Mobile apps aren’t a new thing at all by way of definition, albeit what we consider a mobile app in 2015 is nothing like its predecessors. The Palm PDA, the TREO, the Blackberry, all mobile devices of the early-1990s that can lay stakes as the pioneers of the mobile app. Their features were indeed limited by today’s standards; compiled applications that were fully contained on the device with no need to communicate to a host, or severely limited due to pre-GSM data networks.
As cellular data networks evolved into GSM (2G, 3G, 4G), the availability and bandwidth to stream data across the cellular network has continued to explode. Improved cell coverage and the ubiquity of Wi-Fi network availability nearly everywhere now, has transformed mobile devices that were primary telephones with some limited application-type features into powerful applications devices that we sometimes use as a phone or not as a phone at all, in the case of modern day tablets.
The concept of an app store is no different. It’s not a new idea that just came about in recent years. The first app store concept goes back to the early ’90s, though the demand for mobile apps really didn’t start gaining mainstream traction until Apple launched (and trademarked) its App Store™ in 2008 for the iOS operating system. And not unlike Kleenex, App Store has become the common street name for app repositories provided by any entity whether Apple, Google, Microsoft or Amazon to name a few.
Businesses searched up and down for ways to offer a consumer focused app, and the “must-have app” for customers began rolling out everywhere—doesn’t matter what it does, but a “must-have app.” No one really knew where it was headed, but a “must-have app.” In the convenience store channel, retailers raced to find a way to deliver a mobile app, but didn’t know what to build. Gamification became the perceived best way to better communicate with consumers, falling flat. There becomes a perceived belief that everyone is building a consumer-facing mobile app for their business, but the reality is that most are talking but few are taking action.
Fast forward to 2015, and across the U.S. we now have what I would consider a solid seven years of mobile devices, mobile applications and real consumer reaction experiences to mobile applications. I differentiate U.S. because not everyone on the planet is experiencing the same results. Whether it’s cultural, technology or the general business environment, the needs and results in the U.S. are dramatically different than other regions of the world. We are learning that one size app does not fit all users, and that the user experience requirements vary drastically based on the specific use case. If you think any app will do, your app may likely end up amongst the two-thirds of 2+ million mobile apps in the iOS and Android app stores that never see a single download.
Organizations building out a mobile app(s) strategy and platform need an easy button for managing the deployment of their mobile-enabled solutions. They need ways to determine which user personas have access to what features and functions of the app, better controlling access to those features and functions and individualizing the user experience based on who they are. Mobile applications portfolios as they exist today are by no means comprehensive in terms of what will be required tomorrow, and the strategy must provide for a means to expand the offering over time.
Gone are the days of building web sites and mobile apps specific to each web browser type and version or desktop resolution, mobile phone screen size or mobile iOS version. Developers today have healthy toolsets to serve all of these needs with a single code base. So providing separate and distinct experiences for a traditional desktop web browser, a phone or a tablet is trending toward all of these audiences being served by a one comprehensive code base, whether you are sitting at your desk behind a PC or Mac, using your Android or iOS smartphone, your iPad, you name it.
Navigating the fluctuating mobile landscape can be tricky at best. Anticipating the new uses, expanded technologies and content enrichment in the near future can be overwhelming. Convenience store retailers and fuel marketers will need to consider their mobile app opportunities—and how they can grow and evolve to keep up with their customers’ preferences and emerging trends over time. In order to retain consumer loyalty, your store needs to be in the palm of their hand.