Web or App?

Every once in a while, when people find out I work as a web developer they like to pitch this idea they have to make money. Some are decent, some bad, and others interesting. It could be an AR/VR idea, social media platform, blog, event management or a handful of other ideas.

But typically, they say something along the lines of “I have this idea for an app”. They tend to mean a native app that you would download from the app store. In my head I immediately start thinking but why a native app? What feature are you using that requires a native app? How are you going to market this? What level of investment are you ready to put into this to make it happen? And then of course after some time of them explaining their idea they will say something along the lines of “Would you want to partner with me to build this”?

I’ve honestly have yet to find one that is good enough and with a person committed to the idea enough to partner with them. Not to say that there hasn’t been good people or good ideas, just not both. I’m a person who enjoys being helpful, so I’ll challenge them a bit with some of the information on why you may not need an app.

What features requires a native app?

What are you really offering to your users? Is a list of events with event details on another page? A form for getting in touch due to an incident? A place to view updates and new information? It’s really hard to say you need an app with more basic features like the ones I just listed. It would be much faster and easier for you to create a simple LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySql, PHP) stack to host a Web App and pretty much any hosting service can handle that.

Even when you get into some more interesting concepts you don’t need an app. One of my more interesting side projects is the use of AR to see a product at scale in your space. Apple uses this on their product marketing pages that have a callout “Use AR to see MacBook Air in your workspace.” but only works on apple devices. A company who does the same but without limiting the device support is Arcade 1up. When you view the product on your mobile device you can see the arcade in your own space, which is great for planning where you can put the arcade cabinet.

Now that’s not to say every feature can be done on the web. When you have more advanced features you can’t rely on the browser to have access to those features. For example, video editing on the web is rough, that would be better on the device itself where you have access to lower-level processes that would handle the render better.

How will you market this?

A big part of creating something is making it discoverable. If I asked you to find me a system that managed event check-in, what would you do? The first thing the majority of people would do is a Google search. Now Google searches the web for its content, so data from an app won’t show up unless there is a marketing web page a company created for their app. So even if you had to go the app route due to the features you want to offer your users you would still need to make a website marketing your app.

Let’s also think about the User Experience. If you created a native app and create a marketing site, you would need to the following to happen:

  1. User finds your site
  2. User likes your product and wants to install
  3. User finds and clicks the Call to Action that links to your native app in the device’s app store
  4. User clicks the install button
  5. User launches the app
  6. User signs up for the app
  7. User is now using your app

Thats 7 steps from discovery to becoming a user. Now contrast that with having a website that is the app:

  1. User finds your site
  2. User likes the product and wants to sign up
  3. User signs up
  4. User is using your app

Thats three less steps as well as the always stayed on your site through the whole process. This would enable Google Analytics or similar system to track if there are any areas cause issues with your signup process

What are you willing to invest?

This is where a lot of ideas die. In my case most people are who talk about the “I have an idea for an app” want me to develop it in return for a percentage of ownership. But let’s talk about the actual costs of a native app compared to a website.

App Developer Costs

Ok you really want a native app, typically you’re going to need a developer for Android as well as iOS. Each has a salary of ~110K or a contractor rate that can be between $50 – $250 an hour. Those are costs that are going to add up quick.

App Store Accounts

Not really a major cost but to distribute your app on Google Play as well as the Apple Store you have to register an account and pay a minor fee. Apple charges $99 / year and Google changes $25 for a lifetime account.

App Store Revenue

This is where both Apple and Google really make their money. For each sale you make each will get a cut of your revenue. Google gets 15% for the first Million then 30% after. Apple does the same 15% for the first million 30% for anything beyond the first million

So, what should I do?

With all these costs, people, and revenue cuts how can you optimize revenue, time to go live, and easily update your app? The wonderful Progressive Web App (PWA). PWA’s will allow your content to be found on the web through SEO and you can download content to the user’s phone, have a splash screen, and run some simple tasks offline and upload them when online.

How do I make a PWA?

That is a post for next week. (Once I create the content I will link to the post).