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Christine Kern

Christine Kern
Christine Kern is an AppSheet contributor and freelance writer, editor, and educator based in Erie, Pennsylvania who writes on a wide range of topics, including all things IT, from healthcare to retail to government/education and beyond.

Recent Posts

Apps Aren’t Just For Smartphones Any More

As smart technology permeates our society, powering our wearables, homes, cars, and other IoT devices, apps to drive are also on the rise.  In fact, a recent report by VisionMobile said that out of the 4.5 million people identified as IoT developers in 2015, 1.4 million were focused on smart home apps. According to VisionMobile’s IoT Megatrends 2016 report, there are seven distinct IoT areas that app developers work in—smart home, retail, industrial, wearables, smart city, medical and connected car—with the opportunities offered by connected homes a clear favorite. Retail IoT apps, wearables and industrial versions attract around one million app developers each, while the connected car is of interest to 700,000 people. People have become used to the concept of IoT and recent research by Gartner said that there could be as many as 700 million smart homes by 2020. With smartphones and tablets working as remote controls for connected devices, there will be a tremendous need for new apps to drive them. And according to IDC Research, 101.9 million wearable devices were shipped in 2016, a 29 percent increase over 2015.The rise of smart wearables like the Apple Watch and Microsoft’s Hololens demonstrate the rise of new opportunities for app developers and vendors to provide connected apps. "The trajectory of the wearables market signals a strong opportunity for developers," Llamas continued. "Applications increase the value and utility of a wearable, and users want to see more than just their health and fitness results. News, weather, sports, social media, and Internet of Things (IoT) applications will all have a place on a wearable. And, when combined with cellular connectivity, users will not have to take out their smartphones to get the latest information. All they will need to do is glance at their wearable." App Trends for Leveraging Smart Devices This year sees a huge opportunity to leverage this new smart space. We have gathered a list of some of the top mobile app development trends to watch in 2017. Continued rise of Location-based services (LBS). GPS availability and ease of use means that location-based services will continue to evolve to provide real-time information or deals based on user locations. LBS is particularly useful for indoor mapping, location-specific payment portals, retail offers, security features, navigation, travel and tourism, and more.  When combined with mobile apps, LBS can enable a new generation of personalized services and information. AppSheet also ready includes LBS in many of its offerings, like Site Scout, an app for construction site inspections. Integration of Augmented Reality (AR) into utility apps. In its early stages, the use of AR was seen as a gimmick, but it has grown into its own more recently with the addition of wearables. AR tools can now be used more effectively and productively than ever before. Word or phrase recognition can be used in messenger apps to pull up appropriate actions, and integrations like social media syncing, location tracking, and product links can also be leveraged with AR. A number of retailers are already integrating augmented reality into their mobile apps to help shoppers visualize furniture and décor in their homes at full-scale before making a purchase. The rise of “run-only-as-you-need” apps. Android’s new Instant Apps feature allows apps to run instantly, a trend which will become more appealing and widespread. These enabled apps don’t have to be downloaded or installed and can run with just a single tap, saving data and memory space on the device. The “run-only-as-you-need” concept is poised to fundamentally transform the app industry. And while these apps are usually preview versions lacking some advanced features, they do provide quick insight and experience. The normalization of embedded AI within apps. As embedded AI becomes more standard, it will also transform the industry. Self-learning apps have the potential to customize what they display to users based on personal preferences or location-based data, and they could soon be found in everyday devices like phones, cameras, and IoT devices. Continued dominance of IoT app integrations. The IoT industry is booming, leading to the rise of apps that cater to IoT integration. Data analytics will also be central to this trend, in order to allow easy and efficient access to stored and shared data. App security becomes paramount. As smartphones become more versatile and handle larger amounts of sensitive data, security will become increasingly crucial as well. That means that apps with built-in security features will be highly successful, helping to guarantee the protection of user data. According to Gartner, in 2017 75 percent of mobile app security breaches will be caused by misconfigurations, which means that mobile app security is essential when building apps for the IoT. Focus On Optimal User Experience The most important feature of apps in 2017, however – whether for smartphones or other smart applications – will be a premium and smooth user experience. One aspect that guarantees success is the use of rich media that help transform apps into better and more memorable tools.  Through effective display of data and content on your mobile user interface, you can help guarantee a positive user experience. The most successful apps will exploit technologies with novel features like interactive content layers; circular design patterns, cards, and manipulation of content to create an augmented reality that allows users to interact with content in further detail. From LBS to AR and beyond, AppSheet has a wide range of tools to help you create the smart apps for your business to connect with your customers and their devices.

