The era of the mobile app is over

“Sorry, thatʼs it for mobile apps. It’ll only last about three more years, or less,” I said to a client who was consulting my company on developing new mobile apps. I didnʼt mean to turn them down on this new business opportunity, nor did I want to cool off their fleeting passion to be part of the heated fad of apps-building.

My only intention was to stop them from spending a fortune on building apps that will not give them any ROI from their very limited marketing budget.

I closed the meeting without asking some key questions: What if your proposed apps have low or even zero download rate? What if the poor user experience results in low retention rate like many, many other apps? What if your app is not ʻcoolʼ for very long and ends up being deleted by users who have every right to not use it?

iOS, Android or Windows?

Compatibility is one of the major issues that has slowed down the global apps business in the last two to three years. You just canʼt build an app for iPhone and then copy and paste to Android or vice versa. Also, you canʼt just hope your Android version will run smoothly on the many, ever-changing mobile devices from Samsung, HTC, Sony Ericsson, and others. Not to mention apps running on the new Windows phones like the Nokia Lumia 900. (Additional note: For an app to deliver satisfactory user interface experience, up to four sets of graphics are required, even within the Android platform.)

Without a clear vision and development roadmap of what an app can be, itʼs time-consuming and costly to update or change something in your mobile apps. Your app agency will need time to rewrite the code in the programme, test and—this is the most time-consuming part—resubmit your apps to the app stores. Maintenance will slow down your marketing initiatives, sales programme and even e-commerce sales results.

Mobile apps offer fantastic cost efficiency to keep marketing materials updated over traditional ink-on-paper, if—and only if—careful planning took place in the beginning of the mobile app development initiative. And this is not something marketers are quite used to just yet.

Technology evolution

With powerful cloud computing, speedy 4G LTE / HSPDA+ networks and HTML5, the user experience will be greatly enhanced in terms of content richness, functionality and interactivity. In fact, these factors mean that web applications will be able to provide interactivity that goes far beyond traditional static experiences. With enhanced performance, compatibility, and—most important to clients—low maintenance and low setup costs, this opens the door to developing application-level websites that perform functions most marketers deem only apps can provide. In turn this means freedom from tedious app store approval.

Three-screen dreams

Most clients have websites, mobile apps, social-media platforms and even TV apps to manage and maintain, and they have experienced the clumsiness and workload of updating every little bit of information across so many platforms.

So far, there is no product out there in the market yet to serve the need of building just one master online platform for all other online platforms (the vaunted three screens: PC, mobile device and TV). However I am sure HTML5, once again, shall overtake mobile apps on the mobile platform.

Samson Tong is regional director of integrated marketing agency Cre8PLUS

This post first appeared on Campaign Asia-Pacific.