Should Australian companies produce iPhone apps?

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The iPhone, alongside the iPod Touch and iPad, is an increasingly popular piece of technology around the world, and in Australia, and in Webdragon's home of Melbourne. One carrier alone is about to sell its one millionth iPhone shortly. One of the foundations of these devices (which all share the same operating system) is the ability for customers to easily purchase and download stand-alone applications, including games, utilities and frivolities.

Since the App Store opened in 2008, tens of thousands of apps have been made available, and have been downloaded millions of times.

The question for businesses is: is it worth building an iPhone app to tap into this market? As always, the short answer is: it depends.

As with all business decisions, especially around digital marketing and information dissemination, the most important factor in making an investment decision is whether you will see a return.

Like any form of digital marketing, developing an iPhone app requires investment, and usually it is an investment that has very little cross-over (cost-wise) with a company's existing web strategy, as iPhone apps are stand-alone, and require completely separate development tools and languages from general websites (mobile or otherwise).

There can be large benefits in having an iPhone app:

  • the sheer prestige of having a presence on a cool platform (the App Store itself)
  • direct sales through the app
  • having a presence on customers' handsets.

In a country with a relatively small, disparate population, such as Australia, there needs to be very broad appeal for a product for it to be worthwhile developing an app specifically for the iPhone. Where only a few thousand customers can be targeted, there needs to be a very large return on each customer before the investment in an application becomes economical. For some companies, even Melbourne companies in sectors from not-for-profit to beauty or wine, the investment is definitely worthwhile.

A major alternative to this is developing a version of your online application that is targeted to mobile devices. Developing a mobile web application has two main advantages:

  • it builds on the code and design that has already been produced for your existing application, so the investment costs are lower
  • it works on multiple devices, such as BlackBerry, Nokia and Android handsets, which are as popular as iPhones if not more, so the reach is greater.

There is no doubt that for a lot of Australian companies, building a mobile-based version of their web applications is important now, and will only become more important in the future. The only questions for businesses are when and how.

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