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Mobile Apps and Virtual Reality (VR)

Do we need an app?

This is a question we often get asked.

The answer is... it depends...

Building a mobile application is a different kind of undertaking to standard web development.

First of all, this is the primary question you should ask yourself:

What are the incentives for your users to download an app specific to your product or service offering?

In order to answer that question, it's worth mentioning some of the advantages of having a mobile app:

  • Push notifications - where you have real-time information is needed
  • Geo-location - the ability to pinpoint where a particular person is in order to tailor location specific content
  • Offline data - so people can continue to benefit from your service when they lose signal
  • Immersive content - such as being able to tap into the device's orientation for augmented reality or 360° imagery
  • Reading QR codes - e.g. for ticketed events or exchanging crypto-currency tokens
  • Near-Field Communication (NFC) - e.g. for exchanging data to and from other devices
  • Tight coupling to a productivity tool - such as a task tracker or anything that requires instant communication in teams.

This is by no means an exhaustive list, however, it covers most use cases of why you might want to build a mobile app.

Reasons not to build a mobile app

Unlike building a web application, mobile apps are typically more complicated to get right for all users. Some of the caveats include:

  • A wide variety of devices on the market means extensive testing is required. You will not be able to please everybody and will often choose not to support older devices. This may result in negative ratings on the app store which may be of reputational risk to your business.
  • Deployment to app stores is more like traditional product development in that it needs to be fully-working before shipping it out to your users. If you need to change anything in the app, you'll need to create a new release and the user will need to re-download the app. This is getting better with many devices now have automatic updates as default. This is unlike a web app which you're fully in control of the release cycle and can make many updates on a given day without degrading the user experience. 
  • For the first release, an application needs to be made to app stores which take time and is reliant on the app following all of the vendors' terms and conditions. Even some above-board legit apps have fallen foul of the small print which can be tricky to resolve.  

All checks passed - how to proceed?

If you've carefully examined the pros and cons (or perhaps we can help you with this) then what's the next step? What's the best way to proceed?

In our opinion, we recommend taking a hybrid approach to development rather than building individual native apps.

Native app development means writing specific code that runs on a particular platform (e.g. iOS/Android). This at least doubles your development time, points of maintenance, support, and new feature rollout. A 'hybrid' approach allows your developers to write the application once which works everywhere.

There a variety of ways of approaching this and are beyond the scope of this article, but suffice it to say that there tools and techniques we can use to make mobile app development more accessible to businesses than ever before.

In summary:

Hybrid app development allows you to consolidate your budget and resources into a single codebase, so that when you want to make improvements things get a lot easier. Make a change and make it just once, but available everywhere.

Closing thoughts

We love to work with new ideas and new technology. If you're interested in any the following areas, please get in touch as we'd like to explore the technical feasibility of your ideas.

  • Virtual and augmented reality
  • Beacon and product tagging
  • Personalised retail experiences
  • Merging existing platforms to create new value to end users

If anything doesn't fit neatly into our in-house skill set at Real Life Digital, we can consult with our wider network of data scientists, user experience technicians and connections within academia to realise the most ambitious of projects.

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