5 Key Practices To Enable Citizen Developers

As the demand for mobile apps escalates and tech users become increasingly tech-savvy, developers are seeing a dramatic shift in the role of IT from being “prescriptive” to “predictive” in nature. While traditional IT departments may tend to demonize citizen development, it can actually be a path to greater success for an organization by empowering others outside of IT to build apps that inspire a culture of problem-solving across the entire organization. The democratization of technology is responsible for driving digital transformation by moving technology decisions once strictly managed by IT departments to the hands of managers, project leaders and other workers who need fast solutions to operational problems through rapid mobile app development (RMAD). The Future of the Traditional IT Department According to IDC research released earlier this year, more than 56 percent of technology budgets are now controlled outside of IT departments. One reason why 56.5 percent of technology spending now happens outside of IT is because the vast majority of business leaders believe they can make better and faster decisions on technology without the involvement of IT. Perhaps not surprisingly then, Forrester Research predicts the IT department could disappear as soon as 2020. While that may be a stretch, it’s still clear IT will need to keep evolving to stay ahead of new technologies and incorporate agile solutions to keep organizations competitive, connected and collaborative. The Emergence of Citizen Developers The 2015 State of Citizen Developer Report  from QuickBase demonstrated how the emergence of citizen developers in organizations marks a paradigm shift in how the Business and IT work together to build, customize and connect cloud apps to achieve their collective business goals. Cloud apps and their associated platforms are increasingly becoming the drivers of digital transformation, with the ultimate aim of increasing operational efficiency, business agility, and employee productivity. In particular, as highlighted in the report, 76 percent of respondents said operational efficiency is the primary reason that their organizations use low-code rapid development platforms for digital transformation. As a distant second, 13 percent of respondents said business agility was the primary reason, while only eight percent named employee productivity. "The workplace of the future is driven by self-selection - someone having the skills stepping to solution," as Allison Mnookin, CEO of citizen development platform Quickbase, explained. Mike Morris of crowd sourcing platform TopCoder , says that "A workplace is a perk" and that "Organizations need to find the best person in the world that can help provide a solution." So either bring new digital tools to your workforce and let them step up to solution, or bring the best skills from the outside to solution for you. Key Practices To Enable Citizen Developers To enable citizen developers, five key practices are necessary in any organization: CIO sponsorship to ensure that IT works with those outside of IT to develop appropriate solutions. This prevents IT from viewing those applications developed by citizen developers as rogue IT. CIOs that are not on board may communicate that these programs are contributing to enterprise data landfills or creating new data governance challenges. Formal definition and communication of a strategy.  Be sure that the organization is aligning its approach and priorities when it comes to app development. This will ensure that each department is not pursuing a different platform, that programs are successful across departments, and that new apps created by citizen developers do not add more complexity than value. Establish the development practices and lifecycle for these new applications. These guidelines should establish review policies, maintenance guidelines and practices, naming conventions and documentation, UX/UI standards, testing protocols, and security requirements for any platforms or apps developed by citizen developers. Identify the acknowledged Citizen Developers. Be sure to quantify the necessary skills to become one, take steps to engage managers and support the program, and provide training, mentorship, and rewards to successful developers. Create a rubric for success that supports and shares best practices. Market, promote, and provide access to successfully developed applications. Create a standard that can easily be followed that will allow others to find these apps through a consistent access and permissions policy. Empowering Citizen Development Alec Sprague, database developer for non-profit organization Work for Progress, has instituted a culture of citizen development by empowering it. He explained, “Our organization is scrappy. We operate on shoestring budgets to maximize our benefit to society and our return-on-investment for our funders and donors.” That means turning to the employees who can get the work done. “My job is to motivate and inspire people and give them the right tools to do their jobs. The fact that 68 percent of all IT projects fail underscores the need for bottom-up system creation.” That’s where citizen developers come in, he explains. “you need to empower them by giving permission, space, and tools,” and look for intersections within groups and segments in the organization to allow them to succeed.

