To app or not to app? That is the question.
With more than half a million apps already floating around in cyberspace, some brand managers of companies within the region may be wondering whether it's still worth entering this space with any new offerings. The concern: the world of apps may already be saturated.
A new study released this week by the consultancy Deloitte found that less than 1 per cent of apps by global consumer and healthcare brands were downloaded more than a million times.
"And this situation is likely to get worse," warns Deloitte. "As app stores become more popular and users become more mature, getting noticed will become even harder."
But regional experts note the study was conducted globally, so was not completely indicative of the the Middle East landscape. By some measures there does seem to be a growing appetite for apps in the region.
Fifty-seven per cent of smartphone users in the Middle East download applications at least once a month, compared with just 45 per cent of individuals globally, according to a study released last week by the research firm Real Opinions and AppsArabia, an Abu Dhabi firm that invests in app concepts.
Before executives at a company bother investing in the development of an app, which can cost from US$20,000 (Dh73,450) to $200,000 depending on which functions of a smartphone it uses, they should first see what novel information or services it might provide.
"A brand should only have an app if it's creating value for the consumers," says David Ashford, the general manager of AppsArabia.
"What I don't think is sensible is if a brand has an app for the sake of having an app. If you're going to have an app, have unique features that utilise a smartphone's technology."
Assuming a company does have something of value to add, how does it go about creating one that gets noticed?
For starters, businesses should research what kinds of handsets their customers tend to use and focus on creating an app for the online store aimed at those mobiles.
But don't get enamoured with the idea of having to make an app rich in the data it uses, experts warn.
About 75 per cent of smartphone users in the Middle East have a limited 3G data usage plan, so "try to develop apps that can be used and updated using WiFi connections in order to minimise data transfer costs for users", says Dan Healy, the chief executive of Real Opinions. "Half mainly use apps when they can connect to a free WiFi connection," he adds.
In the Middle East, six out of 10 smartphone users also prefer reading text in English because of the difficulty of reading Arabic text on a small screen, says Mr Healy. His solution: "Use images where possible for functionality to ensure a global appeal."
Another tactic that experts recommend is to employ specific smartphone technologies.
Deloitte's study found that apps built with a sophisticated use of touch-screen technology or location-based services were among the most likely to be downloaded.
Those apps that could be manipulated simply by physically moving the phone around also performed well. Be prepared, however, that years - or even months from now - other technologies may be more popular. "My take is those success factors will change over time," says Mr Ashford.
Besides other perhaps more obvious suggestions, such as thoroughly testing an app in an age where eight in 10 consumers still claim to have had an app crash or disconnect, one consideration is to map out future updates. About half of all apps that are downloaded get deleted, primarily because consumers don't use them or get bored, says Mr Healy. "Depending on the purpose of the app, try to provide updates and integrate with other smartphone features to ensure frequent usage."