#ProductDevelopment

A Framework for Mobile Product Strategy and Development

Ali Hafizji
August 5, 2021

The smartphone has revolutionized the way users consume content and interact with the services. The question as to whether a business using technology as a means to reach users should have a presence on a mobile phone is no longer relevant. The answer is a definite yes.

Wednesday has been building mobile applications for a decade. We often get asked the same questions - should we build a mobile-only product? What framework should we use to build our mobile app? Should we create a universal style guide?

Note: This article is intended for product managers and tech leads. Their decisions have a big impact on business strategy and product development. This article will help create a framework to choose the strategy for the business.

Do you even need an app?

Let's think about this for a second. In 2016 Tim Cook announced that the app store had over 2 million apps which in its previous year was at 1.5 million. Fast forward to 2020 with a compounded growth rate of ~10% we are around the 3 million mark. With a similar number on the Android PlayStore.

To expect a user to find your app, select install, then enter a password, wait, and then wait some more for the app to start is madness. Attention spans are reducing by the day and people want to use the product this instant.

But everyone else has an app why shouldn't we?

As product managers and tech leads your decisions could be biased. What are competitors doing? What product strategies have worked in the past? These experiences influence your decision. Don't get me wrong, experience is good. When you pick a strategy it pays to know what the potential pitfalls are so you can avoid them. But the question is what product strategy to pick?

A systematic approach to estimating the strengths and weaknesses of each strategy by measuring the underlying profitability can help. The best way to do this is a cost benefit analysis (CBA). Let's consider the following scenario:

X is a product manager at a large insurance company. She is tasked to reduce the number of  enquiries about premium dues dates.

There are many other product strategies, indirect/intangible costs, and benefits that should be considered. Also while doing the exercise try and assign a currency value to each benefit and cost. If you look at the above the obvious answer would be to build the WhatsApp chatbot. This only happens when the product lead takes an unbiased view and explores alternatives to making an app.

We still want to build an app. Now what?

The product team has decided, and all stakeholders have agreed. The verdict is out, we're building a mobile app. YAY! As a tech lead the decision on what product development strategy to pick is now in your hands. Should you build separate native apps for iOS and Android? Or build hybrid applications using frameworks like React Native and Flutter? Or build a Progressive Web Application? You need a framework to help you decide.

Note: if you're new to a team and aren't aware of their strengths and weaknesses don't use this. Seek the help of another lead who has worked with the team before. There are a lot of intangibles that you need answers to such as how quickly can your team learn a new programming language? Don't try and force an approach down your team without understanding how much change is okay.

There are 4 product development strategies:

  • Native iOS & Android Application
  • React Native Application
  • Flutter Application
  • Progressive Web Application

Things to keep in mind while traversing the flowchart

  1. Is the product the mobile app?
  2. Before saying yes here take a step back and ask the product manager--would the business survive if we don't build an app? If the answer is yes then the product is not the mobile app. For e.g. if you're working for a bank and are tasked to build their mobile application the product is a loan.
  3. Does the application only show data retrieved from the server?
  4. Think about the different screens the user will interact with. Are all the interactions confined to viewing and editing data?
  5. Does the app need to use hardware features?
  6. Payments, Augmented reality, Machine learnings libraries are all native features that are best used using the Apple or Android SDK.
  7. Libraries or plugins available for the device features you need?
  8. Look for libraries that you can use to build features. This can be as simple as looking for an image picker library that allows users to pick an image from their gallery. With React Native the universe of libraries is big but there are version compatibility issues.

Summary

Digital transformation is a never-ending journey. Product managers need to keep up with consumption trends to provide users with value. Chatbots and super apps are gaining more popularity and users go to them for everything they need. Maybe a product strategy would be to partner with them? What ever the case take a decision only when you're aware of all possible strategies.

Schedule a meeting with Wednesday. Tell us about your product development journey and let's figure out a way to work together.
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