Build a Mobile App Consumers Will Love

NEW YORK ( MainStreet) -- If it hasn't already done so, Apple's ( AAPL) iPad 3 should have small-business owners rethinking how they run their businesses to incorporate mobile technology.

Apple is expected to announce its new iPad on Wednesday. With the revealing of what features the tablet will add, now may be the time for business owners to consider launching their own mobile app.
With the imminent revealing of the iPad3, it may be time for business owners to consider launching their own mobile app.

Phil Rampulla, founder of The Material Group, shares features that make for a good app and how to do it without spending a ton of money.

How can you tell a good app from a bad one?

Rampulla: Whether it be apps or social media or rich media, the first thing we always recommend is do the gut check. Make sure that you should be there -- you should have an app.

Second, what is it the app is going to do? Functionality needs to be of the utmost importance, and how is this app going to make the user's life better? Consumers will embrace the brand, but it has to do something for them.

For example, an auto insurance company. How do I sell my auto insurance? It might not be that the app itself sells more auto insurance but provides better driving instructions or is a full tool that goes along with their auto insurance. It's those kinds of things that help customers embrace the brand and have these tools at their disposal.

What are some good examples of apps?

Rampulla: Good apps fully embrace using those tools as devices.

Lose It: It is really well done and actually motivates you and encourages you to eat healthier by educating you on food.

Mint.com: You plug in all of your financial data and it identifies better opportunities for you.

Those are very tool-based. From a production value,

Nike ( NKE) did a fitness training app for women -- a mobile training coach. The interface design, the overall technology behind the app is pretty high-end. It offers different workout routines and how to do them. It's really informative.

Where would a small business begin the process of creating an app for their company?

Rampulla: The best place to start is sourcing mobile development experts. You want to look for someone who can provide a bunch of different aspects o the project. There are a lot of mobile development shops that actually have off-the-shelf programs they built once and just put new skin on. You want to avoid those. The development firm should be somewhat flexible and really create custom applications. That requires a little bit of education on developing for mobile. While you're sourcing mobile firms, have them educate you on the process -- that should be their pitch.

It's really easy to tell the difference between those that will be a partner with you rather than a software solution, and that's the key difference -- you want a partner.

Is it expensive?

Rampulla: It all depends on the idea. It's not much different than creating a Web site, but it's a hell of a lot cheaper than creating a broadcast commercial and you will reach a whole lot more people. The range can be from $10,000 to $400,000.

What are some tips to keep in mind?

Rampulla: What people should do, especially when they're starting, is keep the idea fairly small. You want to be able to get it out quickly, you want to be able to test the waters quickly, you don't want to belabor the process. You want to build and evolve the platform over time, but get something out there that can be embraced by the public. And you don't want to spend a ton of money on your first shot out of the gate.

Make sure that app developers include analytics. That should also be part of your selection process and part of your plan -- to be able to pull up reports and know data on everything that is interesting, such as error messages, geo-location times, repeat customers. Anything you can think of, you can slice the data any which way you want, and a good partner should be able to serve up all that information.

That data is powerful. It will lead to better and smarter applications that you will develop in the future and new opportunities.

How do you decide if it's a free or paid app?

Rampulla: It depends on what you're offering and the mission of the app. If I'm a big brand and this is my first play out there and it's simply more for brand awareness, I would skew more toward the free. If you change the way people interact with the service, maybe the paid message is a way to go out there.

What are some must-haves in an app?

Rampulla: Again it has to do something for me, it has to be a functioning piece. And whether that is providing entertainment or casual gaming or social connections, that can be huge, but the one-shot answer is it has to be able to provide very simple and easy-to-use functionality.

If you think about some of the most successful ones, you open the app and you're within two taps or swipes to completing a task.

-- Written by Laurie Kulikowski in New York.

To contact Laurie Kulikowski, send an email to: Laurie.Kulikowski@thestreet.com.

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