6 Handy Apps to Help Real Estate Agents Make That Sale

Real estate can be a tricky business, and it is often dependent upon factors outside of human control. House hunters can be swayed by weather, location, or a lack of information at the moment of decision-making. Mobile apps can give realtors a leg-up when it comes to making that all-important sale by allowing them to have imperative information available at their fingertips. Brokers can be hampered when their customers are not able to get in contact with the right person or when information is not readily available. Mobile apps can help brokers list properties, manage appointments and schedules, search for related property information like school districts, local attractions, average fuel bills and more. They can even help them check the weather to schedule the most advantageous showing times. The Apps We’ve pulled together a list of apps that can boost realtors’ efficiency and help them seal the deal: Magic Plan: This app allows users to create a floor plan drawing within minutes, which means realtors can provide this added information to prospective buyers. MagicPlan measures a floor plan from photos you take, and converts them into a PDF, HPG, and DXF drawing. Users can simply add objects, annotations, photos and attributes to generate reports or complete estimates. Zillow: This is a multi-use platform, mainly used for property search. With a number of robust search filters and extra features (mortgage calculators, access to “hidden” inventory, property estimates), the site offers a good overview of the real estate market and available properties. Many listings include MLS  numbers in order to facilitate your search. Mortgage Calculator: This easy-to-use tool helps clients project the repayment requirements of a potential mortgage. It factors in a series of parameters to provide the most accurate results, and can project monthly or bi-weekly mortgage payments and the future payoff date. Periscope: A platform that allows users to stream live videos from anywhere,Periscope is a ‘visual pulse of what’s happening right now‘. It lets you ‘discover the world through someone else’s eyes‘. Periscope is a great way to connect with potential clients across town or across the world. Stream open house tours, home sneak peeks, local events, or a Q&A session. Home Inspector: This AppSheet sample app allows users to record information about houses, adding up to four images to a room using direct capture images straight from the app. The spreadsheet allows the user to add columns to include additional information regarding the properties in question. It is an excellent resource for real estate inspections and surveys. You can start with this sample and build your own app with robust custom features. Realtor: This AppSheet app lets realtors share real-estate information with their clients, displaying various listings on a map with a gallery of photos for each available property. The list view can also group listings by categories to match client needs.  It includes the potential to show a filtered view of listings by client and realtors can also use their external listing images on services like Zillow as images in the app. Use this sample app to build your own custom real estate listing solution. AppSheet Creates Custom Solutions For You AppSheet can help you develop the right apps to make your job a little easier. From GPS-enabled property locators to calculating mortgage payments, AppSheet can design a custom app to do just what you need to close the deal. “This is the app I’ve spent years searching for,” asserts Kurt Beard, Cardinal Properties. “It’s straightforward to use with multiple outstanding features; taking mobile photos right in the app, search, multiple tables, and more. My boss is very excited with the workflow improvement we’ve seen since AppSheet.”

