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Mobile apps strategies"We'll never be the same again"
The huge growth of smartphones and tablets challenges banks to devise comprehensive app-development strategies. For both existing players and emerging brands, says MARK MASON, the business future has changed.
Something remarkable happened in the IT world in the final quarter of last year: UK sales of smartphones outstripped PCs. It may not be a fanfare moment, but it does point to a business future very different to the one we recognise today.
The rapid growth of smartphones has prompted many financial services companies to evaluate how they’ll integrate apps into their marketing plans. Research suggests that half of mobiles are now smartphones with internet access – and within 18 months, that will have increased by 50 per cent.
Some banks have forged ahead, with varying success. NatWest’s banking app, launched in November 2009, generated more iPhone downloads in the first day than all their previous wap-based customers. That success crashed their registration servers, but nearly two years on, it’s still No. 2 in the app charts and continues to have regular improvements in functionality.
It’s clear that consumers are now using smartphones and tablets to check their bank accounts, credit card statements and move money between accounts. For higher-net-worth individuals, there’s a strong desire to use these devices much as they would a laptop, but they want to do it on the fly, in the taxi, on the train.
Driven by this demand – 17 million tablet sales in 2010 are expected to grow to 57 million this year and 171 million next – we’ve had several discussions with wealth management companies about arming their financial planners with iPads to assess risk profiles, set up portfolios and deliver contracts. Time will tell whether the FSA will allow contracts to be signed via these devices in future.
Another area of app development is share dealing and fund management. The spread betting companies saw the opportunity first, but now many financial service providers are looking to extend access to their brands through smartphones.
We’ve just released a fully loaded new investment app, for example, for leading investment broker, Hargreaves Lansdown. It gives users quick and easy access to fund and share prices, indices, market news, investment research, expert opinion and much more – you can use it to buy and sell shares.
Many are also beginning to realise how apps can facilitate their day-to-day internal operations – improving communication, collaboration, project management, business process improvement, as well as their marketing.
A significant decision many companies will face this year is whether to support the myriad mobile devices in the market or stick to one particular platform across the whole company. This would mean many employees having to double up on their devices, one for private use, one for business.
There are currently four major platforms to consider: Apple’s iOS (for the iPhone and iPad), Google’s Android, Microsoft and Nokia (or ‘Mokia’, as it’s been dubbed) and BlackBerry. Each has its pros and cons and the battle for dominance still has a few years to run. Mubaloo develops on all platforms, but the majority of our apps are developed for the iPhone, iPad and Android platforms. Whilst BlackBerry is significant in the corporate marketplace, many of these devices are locked to stop users downloading apps onto them. Another issue is security. Secure, scalable hosting is important for many apps, protecting the integrity of the data and enabling the service to adapt to varying levels of demand.
For apps used by employees across the enterprise, it’s also possible to place apps onto a separate operating platform that can be controlled by the IT department. So, if an employee leaves the company, the corporate apps can be removed from their devices.
One very hot topic is the native app experience (an app that resides on the smartphone) compared to a mobile web app (that resides on the internet): both have merit for different requirements. Many companies choose native apps because they want fully immersive apps that make use of the phone’s hardware features (such as GPS, camera, accelerometer). A web app or mobile website can be beneficial for standard solutions requiring a cost-effective multi-platform rollout. A number of solutions sit between these two options, drawing in the appropriate capabilities from both codes – these can be downloaded from the app stores in the same way as a native app.
It’s a subjective issue which depends on several factors:
Pure Native Apps: These still reflect the majority in the app store, where optimised interface design, offline functionality, integration, speed and security are all recognised as benefits. However, given the range of native programming languages for the various platforms, this means re-writing code for each platform. So, it’s not always the cheapest option but is widely viewed as the glossiest for user experience.
Cross Compiler Apps: A high level cross compiler solution can appear attractive – write once and run on many platforms. Appcelerator’s Titanium, Ansca Mobile’s Corona, MoSync and others have all appeared, trying to produce software that can cater for such a fragmented market. However, the breadth in handset capabilities can mean adapting to the lowest common denominator to avoid complex testing across devices.
Web Apps: Creating a mobile business website suitable to be viewed in a mobile browser is often crucial in the current crossplatform environment. Pure web apps are often viewed as an extension to an existing online offering. With time, and the increase in bandwidths, it’s anticipated that web solutions will align more closely to the native experience. But this requires a mind shift among consumers and the development community.
Clearly, many financial services organisations have a great deal to gain from developing a mobile app strategy. The growth of smartphones and tablets, in and out of the organisation, is redefining the way they can communicate with their clients, suppliers and employees. Emerging brands, looking for a foothold into new markets, will be the early adopters of these new devices, and they’ll benefit from the new audiences they attract. The financial industry will never be the same again.
MARK MASON is the CEO of Mubaloo, the UK’s largest B2B & B2C app development company.
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