Whether you’ve decided to do a native app or a mobile web app , it’s important to realize that mobile apps are not websites. In fact, they’re unlike any form of mass media to come along before them. The best apps don’t simply try to duplicate old media, instead they take advantage of the new affordances that have never been available in the same way before. Here are just some of the things that make mobile apps unique:
Print, cinema, radio, and television are all classic examples of mass media. Until the web came along, customization was difficult, if not impossible in most situations. Maybe cities or blocks or even households could be targeted, but each level of granularity got progressively more expensive. With mobile, a level of access exists that is brand new. Each experience can be fully personalized down to the individual and possibly even their momentary context like location or mood.
Sure, print can be carried along…a favorite novel or newspaper when heading to a coffee shop or the beach was perfect. Even then, they weren’t always with you. When was the last time you intentionally went somewhere without your mobile phone? Sure, it happens, but when was the last time you took your favorite novel with you? Never has there been a singular object that is always with us.
Laptops are portable, but we close them, turn them off or put them to sleep. When they’re off they can’t let us know about an appointment we’re about to miss or let us know about a breaking news story. Mobile devices are always on, always ready to let us know about something important.
Built-In Payment System
No previous media has integrated a payment system directly into the infrastructure of the device. Payments are as dangerously easy as the tap of a button. It’s true that payments can be taken over the web, but each site has its own payment system, and there is much research to show that every form that needs to be filled out causes friction and reduces the likelihood of a transaction being completed. How many more sales would their be if the web had a similar integrated payment system? How much less fraud would their be if every eCommerce site didn’t have to worry about the security of individual financial transactions?
Available at the Moment of Inspiration
Nothing beats the benefits of the back of the napkin for capturing inspiration. However, how often have you lost that piece of paper or accidentally used it to clean up a spill? What if you want to share that idea with somebody on the other side of the world? What if you had a brainstorming and capture tool right in your hand that could evolve, share, and collaborate in an instant? Mobile apps provide a wide array of ways to capture images, draw, communicate, and facilitate the moment of inspiration like no other device so far.
For the longest time, numbers of television viewers were at best an extrapolation and a wild guess at worst. Readership of an individual newspaper article was not much better, and it’s pretty uh the same with all mass media. Mobile changes all that. Like the web, you can know who read it, when they read it, how long they spent reading it, where they found it, and what they would read next. Unlike the web, you can also know where they read it which can have important implications. In addition, lots of ancillary data about usage comes just from having a device. Where was it? When was it being used? Was it being used for text? Data? Voice? Just those items along can provide valuable research for city planning, network designers, anthropologists, and many, many more.
Context matters. Context is made up of all the things going on around you. Mobile is the only mass media that can capture and adapt to context. Location is obvious. Special deals can be offered based on where you are and when you’re there. Brightness, noise levels, direction, proximity, and many other sensors can be employed to create a deeper, richer, more engaging experience on mobile. In fact, it’s the unique combination of context with other existing data that has made many of the most popular apps successful.
Allows Augmented Reality
Largely just beginning to be explored, augmented reality layers data over real world environments.
Layer a picture of a constellation over the stars as you look through your camera lens (utilizing location, direction, and gyroscope). Lay the path to the closest subway station on the ground before you. Get restaurant ratings for the restaurants on the block in front of you. Or cut the perfect slice of pizza.
The printing press is almost 500 years old, recordings over 100, cinema even less, television about 60 years, and even the public web is a little over 15 years old. In all that time, none of the mass media have come close to the capabilities of mobile apps. When designing your app, certainly take a look at the things have been possible before, but in order to make your app unique and useful as a mobile app, take a look at some of the new affordances to see how they might change the way you help your customers reach their goals.