Grow Your Own Mobile Apps

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tomatoes_small.jpgADOTAS – Mobile applications are being added to interactive advertising campaigns every day. Your clients are looking to you to help them navigate this new channel. These applications require very specific skills to build the rich and engaging social, local, and media-packed experiences that consumers demand in mobile applications today.

The question now is: do you figure out how to build these apps in-house, or contract out the work?

Using outside subcontractors has been a mainstay of agency operations, and with good reason. Agencies benefit from having very specific skill sets on-demand and only paying for them as needed. However, the subcontractor model takes on some interesting twists when developing mobile applications.

First is the requirement to develop for multiple platforms. At a minimum, a mobile application has to be developed for the popular iPhone, yet Gartner is now predicting that Google’s Android will hold the lead in less than two years. Meanwhile, Blackberry and Palm Pre hold significant market share as well. Now rather than subcontracting for one skill set, you will need several.

Which brings us to the second factor: cost. Subcontractors by definition are costly. Multiply them by several platforms and they’re, well, really costly. Forrester Research recently estimated that applications typically cost $150,000 or more to develop.

The third factor is time. In addition to the fact that time is money, you’ve set the expectation with your clients that your development times are fast. How fast? Web development fast.

Think about how long it takes you to launch a new web campaign. Now think about how long it would take you to launch that same campaign on a mobile app using an outside contractor. You need to rev your mobile development cycle to be as fast as your web development cycle.

The biggest downside to outsourcing your mobile app development may not be as obvious as the others — you are losing control of a core part of your business. Mobile apps are increasingly becoming an integral part of your campaigns, and letting them leave your four walls means loss of control — Loss of creative control. Loss of client control. Loss of cost control.

If using subcontractors for mobile app development is problematic, what’s your alternative?

Open source application development platforms are changing the development game. By utilizing such web technologies as JavaScript, HTML and CSS, your agency can now use your in-house development teams to develop mobile applications that are just as engaging as building in native code. The advantages of this approach have both top- and bottom-line ramifications for your business:

Develop for multiple platforms: Use a solution that allows you to create for multiple platforms on one codebase. At a minimum, you need to support the iPhone and Android platforms to stay ahead of the curve.

Use your web developers: Hiring outside consultants with skills like Objective-C (iPhone) or Java (Android) can quickly eat through your project’s profit margin. Your team knows best what your clients need. Use them.

Reduce your development time: Using web technologies is an order of magnitude faster. Reduce the typical six-month app development time frame down to only two to four weeks for almost any project.

Regain control: Keep your clients talking to you about their mobile campaigns, not a job shop. Create mobile campaigns alongside the rest of your clients’ programs to deliver a complete, integrated brand experience.

One last note: Not all mobile application platforms are the same. Some offer deep feature sets for the social, local, and media scenarios that your clients demand, while others are merely web pages in an application wrapper. Be sure to make your mobile application platform decision carefully and strategically; this one decision will prepare your firm for all of the growth opportunities that lie ahead in 2010 and beyond.

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