There has to be a better way.

I’m tired of talking with customers about the high cost and long cycle time in building native smartphone apps.   I have been helping brand managers unlock the possibilities of how native smartphone applications can build consumer loyalty, target new demographics and create new engagement mechanisms.   They now have a better understanding that success does not mean building one uber-app for their brand that tries to do everything, but instead to focus their brand apps for specific purposes – that big yearly conference, support an innovative new marketing campaign, or product companion app to name a few.  But once they get that quote for $100k+ for that first app, similar quotes for the second and third apps, and then find out the expense to keep them updated and maintained the excitement fades.  And this is for just one platform like the iPhone, what about Android?  Or even Blackberry?

An example of a brand that “gets” mobile apps

Have you seen the US Weekly app on the iPhone?  I have to admit that I love it.  They have done a great job in exploiting the concept of information snacking on Smartphones. This app is fun and engaging during those short downtime intervals during the day.  When we have a few minutes free or any minimal downtime what do we do now?  We hammer away on our Smartphones – it doesn’t matter if we are waiting in line, in between anything like meetings, events, games, or now even during TV commercials.  We are all guilty of it.  Usually we do this under the guise of multitasking, that we are being super productive, especially if it is the company phone right?  No…  in more cases now we hammer away because we are bored or looking for that uplift to keep the day going.  Why do you think Angry Birds has taken over the world?  These are simple, mindless activities that are fun and maybe even addictive?  I have been advocating for brands to exploit info snacking to grow awareness and engagement of their brands.  Ok back to the Us Weekly app that has exploited info snacking well.  I didn’t plan it this way, to be honest I downloaded it for some app research that I do regularly and it hooked me.  I do not think that I am their target demographic either.  I find myself engaging with the app at some point everyday using up a few minutes of my downtime.  They leveraged the iPhone native app UI and the experience is fast and easy to flip through the daily celebrity pics.  Another cool feature of this app is the ability to tap on each picture to read a brief caption since many times I don’t recognize who these celebrities are.  Also, some of their galleries have you take quick polls like who is best dressed, etc. After each vote the app immediately displays the voting results (I vote with the majority 8 out of 10 times!!)  I started with just the pics and I am now finding myself reading the headlines more and more.  They have done a great job with providing short, 4-5 sentence headline stories so that I can get caught up with everything in Hollywood in just a few moments.  Unfortunately I don’t have an iPhone,  I have an iPad. But I have an Android smartphone, so  I went to the Android MarketPlace and downloaded the Us Weekly app expecting the same experience….  How wrong I was!  It was a major disappointment when I saw that it was the Us Weekly mobile website and nothing at all like the true native iPhone app.  Any content that I wanted to view had to be pulled from their website; even a simple navigation back to where I was took a website call and 5 seconds. In addition the stories are much longer and displayed in very small fonts on the Android screen.  Yuck!  They don’t have the photo galleries either.  So I am not using the Android app at all.  Why did they do this?  I am convinced this was not their strategy but instead they blew their entire budget on the iPhone app and didn’t have enough to do it right on the Android.

There is a better way for Wenner Media who publishes Us Weekly as well as their flagship, Rolling Stone magazine.  Smart Online’s Smart Online platform reuses native code and content to rapidly build and deploy cool apps on the leading smartphones.  The platform is designed for non-developer use so that brands like Us Weekly can break away from the reliance on external programmers and their high prices, as well as move the creation of these apps to where it should be – with the subject matter experts.  Wenner Media definitely knows how to develop an engaging mobile app. Now they just need the toolset to expand their reach.

Stay tuned to or @bobdieterle on Twitter for more about this.