Over the past year I’ve been able to speak to people in all sorts of places about the app phenomenon, and how existing businesses can take advantage of the current and future waves of smart devices.

I’ve written about this in the past, but here’s the current take, distilled down into seven easy to consume points – how an app can provide a better experience to the end customer than a website alone can offer…

1. Providing me a service whenever, wherever

Many of us have devices upon our person every waking minute (and according to a survey I saw a few months back, 34% of us admit to using smartphones in the bathroom), they still aren’t necessarily connected devices at all times. A well-designed native app gives the potential to access services whenever we might need them, even if a network connection isn’t available. Think of email clients as the benchmark here.

But more importantly, apps give the ability for your services to be tailored to your customers’ needs contextually of how they are likely to be accessing it depending on the device they are using. Responsive design tailors how content is presented depending on device size and function. But truly contextual design would think about the functions that a customer might want in the context of the device they are using, and a native app can make that really happen.

2. Making my device sing

The first app I can ever remember seeing was the Carling iPint app – a piece of novelty that simulated a pint of beer. But it was the first time that I’d ever really seen a piece of software being able to react to device movement (you picked it up, tilted it and the beer was “drunk”). Native apps give the ability to really take advantage of the amazing hardware that is packed into phones and tablets these days in ways that a web browser just can’t.

Movement, positioning, cameras, graphics hardware, sound around you… the possibilities to exploit all of this to full advantage is only really possible in an app, and making my device do wonderful things makes it more valuable to me (or just, in the iPint case, can make me smile)…

3. Allowing me to make payments easily (and with trust)

Apps tie into payment mechanisms to allow me to easily transact with a supplier without having the hassle and trust issues of sharing payment details with unknown (or loosely known) third parties. This makes it possible to do things that wouldn’t have been effective before, particularly with small transaction values for content. In-app or app marketplace purchasing might open up new brand merchandising opportunities… for example, we’ve been working with the British Library on an project called eBook Treasures which makes facsimiles of beautiful illustrated manuscripts available for small charges to anyone with the app.

4. Making things easier because of where I am

Whilst it’s certainly possible now to find out someone’s location from code within a web browser, it tends to be a one-shot exercise and involves users having to give permission to the website to do so. Within an app, though, location can be constant, much more precise and seemless. Take, for example, Nokia’s Here Transit which, at the press of a button, can show you where the nearest bus and train stops are and when the next services depart. Which is a whole lot easier in the context of how you are likely to be using that app.

5. Whispering in my ear

For some time now the traditional world of marketing has been typified as “interruption” marketing; it’s been about intruding into people’s lives, whether in the form of an advert, a cold call, a piece of direct mail and so on. Those interruptive approaches, whilst maybe more finely tuned through data analysis to make advertising more appropriate to an individual, have been brought into the digital realm.

Apps give the potential for less intrusive ways of interacting with customers and prospective customers, whether through notifications or functions like live tiles in Windows, or through building into the app new methods to communicate.

6. Giving me undivided attention

In the cluttered world of the PC desktop, windows and buttons and menus compete for my attention. In the world of apps we have a new convention that an app takes over the entire screen of the device, giving the customer complete attention (and, it must be remembered, also demanding their complete attention).

7. Giving me gifts

The psychology surrounding the giving of gifts is very interesting. Much psychological research has shown that giving gifts ties giver and recipient into a relationship of reciprocity – in short, if I give you something, you feel indebted subconsciously and are likely to return the favour. Read anything about reciprocity and debates about corporate entertainment and inducement takes on a whole new perspective! But from a customer perspective, it’s nice to receive things that are of value to us.

An app is something that is tangible enough to form the basis of a gift in reciprocity terms in a way that a website just can’t. Japanese clothing manufacturer Uniqlo have produced an interesting app in this regard – Wake Up; an alarm clock app that is nicely built, has some interesting functionality (it wakes you up by telling you the day’s weather), and reinforces their design aesthetic. It’s a useful gift – and will make their customers feel better towards the brand as a return on being given something useful for their smartphone.

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