Everyone’s looking for a competitive edge both personally and professionally. Today, in countless cases, that edge comes in the form of a mobile app for iPad or iPhone and the use cases are, in many instances, fluid between the once-distinct business and personal realms of our lives. App developers don’t need to set out targeting users who self-define as “prosumers”, since many popular apps are adopted for personal convenience and are so relevant that they become necessities professionally as well.
I have several “prosumer” apps on my own iPhone that I downloaded to make my life easier, period. I didn’t worry about whether they were “company-approved,” since they lend sanity to processes for me. Some of my favorites include:
- Expensify: How often do you burn hours at work doing expense reports (taping receipts to pieces of paper so the scanner doesn’t jam, sending them to finance…)? This app can do everything from mileage tracking to receipt scanning and untangles the hairball of expenses for me.
- CardMunch: As consumers, we’re already trained to take pictures of items we don’t want to forget and with smart phones that’s become even easier. Applying that same, everyday practice to the business environment (this app allows you to import contact info by taking photos of business cards) helps me do my job better.
- Taxi Magic: Cab dispatching is a long broken system. Taxi Magic automates the process. Linked directly into dispatch systems, customers can now book a cab, track its location, pay for it with a card and get an e-receipt. Like Uber for the everyman, Taxi Magic can get you to a date or a business meeting regardless of which you originally downloaded it for.
So how can you make a mobile app that becomes a part of users’ everyday work/life flow? These five tips are what I think of before biting into a new app:
- Design with a consumer-centric user interface/experience. Not only will an old “desktop” solution not get you very far with the venture capital community, but it also won’t appeal to the increasingly mobile workforce. Rightly or wrongly, meeting the need for an elegant, familiar look and feel with the maximum speed of mobile apps today is how to ensure prosumer adoption from the start.
- Leverage the cloud: Cloud technologies are a mobile enabler. They allow you turn a solution that was once simply mobile into a tool that is social, local, and mobile all at once. These apps can push and pull data and business intelligence in order to do work for prosumers in the background.
- Tap into trusted back end technologies. Many enterprises are trying to buy their way into consumerization and are failing. Put a pretty face on a back end that the enterprise already knows and trusts (Salesforce.com, for example) and you’ll see the bottom-up adoption move up the chain a lot faster.
- Keep apps simple. Sticking to doing a few things better than the rest (especially given limited real estate on screens) will get you much further with investors and with prosumers. It can be tempting to add more capabilities, but get the adoption first and then listen to your user base’s needs. You’ll be following a smarter development pipeline than you initially devised.
- Ask yourself, “who?” Ted Schadler from Forrester noted, the three main categories for tablet usage in the enterprise are salespeople, executives, and employees’ whose jobs are done on their feet (he notes warehouse managers and retail clerks specifically). If you can’t think of a distinct “who” that would use your app, then stop immediately and re-evaluate a need you can meet. Prosumers may be quick to download, but they can also be quick to delete if your solution isn’t pulling its weight in their lives.
Chris O’Connor is cofounder and CEO of iPhone enterprise app maker Taptera. He has 15 years’ experience bringing innovative IT solutions to Fortune 500 companies.