Friday 24 September 2010

DIY apps. The Emperor's new clothes.

I'll preface this blog post by saying that I haven't really got the time to write it.  Although I haven't posted an update for a while (meaning that it is well overdue) I still have a pretty large pile of things to do instead.  However, a Twitter exchange with my ex-colleague, good mate and fellow mobile enthusiast Murat resulted in me climbing so high on my soap-box that I needed to let it all out - he does have that kind of effect on me I am afraid.  So we can probably consider this as a cathartic post...


Along with the fantastic Grapple, I was sharing a stand with the lovely Hayley (another ex-colleague) from Nokia at Ad:Tech on Wednesday.  She was talking about a new product that Nokia have released, the Ovi App Wizard, which enables you to create your very own mobile application, test it in an emulator, submit it for review and (with luck) subsequently publish it to the Ovi Store - making it available across supported devices.  I gave this a go yesterday evening and am pleased to say that it was a pretty smooth and pain-free process, resulting in me creating and submitting my app in little over 5 minutes.

I confess that I was pretty impressed by this. If there is one thing that Nokia (usually) do well it is process - I have had more than a few afternoon conference calls talking about "ways of working".

This follows relatively swiftly on the heels of similar platform/product releases by the likes of Kilrush and Golden Gekko (with Tino) and possibly preceding one from Google .  Whilst there are variations between these offerings, in relation to their target audience, platforms and feature sets, the common denominator is the ability to create your own app without needing to do a jot of coding.

So what's the issue?

Well, I am all one for the democratising power of Mobile - everyone has one, most people understand them and their use (and usefulness) will only increase over the next few years.  And I am certainly also someone who at times despairs about the way that Mobile, as a whole, can obfuscate and over-complicate in order to set itself apart and be seen as "special" - and in doing so, only succeed in putting brands and agencies off the effort.

But I do believe that there is a real danger of letting anyone create an app and put it out there.  For starters, the default position of "I must have an app" is something that, as an industry, we have a obligation to redress.  More often than not with questions like "Really? Why? What exactly do you want to achieve?".  

There is most definitely a time and a place for an app, but this needs to have been reached through a process of assessing and analysing the brand, the objective, the budget and most importantly, the target audience.  If those factors point to an app being the right choice then go for it.  But until you have been through that, don't discount SMS, MMS, a mobile internet site, or any of the other capabilities that exist with Mobile.  

Just producing an app for an app's sake, really is a case of the Emperor's New Clothes and my own app is a case-in-point...

The Emperor

I created an app that simply pulls the Atom feed of this blog.  
So, it just shows this blog.  
An app.  
To just show this blog.  
Nothing else.  
No other features.  
Just this blog.  
In an app.

So why on God's Green Earth does it need to be an app?

Just to be clear, I really like apps and I use them all the time.  They enable you to provide features that you just cannot yet do in any other way.  Take my post about a day in London courtesy of Google as an example - it just wouldn't have been possible without apps (NB: mobile browser support of HTML5 will in the future address this).  There are any number of apps that I could talk about endlessly.  One of my favourites being the Museum of London "You are here" iPhone app - I urge you all to have a butchers!  But the point is, the features that make an app so good (e.g. GPS, accelerometer, camera, compass, local storage, external or 3rd party integration etc.) are not all able to be utilised/deployed with a DIY app builder.  To create a rich, engaging and  innovative app you need to spend time and money developing one. 

But the problem with apps is that what you make up for in functionality, you lose in reach.  Not all devices (easily) support apps as we know them and, taking Ovi as an example, although in theory you get reach across a large number of Nokia devices how many Nokia users will actually utilise this?  So an app can immediately restrict your target audience.  This is fine if an app is part of a muti-faceted strategy and so you are achieving this reach with other activity; or if you recognise this limitation and it still delivers for your target audience.

But it is not fine if you are simply responding to the demand of "I need an app!".

An app that is as one-dimensional as a restricted RSS reader will not engage, it will not bring a brand closer to it's audience.  Indeed, it is more likely to disengage and disappoint your consumers.  So I would say yes, do create and app.  But only if it is the right thing to do.  Otherwise, harness the power of the ubiquity of mobile and look in other areas for you engagement and innovation.

1 comment:

  1. An update to this story - I am very pleased to say that my app is now available in the Ovi Store.

    I feel so proud.

    If you feel the need and are one of the lucky few to have a Nokia, you can get the app here: