First Generation: Checking the Box

The first generation of mobile application technology includes the first apps you saw on the market about five years ago. We call those “checking the box” mobile apps.

Somebody in the company said, “We need a mobile app.” Everybody else said, “Ugh, what are they thinking? We don’t need an app right now. We’ve got a great website.” But someone of influence got the inkling and wanted to check the box. That is what the first generation of mobile apps looked like.

Failed Attempts: IKEA

Somebody on the executive team said, “We need to build a mobile app,” and instead of building an experience that was awesome and interactive for customers when they came into the store, Ikea decided to just take their catalog in catalog format with pages and stick it in a mobile app. On top of that, they used the same interface for both iOS and Android –  two very different platforms. And if you know any Android users, they hate it when their apps look like iOS apps. And vice versa. This is a “check the box” app. They want to have an app for the store. It doesn’t really do anything functional. You can’t really shop in a catalog that literally shows the full PDF of a catalog. It’s not very useful for anyone.

Failed Attempts: Gas Stations

Customers were encouraged to download an app from their favorite gas station. You download the app and the only thing it does is tell you where all the gas stations are. Apps like this prompt the question, “Why do I have to download an app just to find out there’s a gas station around the corner from me? Can’t I just search online?” That was the epitome of a check the box app. There was no strategic approach and no real idea other than, “We need to have our brand in the app store.” So we’re just going to check the box anyway.

The first generation of check the box apps failed because businesses hired developers who lived in their parent’s basement getting paid with pizzas. You can’t give someone enough pizzas in the world to build an awesome app like Buzzfeed, which was named the top app of 2014. There’s no strategy in working with somebody who doesn’t have your organization’s long-term goals in mind. They’re just looking to make a buck or two or snag a pizza.

Companies were spending between $25k-$50k to build a check the box app. They must have been asking themselves was it worth it? Organizations spent upwards of $50k on a single project. In Ikea’s case, a year later they threw the whole catalog app out and revamped the entire Ikea mobile experience because it just wasn’t where it needed to be.

Second Generation: Utility Apps

A few years later organizations realized they could create useful utility apps. The first apps in this generation were usually grocery store apps. Grocers “checked the box” but they also went a step further. Customers could now make grocery lists through grocers’ apps. That’s utility. The ability to make a list was a useful nugget in the app that made customers’ lives a little better.

From an enterprise standpoint, companies were just starting to build sales apps. They were one-off apps that contained anything and everything the company sold. The problem once again was lack of strategy. One year later, the products changed and the app had no concept of changing sales environments and updated product lines. Companies weren’t future proofing their investments by creating utility apps with an expiration date.

The real problem that enterprises face today is increasingly complex ecosystems with several backend online resources like Microsoft Dynamics, NetSuite, and Salesforce. How do you tie all this together as a company?

Third Generation: Platform First

This is where the next generation of apps comes into play. More and more companies are moving into a platform first strategic mode.

One-off apps will eventually be replaced by something that’s future-proof. Something that has a strategy and roadmap that can evolve and change to different needs as the mobile landscape changes.

Winning Attempt: Uber

Uber recently launched in Fargo and is a perfect example of what a long-term mobile strategy looks like. Uber raised almost $6 billion in ten rounds of funding to build their company. That’s ridiculous. Who’s going to build a platform for $6 billion? Not all that cash is going towards building their mobile platform obviously, but there are some experts who estimate the Uber platform cost $1-$1.5 million to build and iterate into what it is today.

Why? For the two pieces of version one, they needed an app for the consumer and an app for the driver. That shouldn’t have cost $1 million, right? The genius behind their development is now, with the flick of a button, they can turn their taxi service into an ice cream delivery service. They made the original platform flexible. For example, they were delivering kittens in San Francisco in May 2015. They built a platform that has the ability to be flexible and adapt as needs change. Ice cream may not be a need, but Uber is talking about taking over what a service like UPS does today — delivering packages around town. The million dollar investment didn’t go to waste because it started to help Uber grow and evolve their architecture of the platform.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column_inner][vc_column_inner width=”1/3″][image_with_animation image_url=”5423″ animation=”Fade In” img_link_target=”_self”][/vc_column_inner][/vc_row_inner][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][image_with_animation image_url=”5424″ animation=”Fade In” img_link_target=”_self”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_column_text]

So, What is a Platform?

Organizations couldn’t develop a platform for anything less than a million dollars a few years ago. It was very difficult to create a platform framework like Uber had. You had to invest a lot of time and money. But then certain web services came along.

Simply put, a platform is the backend system that controls your app. Web services power a platform’s backend system. Web services include Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure, Linode, and some of Google’s cloud which is what most of your current technology infrastructure is built on.

Uber’s platform approach built features around what the app was doing. They didn’t build the features in the app itself that went out in the store. They built features on their web service platform so that as Uber’s app needed to evolve, they could continue to utilize the same feature sets. Ultimately they developed two apps – the customer-facing app and the taxi app. Uber’s technology employs standard communication back to their web services to pull information from the same place.

Here is where your API is really important. API stands for application programming interface. It’s a concept of standardizing the communication your applications use to communicate into the platform you built for your company. When a company wants to build an iOS app for their sales team, they might want their website to pull the same information from sales materials they are currently using.

If you’re using the same communication systems, it makes the process much easier. You don’t have to recreate the wheel. That’s why the API is important. That’s why the web services themselves are important.

We saw that enterprises have all these different systems but no ecosystem. The systems don’t talk to each other. In fact, some systems are built as patches for other systems. When you take a platform approach to mobile, you can tie those systems together under one roof. We’ve learned that through one single cloud layer (web services) we can tie right back into something like Salesforce and pull from their communication tool. The Salesforce API can pull information into one place. That means if you had six different mobile apps on the app stores they could all seamlessly communicate and integrate.

By spending $75k-150k you can create a platform that will help future proof your company.

So you start thinking, “What if different groups in our organization need to use the same features for another app that we didn’t think about the first time?” With a platform, you can allow for that to happen. It allows for users to be managed and features to grow.

Whether you’re trying to build a product like Uber or you’re building an enterprise wide tool that’s enabling mobile within your company, a platform first approach is probably the one answer that’s worth it today. Three years ago it might have been a different answer but today the platform first approach is a solid investment.


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