March 16th, 2017

Why Building a Mobile App Is Not Enough

Someone asked me recently whether I worked for a “mobile app shop.” The very question conveys the casual notion that functionality provisioned on a smartphone, tablet, or wearable device is the product of hobbyists who sling code to run on these smaller footprints.

I found myself responding by dissecting the process of conceiving, designing, developing, and instrumenting a modern mobile service, and contrasting that journey with the comfortable model of yesteryear.

The days of repurposing a company’s web site to fit the form factor of a tablet or mobile phone are long gone. We’ve eclipsed the dot-com era whereby every company raced to stand up a web site to serve as the front door to an otherwise brick-and-mortar business.

Companies are now promoting strategies of designing their business operations for a “mobile first” mode of operating. Mobile engagement is no longer a second cousin to other forms of employee, customer or supplier engagement.

There are several remarkable implications of designing your business in a “mobile first” manner, and several of them fly in the face of both traditional development models and the notion of promoting a veneer overlay to an otherwise legacy style of operating. Let me highlight a few of the more striking points. Here are a few reasons as to why you should not merely develop a mobile app.

  • Foremost, companies are building mobile SERVICES, not mobile apps. A service is a much more comprehensive promise to the user – one that carries the virtues of being responsive to the circumstances of the user, aware of history, preferences and situation.
  • A mobile service evolves and transforms with much more fidelity and regularity than an app that may be updated episodically. Built-in analytics sense the needs of the user and provision functionality that reflects that intelligence.
  • The interfaces between we humans and our sources of information are changing rapidly, with many companies focusing on progressive ways of utilizing audio, motion, and eye movement, among other techniques, to import and export information. If you don’t think this changes the expectations of the user experience, you’re missing the plot.
  • App Stores are waning in terms of the preferred distribution channel for mobile services functionality. Companies are growing tired of the confusion, and risks of spoofing, attendant to having their precious brand logged among thousands of others in an undifferentiated manner. Mobile services are tending to be built with, and around, micro-services architectures that rely on an ecosystem of building blocks that inter-operate seamlessly and which avoid the artificial bundling demanded by app stores.
  • As a lot of people have pointed out, it can seem like development communities constantly rediscover lessons from the past. Maybe “micro-services” is just “UNIX philosophy” dressed up for the 21st century. The scope of software development keeps morphing and expanding. When you see trends like ubiquitous mobile, the modern web, Internet of Things, mixing open and closed source, remote development, schemaless databases, augmented reality and deep learning … it could be that by using an open source software stack combined with a microservices architecture, it’s very possible to free data from legacy proprietary systems, moving from a closed, desktop-centric system of operating to a highly expansible, mobile-enabled system of engagement.
  • In a micro-services architecture, complex applications are decomposed into small, modular, decoupled, independent processes. These fine-grained services each perform a single function and all communicate using language-agnostic APIs. Progressive services incorporate operational tools and dashboards to manage highly available global platforms servicing mobile users. Further, interoperability with “brown field” systems and applications is made seamless.

These features epitomize the current state of the art in mobile services design and implementation. Successful practitioners are comfortable with design thinking and systems-oriented approaches to service activation and evolution. They aren’t coders as much as they are gamers in how they approach building a mobile service that will evolve and morph relentlessly.

Today’s critical skills are decidedly holistic in designing the network of modular services that act as a living organism in the ingestion, processing, presentation, and analysis of information on a scale unimaginable during the dot-com era.

If someone tells you that all they need is a mobile app developed, you know they are missing the plot in a world of holistic “mobile first” modes of running their business. A mobile service is a much more ambitious undertaking than achieved by relying on an “app shop.”

Peter Allen

Tags: app development design thinking mobile apps mobile apps development mobile services

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