17 May 2012

Smart phone apps are the hot new trend economic developers shouldn’t follow

Anatalio Ubalde is an economic developer, entrepreneur, and inventor. He works with organizations throughout the nation to foster enhanced economic development strategies using Internet technology. His work in geographic information systems, economic development and the Internet has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg BusinessWeek, Forbes, Fortune, The New York Times, TechCrunch, and Inc. In 2009 he was named a Fellow Member of the International Economic Development Council for achieving exceptional stature in the field of economic development.

Apps for local economic development are likely going to fail in the near future and be a waste of money for most EDOs. Think about the apps that are on your smart phone. They are all apps that you use frequently like maps/GPS, movie times, restaurant reviews, and social media. People aren't going to take the time to download and install apps for things they need to solve once or use infrequently, like a EDO app.

Most businesses, residents, and corporate real estate pros don't have enough of a need for a constant, mobile relationship to a local EDO to want to take up the app space on their smart phone. Also, it takes time and risk to install an app on your phone. Some apps have caused their users problems so people are reluctant to add apps they don't think they will use much or that they don't trust.

One of the main reasons for having an app is to provide a user experience that can't be easily replicated using a browser. What services are EDOs providing that can't be provided through a smart phone browser? I can't think of any. But if you have ideas I welcome them.

The better opportunity for local EDOs is making their content and services available in a mobile-friendly way. People want information from EDOs and getting it through a phone's browser is easy and doesn't require an app installation. The trend is clear that more people will get information on phones and tablets, so taking information from an EDO website and making it easily accessible through a smart phone makes a lot of sense.

GIS Planning is doing this ourselves. Check out http://www.OKCedis.com. If you click on this link from your computer you will get a completely different interface than if you click on it from your smart phone. Both experiences provide the same powerful features, but the mobile version is optimized for phones.

For EDOs targeting site selectors, a site selector at a conference I attended said it well, "There are hundreds of economic development organizations and I'm not going to download hundreds of your different apps for my phone when I may only need information from you for short periods of time and then not work with you again for years."

Of course there will be EDOs that create apps. These EDOs will do it because it’s trendy and it will make them feel cool and innovative, even if these apps don’t achieve strategic objectives. And a consultant selling these apps will emerge to tell EDOs how they are the must-have new marketing strategy and get some EDOs to believe their propaganda. But it doesn’t mean that people will use the apps.


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