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Mobile app development – build once, run everywhere – is that the right mobile strategy?

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Hey Tech Innovator, how can we build cross platform mobile apps and design our mobile apps to run on multiple devices for Apple or Android … and more importantly, should we?

At a networking event recently, I met the CIO of a large regional organization.  When he found out that this Tech Innovator runs a mobile app development company, he said, “We have a small budget for mobile products.  Do you recommend that we design apps that can run on majority of devices like Apple or Android and what’s the best way to do that?”

It’s not an easy answer.  But it’s an important question.  Current predictions are that, by 2015, more people will be using the Internet on mobile devices than laptops and PCs.

With the adoption of mobile devices continuing to rise, more companies are looking for ways to make their product accessible and usable on mobile devices.  Others want to create new products and expand and add products on mobile devices.  But there’s one obvious problem, as my new friend well knew.  Mobile devices come in various sizes and platform. Multiple devices and platforms means cost of developing and maintaining your mobile  product for each device.

Even with just one platform, say iOS by Apple, the problem is, Apple is launching a new iPhone/iPad with different features and sizes every year.  iPhone 5 is larger than iPhone 4.  Some of the apps designed for iPhone 4 now won’t work on iPhone 5.

Then there is iPad.  It already has two different sizes and usability experiences (although Apple claims this to be a non-issue).

So it’s not about making your app’s functionality work the same on every Apple device.  When you design for small devices, there is a different usability.  With iPad, for example, there is more real estate available for creating a richer experience.

So the question of CEOs and CIOs today is, How can I improve cost and speed of delivery by creating an app that be used across multiple platforms?

The “build it once, run it everywhere” concept is not new. Haven’t we heard this before with interoperability or browser issues? It has been in the mainstream with Unix/Windows, Java/Microsoft, Browser JavaScript/CSS etc.  Companies have been trying to do that for the last 30 years.  What they’ve found, however, is that there is no easy or affordable way to do it.

So what’s my answer, if cross platform development for mobile is not an option? Well, I would say – it depends.

I am not saying that companies should not try to find ways to reduce cost in such case by exploring options like Mobile Web or Hybrid apps.  They should.  But consider the following few questions:

– what are you trying to do and why?

– what are your business goals; what are you trying to achieve by going mobile?

– what do your users/customers want to do?

I suggest that finding the right answers to the above is the most important factor in defining your mobile strategy.  Don’t just think about reducing cost, but think about business growth and opportunities that mobile devices can bring to your door, and then think about how to be efficient, and how to maximize returns on your investment.

Motifworks (www.oldwebsite.motifworks.com) is a partner in emerging technology and innovation for business problem-solvers. Companies as large as Microsoft and Sears and as small as one-person start-ups rely on motifworks for lower cost, better delivery and more innovative thinking. For a partner in emerging technology and innovation, contact motifworks at info@oldwebsite.motifworks.com.

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