Topic overview

Apps and online tools

Apps and online tools

Thanks to the explosion of smartphones apps, it's easier than ever to stay productive while you're out of the office.

You can do most things on your smartphone, from checking emails and arranging meetings to updating your social media messaging and working on documents.

The range of apps available to you will depend on what kind of mobile device you have. However, most popular apps are available for both iOS and Android.

Which are the best apps for businesses?

There are apps for every conceivable business task. You'll find apps to help you get organised, apps to help you work remotely,  apps to help you remember your passwords, apps that help you keep up with the conversations on Twitter and manage your activity on Facebook, LinkedIn and other social networks and even apps that help customers find you.

There's also plenty of choices when it comes to storing and sharing files securely on the cloud. You can even organise your thoughts with mind-mapping apps.

There are also many location-based apps. These use GPS technology to guide you to an intended destination (always forgetting where you parked? Some apps even allow you to tag the exact spot!), but also to show potential customers where your business is located.

Can I develop my own app?

Many businesses have developed their own apps. However, you should think carefully before you create one for yourself or your customers. With the proliferation of apps already out there, there's an excellent chance there's already an apps that does what you need. If you haven't found it yet, it might just be that you haven't looked hard enough.

On the other hand, a mobile app can be a good way to build a closer relationship with your customers, but only if it delivers something customer really want and can't get elsewhere.

With over 2.2 million apps available in the Apple app store and 2.8 million which can be downloaded from the Google Play Store, yours has to be really special to stand out. It's easy to spend a lot of money on an app that attracts very few users, so think carefully and do plenty of research before going ahead.

How we developed our own app

Coming up with a unique idea for an app is the trickiest part - and even when you have one, turning it into reality can be daunting.

That was the challenge facing Andrew Jardine, founder of Atlantic Trampolines. Andrew's company sells trampolines and accessories via a hard-working website that uses pay-per-click advertising and SEO to keep it at the top of the search rankings.

"I had been looking at apps for a while," he says. "I had discovered that the iPhone has an in-built accelerometer that can measure velocity. I realised that we could get the iPhone to measure the number of bounces someone made on a trampoline. And I thought that we could develop it into an app."

After further investigation, Andrew found that there was only one app out there that came close to this concept and it simply plotted the height of trampoline bounces on a graph. Andrew was planning a more sophisticated app.

"We wanted to measure height, count bounces and then link that to calories lost," he explained.

Finding an app developer

The next step was to find a developer who could build the app.

"I spoke to a number of app developers but the cost was too high," says Andrew. It looked like the project had stalled until a friend introduced Andrew to his son - Michael Terry.

"Michael was doing his A-levels, including computer science," says Andrew. "He needed to do a project as part of his course work and he was confident he could build an app for us."

By then the concept for the app had been fine-tuned. It would count bounces and also measure height by plotting bounces against images of tall structures including the Statue of Liberty, the Eiffel Tower, a London bus and Mount Everest. And, by inputting your weight, you could find out how many calories you had burned while bouncing and this is turn would be compared to the calorific values of certain foods - such as pizza or ice cream.

The iTrampoline app was born. The only area where Andrew had to bring in outside expertise was the look of the app. "We had to employ a graphic design agency to make sure the branding was consistent with our own branding. That cost a few hundred pounds."

Registering the app

The final hurdle was registering the app to get it on the iTunes app store. This process was more complicated and long-winded than Andrew had anticipated but it is crucial to its success. "Watching The Apprentice, I did learn about the importance of having a good description for your app on the App Store," says Andrew.

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