Key App Features Guaranteed to Attract Shoppers & Increase Your Sales

Do you know which app features are the most compelling for attracting shoppers and boosting sales? As retailers strive to be more compelling in an increasingly competitive market, they must rely on a number key app features that are drawing in shoppers left and right—and making the biggest impact on sales. Read through just a few of the most essential elements. Augmented reality:   Two good examples of the use of augmented reality features in mobile apps are Wayfair and Sephora. Wayfair rolled out an AR feature that allows shoppers to envision what their new furniture will look like in their home. WayfairView, the company’s first-party smartphone augmented reality application, available in Google Play. Developed by Wayfair Next, the company’s in-house research and development team, using Google’s technology, WayfairView allows shoppers to visualize furniture and décor in their homes at full-scale before they make a purchase.     “Wayfair Next is laying the groundwork for new innovations that will change the face of retail – all with first-party technology,” noted Steve Conine, co-chairman and co-founder, Wayfair. “By digitizing our vast catalog through 3-D scanning, we will dramatically improve the visualization of products to create the best possible shopping experience for our customers. With smartphone augmented reality, we can take this a step further. Built using Google’s robust Tango technology, WayfairView will allow shoppers to visualize furniture and décor in their homes by virtually placing real products from Wayfair’s extensive catalog in any room at full-scale.” Sephora allows user to apply filters to envision what their makeup will look like on their faces. The use of augmented reality in fashion helps provide a more seamless, cross-channel experience for customers who shop in-store and online. In the first eight weeks following the launch, 1.6 million customers have visited Sephora’s App and 45 million used Try-ons in the same period. The Virtual Artist mobile app allows customers to virtually test and purchase cosmetic items via their smartphone. The app allows users to “try on” lipstick shades or eyelash treatments using the front-facing camera on their mobile device.  When shoppers see a look they like, they can simply “add to basket” and purchase the items they have been modeling.     Gamification: As a society, we love gaming, and retailers who can incorporate gamification into their mobile apps are winning over customers who are addicted to the trend. Starbucks is a real winner when it comes to rewarding its customers via this technique. Starbucks rewards customers for purchasing drinks, offering discounted products for members who accumulate a certain number of points—keeping customers coming back for more. By collecting stars for each new purchase, customers can build points for free food and drinks, and unlock new rewards levels.   Beacons: In-store beacons detect when app users are nearby, alerting customers of in-store sales and offers. Beacon technology helps retailers boost in-store traffic with digital features. One successful example of beacon use is Levi’s, which has been using this feature for a while, but with mobile shopping on the rise, it has some big potential for the 2017.     “When properly used, beacon technology can be very effective, as it enables brands to capitalize on granular location data,” said Karen Pattani-Hason, director of agency relations at Urban Airship, New York. “Levi's can gather this data on their customers for use both in-store and for future campaigns. “Knowing where in-store their customers browse can provide invaluable insights on product preferences that can be used at a later date. This data could also be used to drive future traffic to stores, with relevant offers based on items the consumer has considered, based on Beacons location data.” Inventory visibility: One important use of mobile apps is to help shoppers know whether or not their desired items are in-stock or available for shipping when they want them, so inventory visibility features are crucial to keeping customers happy. AppSheet’s Store Inventory app can help small businesses to keep track of inventory items where the list is usually kept in spreadsheets with greater mobility to manage inventory and run inventory via mobile devices. The app also automatically enters dates and uses the phone/tablet camera as a bar code reader. Target and Walmart are pioneers of this feature, allowing shoppers to view the status of stock at specific locations. Having insight to this information can make or break a trip to the store for consumers. Target’s service was implemented by Washington-based tech company Point Inside, allows customers to see what’s in stock and where to find those items in the store. Shoppers can start their list using a type-head function that includes brand named items, and the app notifies customers where the product may be found in store and if it is in stock.     Walmart’s Search My Store feature also allows customers to search a particular store for specific items on their list, from electronics to groceries and more.  “Search My Store is a great example of how we are using core online capabilities, such as search, to address key pain points of our Walmart store customers,” a Walmart blog post explained. App Testing Helps Determine Success "Consumers spend more time shopping on mobile devices like smartphones and tablets, than they do on desktops. To make matters more complicated, they access retail apps in a variety of different circumstances —while connected to spotty Wi-Fi, juggling between multiple devices, simultaneously running other power-hungry apps, and more. It’s hard to maintain a quality app experience through all of those variables. But through extensive app testing, companies can perfect the digital experience of their brand and stay up to speed in the competitive retail market,” explained Eran Kinsbruner, mobile technical evangelist at Perfecto. In order to ensure digital quality, apps and platforms need to undergo comprehensive pre and post-production testing across all of the unique popular devices in each retail industry. The first step is testing the functionality of the app, to make sure features and transactions are working properly and to proactively identify availability and other app issues.  Next, Kinsbruner says, developers need to “stress test the app, increasing server load in the testing environment to mimic heavy user traffic, as companies monitor for alerts in how the app handles it. These steps allow companies to detect issues with their app in real end-user conditions, before they become a problem—and lose a  customer.” “Brands that invest in a rigorous testing program can confidently bring their app to market with new features and functionality that are proven to provide a quality experience for their target audience. ….Without testing, there’s no guarantee apps will work properly for the high volume of users expected during [peak]seasons," concluded Kinsbruner. AppSheet offers a range of possibilities for retailers who are interested in making the most of their mobile retail apps.  See how AppSheet can help you integrate these key mobile app features to capitalize on sales.

