In my previous article, I promised some pointers about the decision-making process for building an app or not; here they are.
The first thing to know is that a web site and a mobile app are like two ends of a broad spectrum, and one does not need to build an app to serve users coming via mobile. There are a lot of things a mobile optimized site can do, and Progressive Web Apps, as Yves pointed out in his comment to my first article, are challenging the need for an app a little bit every day. A PWA looks like an app but runs on the browser of the device so it is a fast and cheap way to roll out something resembling an app if that is your need.
At the end of the spectrum, you have native development, which consists of building separately for each platform (IOS & Android). It is the most expensive solution both for building and maintaining. Today, with all the alternatives, the “need” to build native apps is really reduced and should be done if you really have the means.
So how do you decide what you really need? The service & advice you get on this stage is much more important than who develops your solution.
However, to give advice, one needs to know your precise requirements as well as the reasons behind these requirements. The problem is that in most briefs, these requirements are not clear at all, let alone the reasons. Before deciding which solution to use and therefore giving you a quote, a contractor should inundate you with questions to clarify objectives and determine required features to attain those objectives. This in turn requires a consulting approach, which I think should be separated from the “development” phase.
To summarize, to assess if you need an app and what tech to use if you do (assuming you don’t have the internal resources to do so), you should allocate a budget for a “discovery” mission which will be focused on understanding your needs and building a requirement specification document with wireframes if possible, as well as advice on which technology to use. With this information at hand, you will be able to get realistic quotes for the “development” phase and be certain that these quotes are comparable to each other in terms of features, technology and scalability. This discovery budget can seem off-putting but be assured that it will save you much more than it costs.
If you can’t separate discovery from development for some reason, just make sure that your contractor asks you plenty of questions before giving you a quote. If he doesn’t, chances are that you will have some unpleasant surprises along the way.