In a recent blog called The Lies, Damn Lies & “Statistics” of Mobile Commerce, I focused on exposing one of the industry’s dirty secrets about the current state of mobile commerce and the types of conclusions that could reasonably be made so early in the transition from feature phones to smart phones and tablets worldwide. Now I turn my attention to another popular myth about the development and publication of mobile applications: the delusion of “write once, run everywhere” mobile applications and the fallacy of their existence.
The old adage that “there ain’t no free lunch” has never been more applicable than it is to mobile applications. There are a lot of other analogies that likely apply as well from “you get what you pay for” to “if it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is.” I could likely go on for days with such analogies, but I raise them all today to focus on the importance of understanding that “write once, run everywhere” approaches to mobile simply don’t work. At all. They are marketing “FUD” and will fail you miserably if you’re attempting to build any mobile application of substance to run a real business through this new form of digital distribution on the highest value touch point between your brand and your consumers.
The premise of “write once, run everywhere” mobile applications is extremely alluring, almost to the point of being mesmerizing. After all, it very much feels like a “silver bullet” or “panacea” in which you get the best of all possible worlds … one investment for complete consumer coverage across all potential platform permutations … anytime and anywhere. Indeed. Unfortunately, and in order to work properly, the technology underlying “write once, run everywhere” tools has to be “dumb downed” to the least common denominator of the worst possible platform in order to check the box that all are actually covered. As a result, and even when they technologically function according to the cross platform marketing pitch, they ultimately become average everywhere and exceptional absolutely nowhere. They can handle the simplistic, but completely choke on the challenging. They can also excel at the trivial, but then gag on the useful (let alone the complex). For consumers, unfortunately, this ensures a miserable user experience across a vast array of platforms and the end result is quite predictable … dissatisfaction, frustration, deletion, good riddance and good-bye. Forever.
More than a decade ago, Microsoft published FrontPage as a “what you see is what you get” development tool for those wanting to create web pages and web sites without having specific programming expertise in HTML. While the software package functionally worked, it became evident extremely quickly that nobody in the real world would ever try running a real business with web templates and tool sets whose output was commensurate with the underlying level of investment put in to making them. In the mobile world, the equivalent versions of FrontPage for apps now include products from @adobe, @mobileroadie, @appcelerator and @appmakr amongst others. In each of these cases, there are scores of applications that have been automated and built for mobile via wizards and templates … including several for very large international brands. However, if you go to review App Store rankings for most of these, they are challenged at best and horrific at worst, with many representing some of the poorest rated applications on Earth. Why? Because automated, template-based apps simply don’t create the engagement or user experience needed to drive brand loyalty and commitment based on the underlying utility and value expectations of application users. Period.
App quantity should never be confused with app quality and the lack of meaningful, ongoing engagement between your brand and your consumer base through these types of tools is a risk simply not worth taking. In fact, your brand would be exponentially better off doing absolutely nothing on mobile if the alternative was to simply check the box and risk offending your anytime, anywhere mobile audience. Using such tools to get on to unproven and unused platforms is not a marketing race that you want to win. Instead, focus on doing what you’re planning to do exceptionally well for the relevant platforms, avoid automated templates throughout and live by a Missouri-like “show me” attitude for any non-mainstream platforms.
Otherwise, you will sacrifice delighted application users on the platforms that matter in lieu of hitting the mark for audiences that are the current equivalent of “if a tree falls in the forest and there’s nobody there to hear it, does it make a sound?”
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