Messaging Apps And Chatbots Help Retailers Connect with Customers

As customers increasingly turn to technology to showroom, price compare, and search for the best deals, retailers need to be responsive to these new consumer behaviors. One way that retailers are trying to better connect with their customers is through the increased use of chatbots and messaging apps, according to a new study from [24]7, a provider of chatbot and human agent assistance for retailers. Customers on the hunt for superior service Customers want to connect with their favorite brands, but brands that offer great service experiences are in the minority. A 2015 Customer Care Measurement & Consulting study found that 54 percent of retail customers are dissatisfied while Gartner predicted that companies offering personalization will outperform competitive brands by 15 percent by 2018 revealing the clear cut opportunity costs associated with innovation. Consumers are turning to chatbot technology as it becomes more integrated within their personal lives and evolves to provide better, more efficient and engaging customer service. Scott Horn, CMO of [24]7 stated, “Messaging apps are incredibly valuable for retailers looking to enhance relationships with consumers, particularly millennials.” Preference of chat bots to other traditional customer service outlets The [24]7 study, titled, “A Retailer’s Guide to Chatbots, Live Chat, and Messaging,” found that nearly one-third of consumers (28.9 percent) prefer chat tools over phone (28.7 percent) or email (27 percent) for interacting with retailers (jumping to 37 percent for millennials). Other findings include: 2 out of 5 consumers are open to interacting with a chatbot in a retail scenario 9 percent of millennials prefer to always interact with a robot instead of a human Nearly 40 percent of millennials are open to interacting with a company through a messaging app 1 in 5 consumers are most excited to receive instant order updates via a messaging app, over receiving other retail tech offerings, like immersive virtual experiences and drone delivery The findings demonstrate that retailers need to be flexible enough to meet the needs of their customer segments via the channels they prefer and already use in their everyday lives. Less than a quarter of millennials prefer email (23 percent) or phone (21 percent) as methods to contact retailers. Retailers who adopt channels such as Facebook Messenger is a strong path to this demographic. The growing use of messaging apps by businesses has the potential to further accelerate the trend toward chat as a primary way to communicate with retailers. In the survey, 26 percent of consumers said they're open to interacting with a company through a messaging app such as Facebook Messenger or WhatsApp -- and the number jumps to 39 percent for millennials. Convenience (15 percent) and access to conversation history (10 percent) were the top reasons customers cited for using messaging apps, while the top concerns included security and privacy (28 percent) and distrust of third-party apps (12 percent). One in five consumers also said that instant order updates via messaging apps are the best way to improve their online shopping experience, second only to location-based coupons on mobile devices (24 percent). And providing an effortless checkout process is still crucial to driving completed sales, as 13 percent report that they would abandon a shopping cart if they could not find answers to their questions, while 15 percent say that incomplete or inaccurate product information is a serious roadblock. Chatbots can provide a more seamless checkout process and save some transactions that might otherwise be abandoned. Last spring, retail heavyweights Sephora and H&M launched bots on messaging app Kik that help shoppers browse and buy their products, and Taco Bell showed off its TacoBot, a way to use the messaging app Slack to place a meal order. Facebook also announced that it has created a platform that allows companies to develop bots that run within its Messenger app, which has some 900 million users worldwide. Bots are the new apps Microsoft chief executive Satya Nadella said, “Bots are the new apps.” The case for a bot-centric future goes like this: Smartphone users have proved they are only willing to download and spend time in a limited number of apps. So companies might be better off trying to connect with consumers in the apps where they are already spending plenty of time. And proponents say that a bot can potentially provide greater convenience than apps and Web searches because it can understand natural speech patterns. Because bots are designed for one-to-one conversation, they may ultimately find their most logical home in messaging apps, which are seeing explosive growth in users and are the digital-communication channel of choice for Generation Z. There were 76 million people in the United States using messaging apps such as Kik, WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger in 2014, according to research firm eMarketer.  That figure shot up to 113 million last year, and is it expected to surge to 177 million by 2019. The study asserted, “Although chatbots cannot resolve transactional hurdles at purchase like price and delivery, they can help customers find desired information, fill out fields based on prior purchases and answer queries. With the right solution, anything more complex can be escalated to a live human agent.” Let AppSheet work with you to develop a relevant app that can incorporate the elements that will best reach your customers today. With AppSheet, retailers can design affordable, easy and attractive mobile apps to improve your customers’ shopping experience. Give it a try today!

