Apps are the buzz of the digital industry, fighting tooth and nail with “the cloud” for the attentions of developers and investors alike. There's good reason for the attention; there's a lot of money to be made – as has been proven by “Angry Birds” developer, Rovio – and there's plenty of room for innovation. The potential for making an impact in a thriving and infantile industry seems to be limitless... but are app creators missing a trick?
While the innovations found in some of the more original apps on the market take advantage of existing ecosystems, the majority of apps function in a standalone capacity – a real misstep for app makers. The internet has enabled integrated experiences across a number of mediums and channels, and apps are a big part of that. Publishers should be looking to link apps to existing functionality and communication channels for a comprehensive experience.
It's about understanding how an existing ecosystem's offering can benefit an app – and if everything else a publisher is doing is on target, that shouldn't be difficult. Integration affords publishers the ability to create content rich experiences without explicitly producing platform specific content. Of course, content should never be presented the same on every platform, but that's the reason integration should be an intention from the start, instead of an afterthought.
There are a host of common ailments: opening a browser window instead of reformatting for smaller screens, including links to videos that are dysfunctional on certain platforms, functions that force PC use when it’s unnecessary (e.g. for service sign-up). This sort of integration is lazy and will be spotted a mile off as a poor excuse for real integration. It's better to cut resources off than to enable them and disappoint on execution.
Social media is also often guilty for betraying poor execution. With platforms like Android and iOS offering rich social experiences straight out of the box, there's a need to make sure an app’s use of social media is at least as rewarding as the native experience. Will users want to use an app to take pictures and upload to Flickr, or is the native app more usable? If it is more attractive to use the native app, how can an app make it a richer experience?
Tying apps together – whether on mobile, web or social media – can also help to reduce the learning curve when transitioning between platforms. Is the intuitive nature of an iOS app reflected in the web app? Is the depth available in the web app still available in the iOS iteration? Is it as easy to share an experience in the mobile web interface as with the Facebook app? All of these are questions publishers should be asking.
What’s the point? Stickiness. An enveloping and empowering ecosystem is reward enough of itself to maintain the attention and affection of users. It’s the reason Apple develops fervent advocates; the reason phrases like “once you go Mac, you never go back” exist.