Clutch spoke with Kris Jones, the CEO of Appek Mobile Apps, about the comparison between native development tools and cross-platform development tools – an important consideration for anyone looking to develop an app using App Development Software.
Please describe your organization.
APPEK Mobile Apps is a native mobile app development company located in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. We also build responsive-design web apps that are all mobile-friendly and optimized. We are particularly experienced with funded start-ups and enterprise companies. We’ve also built some very successful apps ourselves, including French Girls, iFart, ReferLocal, and GiveGab. Our apps have received millions of downloads.
What are two or three tools that your team is most familiar with? What tools really stand out that give the best user experience?
In general, when we do app development, we make two assumptions. First, a native app intended for use on a smartphone must provide the best possible experience for the user. When a user downloads an app from the App Store, it had better be fast. It’d better be as good as it can possibly be. Second, our web apps must provide an awesome experience. WordPress is our core tool, and most of the things that are available through WordPress are mobile-optimized. It gives us a good framework to build out a great responsive-design website. Naturally, we use mostly pro-development tools. For example, if you’re going to do any HTML, CSS or Java Script work, you should be using the best tools available. Tools like Slimline text display, which are very what-you-see-is-what-you-get style, do all your text and all your debugging in your own browser. When it comes to building great experiences, there are some really awesome open source brain works, such as Google Material Design Light, which is an open source CSS and Java Script framework for responsive web apps based on Google’s Material Design. This gives you the base for the kind of shortcuts you need to build something great. However, you should always be focusing on the client’s needs and never on the software. You shouldn’t have to reinvent the wheel every time you build a web app, which is why we use things like Google Material Design Light.
What client needs should be taken into consideration when deciding which type of app to go for?
Generally speaking, when you’re working with native apps, you have to consider the availability of your application to the user on the go. A native app is always on the device. You don’t have to look it up. You don’t have to search for it in your browser. Generally speaking, you won’t need an Internet connection to immediately use that app. However, if you are facing a scenario where the user might need some hardware features, if the user wants to build an extremely good experience that is really fine-tuned, or if you want to build an app for a number of different platforms and reach a very large audience—and let’s be honest, cost is always a factor—you’re definitely going to want to consider a web-based application. If you want to hammer out a very solid experience for maybe a smaller number of users, then you’d want to go with native. When I have this kind of discussion with a client, I’m talking to someone from a project management standpoint. I’m talking to them about go-to-market strategies and lead start-up concepts. I’ll educate the client on some of those best practices around lean start-up. Budget is usually considered. One thing that I’ll recommend to them is creating a minimally viable product as a native mobile app and testing it to see the response that we get. If they’re really, really limited regarding budget, we’ll take that same approach with a responsive web app. The other thing to be aware of is that a native app isn’t for everyone; not every type of business needs a native app. I know that there are a lot of app makers out there that are inexpensive and will create a quick restaurant app or a quick law firm app. For what it’s worth, it probably won’t hurt the business to do that, but you won’t likely get much engagement out of it. It doesn’t require much functionality. When you’re talking about functionality, you’re talking about a native mobile app, where you’re actually able to accentuate the functionality within a native experience versus a web experience. I tend to think of native as being much more interactive, where web is much more static and linear. I just walk a client through those ideas and then try to help them figure out what’s best for them. However, a web experience and a native experience are not mutually exclusive. There may be a scenario where a client might need both. For some users, they might want a specific set of features on the web that are basically available to a web audience, regardless of whether or not they have an app installed on their smartphone or tablet. For some users, you might want only a native but not just a web experience. Facebook does this, for example. They use both a mobile web strategy and a mobile app strategy.
What kind of client should not want a native app?
I think a native app is for transactional businesses that want a more simplified purchase path and process, including integration of things like Apple Pay. You truly get the benefit of Apple Pay when you’re using your mobile device, whereas you don’t necessarily get that with the web. If the purpose of your business is simply to provide information, you’re likely to be just fine with a web experience. Any e-commerce business should really, really have a native experience. That’s pretty obvious for anything that would necessitate interaction, including any type of gaming company, and any type of business that you need to interact with would be much better off within a native mobile app experience. Generally speaking, the pizza place down the street probably wouldn’t fare too well with a native app. If you want to take something complex and simplify it, do that within a native app experience. It really forces you to highlight the main functions of a product or business. You have to conform to the standards of iOS and Android. The good news is that people who use the device expect a similar user experience across apps. You’re training the user to have an optimal user experience. If that really matters, if what you’re selling or what your business requires is for you to walk a customer through a process, they’re going to probably have a much better experience through a native app than a mobile web app.
What tools would you recommend to developers who want to build their own app and why?
Bizness Apps, which is one of our clients, provides a really affordable base platform to build a simple mobile app. If anyone wants to go to market quickly and does not have extremely complex functionality requirements, Bizness Apps is a really great do-it-yourself, build-it-on-your-own platform. The most critical thing to building a mobile app, beyond development, is actually getting to a point where you can begin using the app. Properly prototyping, properly designing and properly aligning with what you want is crucial. Some of the tools that we use here in-house for designing apps include Sketch, which is an absolutely fantastic design tool specifically built for designing UIs. It’s absolutely fantastic. In the past, we’ve used Photoshop and Illustrator, but Sketch is really designed for this and works better. It is absolutely critical. The tool is absolutely a 10 out of 10. We then push the wireframes and images to an online app called InVision. This allows us to show customers prototypes on their phones of what their app will look like. Having a choice is almost as critical as the building process itself. When you’ve passed that, then you can take all the assets from Sketch and put those into your Xcode, put them into Android Studio. Then you get going building the actual app. For the most part, that has been our building process. Design once, build once, rather than design twice and build twice. Getting it right the first time is absolutely the most critical part of building an app.
Is there anything overall you want to share about building an app?
If you only need a basic app, and you want that app to be native, I think that would call for the do-it-yourself mobile app software out there. Bizness Apps and others are probably suitable. They’re cost effective and a reasonably decent way to go. If you really want to compete, if you’re really focused on downloads and building an app that could generate revenue—for instance through in-app purchases—you want to look at the boutique mobile app agencies or those that are more experienced building enterprise-type mobile apps. Once you do that, I think that you will find lots of help out there. Finally, I want to mention something called Facebook Start. It’s fbstart.com. It’s a program that Facebook put in place to help mobile app owners succeed. They provide you with a whole ton of things, including access to an exclusive community of people who own mobile apps. They invite you to events. You actually get direct contacts at Facebook to help you put together campaigns to generate installs and to market your app. They’ll provide up to $80,000 in free tools and services. Appek is a Facebook Start company. For a Facebook Start company, they provided us with the first $50,000 in transactions on Strike for free. They provided us with a free MailChimp account. They provided us with a multi-hundred dollar Facebook ad credit. Once someone has built an app, the next question is where to go from there. Facebook Start is something to keep in mind. In general, when you’re building an app, you can think of it like building most other things in life. If you’re going to build a doghouse for the puppy to go outside and hang around in, maybe you might want to go to the store, get the materials and put the doghouse together on your own. But if you want to build a house for yourself, maybe you should consider going to people who know how to do it best. If you are really serious, going to the pros is absolutely the best way to build something fantastic.