Cost-Effective Mobile App Deployment

By Sue Poremba

Sue Poremba is a freelance writer focusing primarily on security and technology issues and occasionally blogs for Rackspace Hosting.

IT managers have embraced mobile app deployment in the enterprise space. According to a survey sponsored by Sybase and released in January 2012, 90 percent of IT managers said they were planning to deploy new mobile apps this year. The primary reason? To save money.

However, while the mobile app deployment looks like a money-saver on the front end, there are often post-deployment expenses later forgotten during the initial app development. The trick, then, is to come up with a mobile app deployment that will provide a benefit, not cost, the company over the long-run.

Luke Galea, vice-president of mobile development at Avid Life Media, which runs a number of well-known dating sites, says that “if you already have a web infrastructure, deployment is as simple as writing an API and making it available to your mobile apps.” Although, he explained: “The real cost is development and ongoing maintenance. In theory, one needs to develop and support (at the very least) desktop web browsers, mobile web browsers, Android native apps and iOS native apps. There is significant cost in adding a new feature to at least 4 codebases and testing each on a plethora of devices.”

The trend towards using Javascript, HTML5 and responsive design to develop a single code base that works across all platforms is one way IT departments can keep costs down in a mobile app deployment. “Costs can be really cut down by developing a single application that relies on a single server-side API, but adapts to each device,” Galea said.

Part of a cost-efficient mobile app deployment will consider the limitations of the app. For example, Galea pointed out, not all device features are available to web technology and this can drive up costs. “Traditionally, Apple devices haven’t been capable of uploading photos from a mobile web app. This ability has just been introduced in IOS 6, but it’s indicative of general trend where features that are available in native apps slowly become available to mobile app developers,” he said.

Vin Framularo with MEA Mobile said the features chosen for the app can drive up costs, which is why he works closely with clients to provide a great app with the desired features within an agreed budget.

“Also if cost effectiveness is important we will try to use ‘built in’ mechanisms or UI, rather than custom views,” Framularo added. “If the plan is to develop an Android and iPhone/iPad app we can use cross platforms like HTML5 to provide a common base which will be customized for each platform.”

There are three things to consider when developing and deploying mobile apps that benefit, not cost, the company, according to Ben Piper, president of Ben Piper Consulting and author of the “CloudSize Utilities” iPhone app:

1. Decide in advance whether the app will be free, ad supported or offered for a fee. Making this decision after the fact will require additional development time and cost.

2. The app must provide a clear benefit for the user. Don’t develop a mobile app strictly for promotional or self-aggrandizing purposes.

3. Speed is key. If your company has a great idea for an app, it is only a matter of time before someone else has too. You want to get there first. Make sure your developers do not try to achieve perfection with the first release. Bug fixes and minor modifications can be made later. As long as the app provides a benefit to the user, he or she will forgive minor flaws.

According to Framularo, a typical custom app can cost upwards of $15,000 to develop. Essentially, if IT departments can keep the scope of work in check and work closely with the developers in early stages to carefully define the requirements, as well as using the available tools in the operating system rather than creating custom views, mobile app deployment can remain cost effective.

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