experience of native applications. The best application experience comes from a native integration.

HTML5 does have some strategic benefits:

• Cost to deploy cross platforms
• Immediate updates and control of distribution
• Faster time to market since it is easier to hire from a large talent pool
• Device compatibility

Native applications have some benefits as well:

• Richer user experience
• Better performance
• Native integrations that enable better monetization

There are several intermediary solutions available to take your HTML5 app and convert it to a native application available for iOS and Android. Appcelerator Titanium, AppGyver, PhoneGap, and Sencha Touch have all claimed to provide a native experience without having to write a native application. In my experience all of these solutions fall short in delivering a truly compelling mobile experience. If your only metric is time to market then these solutions provide a good result, but if you care about the user experience native is the only mobile strategy to pursue.

Several high-profile companies have regretted pursuing an HTML5 mobile strategy. Most famously, Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, has publicly stated, “On iOS and Android, you can do so much better by doing native work…” and that focusing on HTML5 was a mistake in the long run.

Design consideration: Apple App Store vs Google Play communities

In 2013 if you want the most downloads you build for Android first, but if you want the most revenue you build iOS first. The reality is you are building a business with your mobile application, and the money mostly exists in the iOS App Store community. Apple apps make more money even though the Android market is larger. Apple owns only 18 percent of the app universe, but it banks almost 500 percent more than Google, pulling in a sweet $5.1 million in revenue every day. Meanwhile, Google owns 75 percent of all app downloads, but it only takes in $1.1 million per day.

flurry

The Apple App Store and Google Play app ecosystems have distinct communities with Apple having stricter regulations and a manual review process for releases, compared to the much more agile and developer-friendly Android community. Google has a top price of $200 compared to the high end of Apple of $999 with much more variance in pricing than the Google Play market.

The biggest difference between the app store markets is the regulations enforced on app developers. Apple, while the biggest earner, is also the strictest with functionality requirements (and restrictions) and quality standards that ensure it’s the highest quality market, but also the most censored. While the Google Play Store is more developer-friendly, with a straightforward app submission and distribution process with better developer tooling and business reporting. Both markets have more than 100 million devices and over a billion app downloads.

Due to the constraints and expectations of the venture capital markets that so many app developers are constricted by it doesn’t make sense to choose Android as a launch platform. The expectation for traction and revenue means Apple iOS is the better business bet when you have limited time and mobile resources. It’s the fastest platform to prove an app concept and the viability of a business. The harsh reality of the mobile app ecosystem means that for every top-earning app there are 10,000 failures.

A look at the current state of the mobile device market share:

device_marketshare

Once you decide which platform to focus your mobile engineering resources on, you need to figure out what devices and versions you are going to support. As of October 2013, iOS 7.x market share accounts for 64.9% of all iOS devices:

ios_marketshare

As of October 2013, Android 4.x market share accounts for 48.6% of all Android devices:

android_marketshare

Based on market share it makes business sense to offer compatibility with Android 2.3.3+ and iOS 5.1+ devices.

Design consideration: Tablet or phone?

As PC shipments declines to 8.4%, tablets are expected to grow 53.4% according to an October 2013 Gartner Forecast. There is a clear shift from traditional desktops to tablet and smart phones. One of the design considerations you must factor in is the variety of form factors in mobile devices. Crafting an application experience that adapts to both landscape and horizontal modes and that works across standard and high definition screens from three to eleven inches is an impressive feat, especially when having to balance between high-speed low-latency Wi-Fi connections and low-speed high-latency 2g/3g/4g connections.

gartner_marketshare

Mobile insights with AppDynamics

With AppDynamics for Mobile, you get complete visibility into the end user experience across mobile and web with the end user experience dashboard. Get a better understanding of your audience and where to focus development efforts with analytics on device, carriers, OS, and application versions:

AppDynamics For Mobile

Want to start monitoring your iOS or Android application today? Sign up for our beta program to get the full power of AppDynamics for your mobile apps.

Mobile APM

In the next post in this series I will dive into developing a mobile app and the various approaches that are available. As always, please feel free to comment if you think I have missed something or if you have a request for content in an upcoming post.

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