Mobile apps are here to stay

By Peter Ballard @Ballyfool

You'd have to have been living on Mars for the last year not to have noticed the hype raging around the iPhone, and more specifically the power of the mobile app.

The digital industry appears to be split. In the red corner we have those who would have us believe that the rise of the app is the end of the traditional web. Their argument is that 2bn app downloads from Apple’s iStore can’t be wrong.

In the blue corner are those who tell us that the myriad of platforms and handsets means there will never be a winner, and the ROI for developing an app does not stand up to scrutiny. They point to the fact that, despite all the hype, the iPhone still has single digit penetration.

What is being ignored in this debate is the consumer. I am a long way from being an ‘Apple fan’ but I was recently given an iTouch (which is just like an iPhone when connected to Wi-Fi from an apps perspective) as a birthday present to replace a broken iPod, and within just a few short weeks I have been totally convinced of two things:

1. The display, resolution and touch-screen interface are perfectly suited to delivering a broader range of content and data than I previously thought possible

2. It fills a ‘third space’ where I can use my iTouch when a laptop isn’t suitable

It’s easy to see that, with this sort of device, I can complete tasks in the minutes I have to spare during the day rather than encroaching on precious ‘at home’ time, such as looking for a present for Dad’s birthday, booking next week’s hotel and train, renewing my car insurance.

And App developers appear to be responding to the challenge too. Take ‘TheTrainline’ app: an app version of the train timetable and ticket booking website that is easier, quicker and more intuitive than the site.

The developers have clearly been challenged by the smaller screen size, but have come up with smart solutions and have also utilised the technology available. Station look-ups and journey planning is simpler on the app, and by using GPS data, it is able to calculate the route and train times required to get me home from my current location at any time. Needing to look up a train, and sitting with my laptop and iTouch in front of me, I’d use the iTouch every time.

With this in mind, I recently went looking for an app that would allow me to get a few comparison quotes for my car insurance. Filling a bit of commuting time with this rather dull but necessary task seemed like ideal app territory.

Sadly, there is no Moneysupermarket or GoCompare app yet (but I did find a US version, so maybe it won’t be long to wait). Unfortunately, using the normal website on the smaller screen for this task was not a rewarding one, so this and a number of other markets are still crying out for a bit of smart thinking and an app that meets customer needs.

What platforms to cover is still up for debate, be it Apple, Nokia, Vodafone, or any of the other networks or handset manufactures, the mobile handset is here to stay and will be the device of choice for much of our ‘life administration’ in the future.

Peter Ballard

I co-founded Foolproof with Tom Wood back in 2002. Today I work across a range of clients, particularly in the roles of Experience Planner and Client Partner. In my role as Experience Planner, I ensure that our design teams have access to the right insight to respond appropriately to the business and creative challenges faced by our clients.

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