According to Forrester, Gartner and many other industry analysts, the transition to mobile is the top issue confronting CTOs and CIOs in 2014. As the IT industry grapples with how to implement mobile projects, one of the first questions is what can or should be outsourced vs. built internally. As always there are tradeoffs, but we at WillowTree believe outsourcing delivers value that is difficult or impossible to achieve in house, at least in the short term. While a collective groan of “of course you do” might be appropriate here, we have very strong beliefs on why and how we can deliver incredible value to our clients around both native apps and mobile web.

Here are ten questions to ask when deciding whether to outsource your mobile project or build an in-house team:

1. Do we have the in-house expertise?

Mobile projects, whether native or mobile web, are complex and the difference between great and mediocre mobile software is immediately apparent to the user through crashes, responsiveness, choppy UI, etc. We’ve inherited many projects where internal client teams wanted to “try to build an app.” While fun and exciting, the output will never be what a mobile-focused agency can offer, where top developers have years of experience and attend (or even speak at) top industry conferences.

2. Can we hire the best talent? Train them? And retain them?

Mobile devs, whether iOS/Objective-C, Android/Java, or mobile web/Javascript are incredibly difficult to find right now, with top developers expecting premium compensation. A good developer is as productive as ten (or an infinite amount) of mediocre developers, so if you are going to hire, you need to be able to find top devs. How are you going to test them? And how will you keep them happy as they will constantly be targeted by headhunters to go elsewhere? The best mobile agencies interview ten candidates for every one they hire, and then continue to train and allow those devs…

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The world truly is flat.  Chris Velazco’s brief piece on Google’s infographic statistics on global app usage confirm that the United States is not even in the top 3 in terms of national app usage.  I don’t know about you, but I found that to be pretty crazy.  In our business, we often develop apps meant for consumption by numerous people, but most of them tend to be within the same country code.  What does it mean when you start considering the utility of your mobile apps in a much more “worldly” sense?  Has Google rung the proverbial dinner bell for moving your app clientele to the global stage?

It’s pretty obvious that just about anyone with fingers – no matter what language they speak – can play Angry Birds to the fullest.  But has your company really considered the implications of the international market for apps?  The strategic implications of a more globalized way of thinking about apps are both invigorating and intimidating.  Providing international support for your app increases your market size massively, providing you with potentially untapped market space for your service.  Furthermore, your business is very likely to gain useful strategic insights into future app development plans based on observing usage patterns relative to environmental, cultural, and economic factors at work in other countries.  Sound appealing enough?  I’d say so!

Nevertheless, such an ambitious goal for mobile app development also requires you to think about how your business can serve the global customer.  Can the service even be translated into their language?  What are the commercial barriers between nations (they’re certainly not all created equal)?  Is your marketing strategy tailored to attract customers of different cultures as much as it does in the U.S.?

Regardless, the prospects of globally-focused app development are immense, and Velazco’s piece is surely just the beginning of a slew of insights from mobile-related publications about how app developers…

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The world wide web has been tossed, turned, recycled, spat out, and chewed again as an advertising medium.  Between PPC, banners, pop-ups, pop-unders, homepage takeovers, and now QR Codes on actual websites (why?), we’ve seen developers and designers look for every possible monetization scheme imaginable on the world’s favorite medium.  However, the same cannot be said at all for mobile – the newest beast to emerge in the advertising world.  Dave Gwozdz from AdAge just wrote this eye-catching piece about the risks of cutting corners in creating an appropriate mobile solution for your advertising.  However, what I really gleaned from the article is a healthy reminder of exactly how little we know about mobile monetization, especially in the advertising world.

Obviously, this topic is a little bit less of a concern for giants like Zynga or ZeptoLabs with their smash hits, but for the rest of us proletarians digging under rocks for the golden ticket to mobile riches, what truly is the appropriate mobile strategy to make your investment worthwhile?  Gwozdz suggests that part of the answer lies in truly understanding how mobile fits into your company’s bottom-line strategy.  When you’re dealing with such a huge unknown for ROI – and an expensive one at that – I’m not entirely sure the term “due diligence” cuts it for adequate preparation.  However, what if you miss the boat and end up late to the party?  Or perhaps the better question to take from Gwozdz’s article – has the party already begun for monetizing mobile, and we just don’t know it yet?

