4 Steps to Creating a Mobile Development Strategy

Excerpted from 4 Steps to Creating a Mobile Development Strategy by Appcelerator

The web revolution created the next generation of giants — companies like Google, Amazon, and eBay went from nothing to multi-billion dollar market caps in less than a decade. Today, mobile helps fuel a new generation of giants — companies like Facebook, Groupon, and Zynga have reached multi-billion dollar valuations in half the time of their predecessors… and all without an IPO.

The mobile revolution will be like its web predecessor with two important exceptions:

  • Mobile will be more transformative than the web… because mobile devices are always with your customer.
  • Mobile is going to evolve at a much faster pace… because we’ve learned a lot from the web. In fact, mobile shipments outpaced desktop/laptop shipments last year.

Companies now allow employees to bring their own devices into the workplace — a concept that would have been unheard of just a year ago — and new mobile-based ventures receive staggering amounts of money from Silicon Valley venture capital firms. Companies now have a window of opportunity to think about how mobile can transform their business as radically as the web did. By making mobile a part of their overall digital strategy, companies can transform their relationships with their customers in even greater ways than they did with the web.

A Model From the Web

Exploration, Acceleration, Innovation

Remember the first generation of websites? They were basically informational sites that put the company’s brochureware on the web. Companies took what they already had — sales collateral — and hired a consultant who knew HTML to create web pages that could be accessed by anyone who had a computer. This was the exploration phase.

Once companies figured out how to make information accessible on the web, they then wanted to interact with their customers. Remember the first time you checked your bank balance online? Or went to the web for driving directions? This was the acceleration phase.

The next natural step was to use the web to transform their relationship with their customers. Now a store could not only provide an interactive store locator, but now they could put their catalogs online and let customers buy their products over the web. This was the innovation phase.

How does a company create a mobile strategy that will get them into the mobile market quickly, and provide a scalable plan for the future?

Decide how you want to interact with your mobile customer

Mobile apps are following the same maturity path as the web. Simple brochureware apps that inform or entertain soon become engaging apps that make use of location, social, and cloud services. At this stage, apps combine mobile features with cloud services to transform their relationship with their customers.

Prioritize your platform development

Mobile brings with it an additional complexity that the web did not have — developing for multiple platforms. An iPhone app has become the “must have” entry point for mobile applications. But the question is — where to go next? It depends on how you want to engage your customer. For example, broadcast companies and publishers may opt for an iPad or Android tablet implementation next because the larger screen lends itself a better user experience. Retailers may decide to expand to Android phones in order to engage the largest number of customers before, during, and after they transact. In the third innovation phase, a business is thinking about possibilities across all major platforms and devices.

Evaluate your development resources

Just as early web pioneers had to go outside their company to hire HTML programmers, many companies outsource their initial iPhone app development to third party Objective-C developers. Outsourcing that project has time-to-market advantages, but as you look to scale to other devices with multiple apps, this model becomes problematic.

There is a better alternative: use your own inhouse web developers to create your mobile apps. They have a wealth of knowledge about your company, your products, and your customers. Put that expertise to use executing your mobile strategy. By using a JavaScript-based mobile development platform, you can create native mobile apps using your JavaScript programmers. Your mobile strategy now becomes part of your overall digital strategy and leverages your existing talent and web technology investments.

Choose a scalable development technology

Technology started out in the web world with HTML web servers in the exploration phase. As companies moved to more engaging web apps, JavaScript and application servers emerged to support more complex and full featured server runtime environments to meet scaling requirements. In the innovation phase companies started to see that they could use the web to fundamentally transform their relationships with their customers.

Mobile is taking the same path. Companies typically build their first mobile app for the iPhone using Objective-C. However, developers quickly find that using native SDKs can be highly restrictive, as apps must be re-written for each individual device (iPhone and iPad), not just for each OS (iOS and Android). Add to the mix the fact that there are more than 60 Android tablets on the market today, and scaling to all those devices is simply impossible. Innovative companies use reusable modules and fully-integrated mobile architecture to scale quickly and easily.

The question is, what is an integrated mobile architecture, and what should it look like? The best way to answer this question is to look at the problems that are unique to mobile. The most obvious problem is the cross-platform issue. An integrated mobile architecture must do three things to solve this problem:

  • Deliver the best user experience possible across all platforms.
  • Enable companies to build and deploy mobile applications across multiple operating systems and devices, including the mobile web, while enabling them to reuse as much code as possible.
  • Leverage a decade’s worth of investment in web development.

Mobile development platforms allow developers to create native mobile apps for multiple devices using a single platform. This can result in reuse of 80% or more of their code as they port apps from one OS to the next. Reuse of code within the same OS (e.g. iPhone to iPad) is closer to 90%.

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