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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

You Are Delivering A Service, Not Just An App

8:07 PM Posted by Deepak Nayal , , 2 comments
[Mobile] Apps are the talk of the town. A whole ecosystem, including developers, consultants and digital marketers, is currently thriving on the app economy. Almost all [technology] news sites are full of discussions around them. Startup events are all about apps as well. All of this might be well worth it and I can understand the hype around apps, but I am unable to comprehend the focus around them - especially when it comes to new tech ventures. A lot of times when I hear and read about mobile apps, I get the impression that the person I am reading or hearing to thinks of this "mobile world" as different from the web and of mobile apps as different from the web apps. Unsurprisingly, most of these people are journalists, consultants, researchers, marketers and "business idea" guys.

Yes, the mobile phones have finally become smart and the dream of mobile computing has finally come true. But these mobile devices are just a part of the equation. These are just another portal, similar to a desktop computer, to the information and content that lies on the web. And we will have more such portals in near future, such as smart televisions and smart in-car devices. People who understand technology, understand that the real work happens behind the scenes - in the network. The network has become the computer now, and all these smart devices just its front-end. 

This is why when I notice people talking on blogs and networking events about starting ventures around [mobile] apps (unless they are talking about things that are only meant for a smartphone or a tablet, e.g. games), I understand that they do not really know how this thing works. I think these people fail to realize that they should focus on developing and delivering a service - not just an app - that can be accessed anytime and anywhere. Thanks to the "magic" of distributed computing, webservices and a good architecture, people do not need to worry [much] about making applications that are specific to mobile devices or desktops. They can decouple the front-end from back-end, as is shown in the image below (note - this is just an example of a high level logical view of an application; there are obviously many possible ways to design an app or a service). This separation also helps with focusing on the right elements. For example, while on the backend side functionality, performance and scalability are the key aspects to consider, on the frontend side user experience and journey take top spot.

This concept of multi-tiered application design does not just make sense from a technical perspective, but also from a business perspective. It is important, in terms of technology, to decouple software modules and develop a multi-tiered architecture in order to make the application robust and scalable. Similarly, in terms of business, it is important to go for modular design in order to prepare for business growth, expansion into multiple channels and even improving end-user experience.

Having said all the above, I understand that you need to start somewhere and you need to start lean. So yes, may be you should start with just desktop or just mobile or may be go further and be more platform specific to, say, iPhone. But even then you should design your application in a way that extending it to Android or iPad or desktop or some other platform in future just requires adding or modifying a module. The owners/developers of these applications should understand that what they are delivering to the end users are a service, not just an app. And that the basic parameters that make a service useful and successful do not change for apps, irrespective of the platform they are running on.


  1. Happened to find your blog by accident. I tend to unfortunately disagree in some senses about your perspective of an mobile app. The point is that a mobile device, unlike a PC has made access available when you are moving. It has made information gathering possible by adding the biggest dimension which is geography. Obviously services do exist and will continue to exist at the backend, but think about it, a lot of applications on your mobile are self contained too. With emerging trends, you dont really need to anymore build the service at the back, you can connect to any available service in the front. A mobile payment gateway is a new business and a bank in itself which ties up with other banks. But having a mobile phone recognize what you are buying at the exit of a store and then integrating with a backend payment service is where the innovation lies. Anyways keep the articles going. The mobile and apps has changed a certain dimension to the capability that is in the front. The service business at the backend will continue to exist.

  2. Thanks for your comment. I do not see it conflicting with my blog, in fact it is just supporting it. I have mentioned that there are/will be some apps that are only meant for mobiles. For the ones that are not, from a business perspective, you would like as many people to access it as possible from anywhere using anything they own (a smartphone, tablet or PC). Now if you take that and overlay it on the principles of the software architecture, there will be some modules that are common and some that are specific to the end device. And that is the point. The ones that are common can be exposed as services that can be accessed by modules that are specific to the front-end devices. The example you have given in your comment is actually an example of my point.