Gwozdz also gives a good analysis of some of the tradeoffs between mobile web and app development – it’s obviously a question that we at WillowTree answer on a regular basis for prospective clients, but as Gwozdz also points out, the real question is a function of your specific needs as an organization in mobile…

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Yes, the title is accurate.  According to a new article from Mobile Marketer by Chantal Tode, Facebook is reportedly on the way to partnering up with HTC to deliver a SmartPhone.  Aside from the obvious shock and awe that there will be yet another player in the market to join Apple, Google, Amazon, Palm, Research in Motion, Microsoft, and the other various players who populate the crowded SmartPhone market, one of the biggest questions is how this will impact demand for mobile app development.  What kind of apps will a Facebook SmartPhone support, and how will their approval process work?  Furthermore, what kind of OS would “Buffy”, as they have called it, be running on?  Will WillowTree’s developers need to frantically abandon their pressing iPhone and Android projects to read up on the impending storm of Facebook Phone development queries?  I suppose only time will tell, but the entire possibility undoubtedly has all of the big players trying to anticipate how Facebook – an extremely established staple of just about every SmartPhone user’s mobile experience – could disintermediate current providers in what could be an extraordinarily meaningful industry play.

When you’re working as hard as we are here at WillowTree to be best-in-class in the current development environment with all of the current operating systems, it’s hard to believe that you can merely lift up your eyes from your xCode interface and find that you’ve got an entirely new platform on your hands.  It really speaks to the fact that a first-rate mobile development shop does not simply master the arts of now – it anticipates the disciplines of the future.  For all of their brilliant and visionary moves, it’s hard to think of a better validation for the growth projections of mobile development than seeing Facebook make a clearly reactionary move into an already-saturated industry.  Companies like Facebook pride themselves on their anticipatory innovation…

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With numerous colleges throughout the country releasing native apps for iOS, Android, and the ever-growing iPad as portals for interaction between teachers, students, alumni, and other constituents, the writing is certainly on the wall for major changes in the way schools think about digital communication with their constituents.  Mashable Tech writer Jeff Kirchick’s recent article about “5 Ways Higher Education is Leveraging Mobile Tech” will definitely jog your imagination about what mobile development might be able to accomplish for you as an innovator in your institution’s technology department.

As a fairly recent graduate, it’s very exciting to watch the proliferation of mobile development in academic institutions first-hand.  The idea of having a University of Virginia app probably would have seemed a touch ridiculous while I was still slogging through McIntire, but now that I’m on the ground floor of university app development, it’s a little hard to believe that I relied solely on e-mails and desktop-based collaboration portals for information that could have been walking with me the whole time.  But we’re not just talking about tonight’s homework assignment or the hours for the career services office – Kirchick’s article shines a light on functionality that makes a university mobile app more than just a simple tool of convenience.

Imagine grabbing your textbooks in a crowded school bookstore and checking out with a single swipe of your SmartPhone rather than painfully waiting in a long line with about 30 pounds of paper on your back.  Imagine touring a campus with the ability to point your iPhone or Android camera at a building to get its full history and purpose.  Imagine instantly polling all of your students on a classroom question with graphically-displayed outputs on the projection screen in real-time.

Guess what: there’s really no need to imagine – these things are already here.  Kirchick’s Five Ways are just a sampling of some of the marvels that our grade-school teachers probably smiled…

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Sometimes the mobile web feels like the world wide wait of 1997.  Another study released today (at Online Media Daily) confirms mobile load times, whether mobile web site or apps, are a huge problem — 73% of users want a load time of less than 3 seconds, while 77% of mobile sites take longer than 5 seconds. Someone see a disconnect here?  Too many mobile sites are being built by developers who have little experience with mobile performance optimization.

All companies should be rigorously testing their mobile sites and apps from an end user perspective.  If there is a load speed problem, find an experienced, mobile-focused development firm such as WillowTree that can help you optimize the entire mobile delivery chain including servers, database architecture, firewall configuration, APIs, CDNs and mobile browser optimization.

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Potential clients always ask us, “what makes you different from other mobile app development companies?”  and “what is the difference between a good and a great app developer?”  There are lots of answers that come to mind, foremost being our team.   But ultimately, we believe if boils down to two things, attention to process and attention to detail.  Given the small screen size, memory, and all sorts of other constraints, “the devil is in the details” is truer in mobile development than for most other types of software developers.

Let’s take an example.  Take a look at a brilliant recent blog post by Michael Singleton about why mobile apps often underperform when you’re moving, which most of us happen to be when we’re on a mobile device.    At the end, he has some advice for developers.  These are concepts we take into account on every iPhone, Android, mobile web or other mobile development project, and even have on our proprietary test plans/checklists.   So, as you are going through the process of selecting a mobile app development company, ask them what approaches they are using to improve response times/reliability of their apps?  More specifically, you might ask what best practices they have for setting timeouts and using HTTP stacks vs. opening TCP sockets directly.  These tactics can be incredibly important in driving the performance of the app.

Yes, we are way in the weeds here.  But this is what makes a great app vs. a good app that just isn’t as fast and stable.  The devil is in the details.

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