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New platforms make it possible to build apps on a budget

By Tim Claxton

I often get asked whether mobile apps are worth the effort.

With an average development time of over four months, and the fact that hiring an experienced app developer can set you back tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars, the investment can be bigger than the payoff.

But, people continue to gravitate to mobile apps. According to a Forrester study, over the last three years downloads have increased 30 percent year over year, and in 2014 over 85 percent of time on smartphones was via apps, particularly with millennials.

So, is there a way to get the benefit of an app without the big investment? The answer luckily is “yes.” There are a few options to make a professional, fully functioning app with no tech skills or capital outlay.

DIY app maker

There are several platforms to help you build an app with only a small monthly investment. Popular services that target businesses include appery.io, AppMachine, MyAppBuilder and BiznessApps. Premium versions start around $60 month. To get started, you can use content from your existing website, and then build the app by adding content blocks and selecting from a variety of skin templates. They also offer online training and developer support if needed.

I would recommend this approach if you want a self-contained app that includes basic business information such as location, blog content, photo gallery, to show a few listings, or add service scheduling. But while these look great at first glance, if you want to integrate your app with an existing listing database or customize the skin beyond the limits of the template, you will be back into custom development.

Boating Industry Apps

Another option is to use an app platform created specifically for marine – especially if the app will play a key role in your sales process, I would recommend looking at marine specific apps from Jester Communications  or Yacht Profile – both offer mobile apps for dealers and OEMs for a recurring monthly fee.

According to Jared Jester, “Our apps started with inventory to showcase products, but now are full featured including training, certification, parts and service information, and pre-qualification for finance. The top requests currently are for configurators and boat tours, and looking forward we are developing concepts to incorporate boat usage data from on-board telematics.”

While a custom app is feasible for companies such as Beneteau and Mercury that have been investing heavily in this technology, if you are looking to create an app quickly with limited investment, a new product, Toucan Touch by Dominion Marine Media might be for you.

Toucan Touch follows a similar model to the DIY apps, but tailored to boat dealers – offering tools to add inventory, showcase boats and share specs with buyers. The two key elements of the platform are custom branding, and integration with DMM’s BoatWizard inventory. This integration is a big time saver as it means you can update your inventory in BoatWizard and changes will be reflected in the app. Pricing is not yet available, but the product will be launched at MDCE.

Before getting started with any of these solutions, I recommend writing down your goals for the app: What is it going to do? What problem is it going to solve, or how will it help your customers?

Download and use other apps on the market to compare features and also take time to sketch out a picture of what you want your app to look like. Luckily there are several online wireframe tools to help you do this (Google “wireframe software”). Lastly whatever approach you choose, make sure have versions for both iPhone and Android, because the more people you can reach the better.

Tim Claxton is a freelance marketing consultant, and periodically writes articles on boating, digital media and new technologies. He can be reached at tim.claxton@me.com

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