Mobile platforms

Industry based mobile application development tips and trick

By Jason Tee

TheServerSide.com

Is your organization currently working on some great apps to help you support customers, market your brand, and drive revenue? You're not alone. According to a survey from Mobile Enterprise, businesses are taking mobile development very seriously. External mobilization, particularly B2C, is a hot trend and shows no signs of slowing down. From social interaction and account access to online research and shopping, enterprises are finding more and more ways to meet and exceed their customers' expectations for mobile service. Here's a look at some of the businesses that have lead the way over the past few years. We'll leave out the obvious media, technology, and e-commerce companies and focus on other industry verticals. It's our chance to delve into how the more traditional brick and mortar enterprise world is allowing mobile to change and enhance the way it does business.

If your customers and employees can use the same software and the same devices, you save time and money on development.

Jason Tee, Mobile software architect

Retail

Sometimes, bigger businesses can be more agile than their smaller competitors. Home Depot certainly is. This retail giant proved as much by beating Lowes to the punch in delivering mobility to its customer base. HD came out with both hammers swinging in 2010 with a host of mobile app functions that customers could use right away. One favorite includes the ability to see the layout of any store to find an item without needing the assistance of a rep. The app also offered tools such as material calculators for many common home improvement projects, calipers, nut and bolt finders, how-to videos, store-specific supply lists, online shopping, and much more. Users can even scan an item's barcode to read reviews from other buyers.

What makes HD's case interesting is that they focused on both external and internal mobile. Newly hired associates consult a mobile device to answer your question these days without having to go to a computer terminal or find a more experienced coworker. They can handle a wide variety of POS situations on the go. In a hat tip to BYOD, Lowes was the first to issue iPhones to associates on the floor while HD is still using clunky Motorola devices. But that's probably going to change soon. The Depot is rolling out iPhones to management and will likely trickle this trend down to employees as the contracts and service life of existing floor devices comes to an end.

Lessons:

  1. If your customers and employees can use the same software and the same devices, you save time and money on development.
  2. Enterprise may have been first adopters of mobile tech such as BlackBerry, but they need to start considering consumer-friendly devices for internal deployment as well.

Healthcare

Which hospital do you think has the best mobile app? Cedars-Sinai? The Mayo Clinic? Nope. The Gold Award for Best Mobile Communications from the Healthcare Leadership Awards was given to Hospital for Special Surgery on Long Island. Their app allows patients to research health conditions, locate and learn about affiliated physicians and rehab centers, figure out transportation and parking, and even register for educational programs that can be added to the user's iPhone calendar with one touch. A key function of the app is the ability to contact providers directly from the app.

Lessons:

  1. Think outside the scope of your enterprise when you design your app. What other information and services do customers need to access in conjunction with yours?
  2. Make things easy. Never make an action take two steps when it can be accomplished with just one.

Energy

Everything's bigger and better in Texas – or is it "Everything's more mobile in Texas?" In 2011, TXU Energy became the first energy retailer in the state to offer an iOS app to customers. The company focused its inaugural efforts on going mobile with the parts of their website that customers used most often. That started out with prosaic activities like paying bills. After the launch, they added sexier functions such as remote control of the Brighten℠ iThermostat. The iPhone app was quickly followed with an Android version and a mobile website to capture the remainder of the market with a less device-specific offering.

Lessons:

  1. Deploy something simple first to work out interface kinks and gain a reputation for reliability. Then, you can start wowing your customers with the full functionality of mobile.
  2. HTML5 is your friend if your mobile strategy needs to encompass web development.

Travel

Surprisingly, Southwest Airlines is ranked as having the best mobile app in the travel industry (with Choice Hotels and Marriott holding the next two spots). The SWA app allows travelers to access limited-time-only air fare deals, check flight status, change reservations, add EarlyBird Check-In, and access their awards accounts. The article linked above from Skift points out that mobile is becoming the method of choice for online interactions even when users are at home with their laptop or PC. They reach for the iPhone or Android because it's more convenient – even though it's not the optimal screen. It also reveals why travel agency sites like Expedia don't get the top spot for customer satisfaction: mobile applications are better when they are simple and focus on only a few specific use cases.

Lessons:

  1. You can still dominate your industry in the mobile app arena even if you are a traditional enterprise competing with Internet-based service providers.
  2. Put mobile first – your customers do.

From healthcare to retail, or travel to the energy sector, each industry segment has a unique set of criteria that can make or break a mobile application. To be successful in the mobile market, each sector must know the needs of their market, and design their mobile applications appropriately.

What segment are you in, and what are the most important factors that go into your mobile applications? Let us know.

16 Sep 2013

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