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Savvy entrepreneurs, businesses and marketers know that they need a mobile presence Ė- either via a mobile site, mobile advertisement or mobile app Ė- in order to capture the ever expanding and on-the-go mobile audience.

But with so many different smartphone operating systems, it can be difficult to know where to begin with the app development process. The good news is that there are now tools that can take the burden of development off your team and make app development easy, affordable and multi-platform ó enabling you to build a single app across multiple devices to reach as many consumers as possible.

If you donít have a mobile presence yet, you need to get one quickly. If you arenít tech-savvy and donít have deep pockets to hire a mobile developer, start here with these five basic rules for business mobile app development.

1. Tap in to the New Tools

Take advantage of new tools that eliminate the pain and expense typically associated with app development. App development has, until recently, required custom development knowledge for each platform. It is time consuming to learn the coding for each platform and expensive to execute. Unfortunately, these are the main barriers keeping small businesses away from custom apps because they simply do not have the resources for such an endeavor.

However, new tools have emerged to simplify the process of building an app and to cut the associated costs of doing so. Thereís no need to code, you can simply use templates to create an app that is useful to your audience. Itís similar to what blogging platforms like WordPress (WordPress) and Tumblr (Tumblr) did for creating your own blog or general web presence.

Some affordable options include iSites, and EventMobi.

2. Stick to the Essentials

Many small businesses donít need a robust app; they just need something that will help bring their content to their customers on mobile devices in a useful and interactive way. Companies can make app development easier and cheaper by sticking to the essentials. For example, a local realtor might not need an app capable of playing dynamic videos of each home she lists ó which would be expensive and time consuming to develop ó but the app does need to have quality photos and descriptions of home listings and contact information for the realtor.

3. Leverage What You Already Have

Creating an app using text, content, visuals, video and resources you already use in other channels allows you to create an app that mirrors your brand with the same rich look and feel of native iPhone and Android apps.

For example, if you are a restaurant owner, you should include your operating hours, menu and wine list. You could then entice the customer to return to the app by including an RSS feed of the daily specials. You could also leverage existing APIs by embedding mapping and public transportation tools to help diners find your business.

4. Minimize the Development Cycle

By moving outside the app store, you donít need to wait for unpredictable app approval hierarchy and processes. For those who have developed an app specifically for the iPhone App Store, you know that the approval process can be lengthy and opaque, giving you no insight into when your app will be approved or denied. And then one day, surprise! Itís published.

If you just plan to bring mobile to your existing customers, it may be a better option to distribute a mobile web app directly to them with a custom hyperlink or QR code. This eliminates the need to participate in the iPhone app store, thus bypassing the headache of approvals. You can build the app you want and quickly get it into your customersí hands.

If you put a QR code on your menu, your restaurant diners could easily scan the code and access the mobile web app while they are waiting for their meal to come. Business owners can distribute their app to customers by including a link to in their newsletters. Customers can easily view the app and save its location to their phoneís home screen, instead of having to go directly to the app store and searching for it.

5. Design an App for Multiple Platforms

Since youíre not going through a specific app store, you donít need to meet specific standards. This means you can simultaneously develop an app for several platforms rather than spending all your time and money with a single platform before moving to the next. This will broaden your reach to help get your small business in front of more customers via your mobile app.

Instead of simply turning your existing web presence into a mobile site, new advances in HTML5 allow business owners to create a native app-like experience right in the mobile browser.

New frameworks like Sencha Touch and SproutCore allow developers to easily take advantage
of HTML5 and CSS3 web standards, enabling web apps to look and feel like native ones. Web apps respond to touch and interact with native functions on the phone, such as maps, calling and e-mail. Additionally, since they are web applications, they can be easily distributed via text messages, QR codes, or social media channels such like Twitter and Facebook .

By following these five cardinal rules for app development, small businesses can quickly and affordably increase their customer engagement via mobile channels that will keep their business top-of-mind.


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