With 80% Of Purchases Now Influenced By Mobile, Your Business Needs To Meet Demands

Increasingly, your customers, employees and service users expect a fast and intuitive mobile experience. Eighty percent of purchases are now influenced by mobile. If you fail to meet these expectations, users will quickly turn away. Meeting expanding customer expectations Research demonstrates that 62 percent of consumers expect a mobile friendly website, while 42 percent expect a mobile app, and 23 percent expect a location specific contextual experience.  Further, 86 percent favor mobile apps over mobile websites, and with 80 percent of purchases now influenced by the mobile channel for a projected $689 billion influence on sales, your business cannot afford to be left behind when it comes to mobile. A 2015 AppDynamics report An App Is Not Enough  found that consumer expectations of retail websites and mobile apps are evolving in response to the growth of mobile and emerging technologies, with 70 percent of consumers stating that the performance of a mobile app impacts their perception of the retailer. Further, two thirds of consumers said they would reconsider shopping with a retailer if they had a negative experience with its app. That places greater pressure on brands to deliver flawless app performance to keep their customers happy. “As the lines between work and personal, digital and physical, continue to blur, retailers must ensure their apps function at all times across multiple platforms in order to retain and nurture always-on consumers,” said Jyoti Bansal, founder and CEO of AppDynamics. “Technology has transformed the retail landscape significantly over the past decade, and now more than ever, software defines business success – with revenue and reputation often hinging on customer interactions with apps.” Providing seamless cross-channel experiences “Today’s consumers expect a seamless shopping experience across online and offline channels, with minimal friction points,” said Paul Hobbs, head of e-commerce at Shop Direct. “This puts increased pressure on retailers to innovate, using the latest technologies to improve and augment the online e-commerce journey so it delivers the thrill of visiting the high street in a more convenient way. As an example, Very.com has recently introduced image recognition technology that allows shoppers to take photos of clothes they like and search for similar styles across the brand’s product range.” “At the same time, mobile continues to play an integral role in increasing online sales – allowing consumers to shop when they want, how they want, and on any device,” Hobbs continued. “With retailers using a combination of technologies to deliver a competitive and flawless experience to shoppers, ensuring the performance of these applications is mission-critical.” Tips For Creating A Top Mobile Experience There were 2.1 billion mobile phones and tablets sold around the world in 2014, and by 2020 there will be a projected 200 billion connected devices. Here are some tips to help create a successful mobile experience that is fast, intuitive, and satisfies the demands of your customers. Start with a clear mobile strategy that aligns all internal stakeholders. Identify the user journey, defining the phases of their experiences from beginning to end to understand their context. Build personals and clearly identify your audience. Clearly define business goals that you are trying to achieve via the app. Is it boosting loyalty, sales conversions or recommendations? Identify the analytics to track and drive feature prioritization to ensure you are meeting your established business goals. Set a feature roadmap. This helps create the optimal user experience. Build with iterative development that connects all internal and external data points. Once your app is complete, don’t forget to use analytics to track and improve your app continually to ensure continued user satisfaction and cohesion to business goals. From beginning to end, the process of bringing your mobile app to life should be thoughtful, calculated, and specific,  tailored to your audience and  your business’ goals. AppSheet can help your business create simple, user-friendly mobile apps that are customized to meet your specific goals.

Stick to Your Resolution: Boost Productivity With Mobile Apps

As the calendar turns to 2017 and we begin a new year, many of us create a list of New Year’s resolutions to take us forward. This year, one resolution that should be on many managers’ lists is employing mobile apps to help boost worker productivity with renewed vigor. Mobile devices have changed business and communication in transformative ways, and using mobile apps can help boost employee productivity and satisfaction to create better business outcomes. Since more than two-thirds of individuals in the U.S. now carry a smartphone, and as consumers we spend 40 percent of our online time on mobile devices, now is the time to introduce mobile apps to drive more efficient work. Boosting Employee Productivity In a survey conducted by mobile Helix, employers estimated that adopting mobile apps would boost employee productivity by 40 percent, and when one Australian company migrated it core HR systems to mobile apps it saw a 500 percent increase in adoption and a huge increase in employee satisfaction and productivity. With the right productivity apps and services at your fingertips, you can increase your efficiency and get more done. But not all apps are created equal. What features can help boost business productivity? Alerts and notifications. System reminders can engage employees by nudging them to complete important tasks like clocking out, submitting expenses, or filing reports. Data protection and safeguards. Since WMS systems house confidential employee information, the security of mobile apps is crucial to safeguard personal data. Security features can include app time-outs that automatically log out users after a certain period of inactivity; mobile device registration; and limited app functionality in case of device theft or loss. Versatility to adjust to the way employees work. Apps need to reflect how its users work in order to help them be more efficient. Sometimes, one app will not work for employees and managers; be sure to offer the apps that fit the way your employees work. So how do you weed through the 900,000 apps available in the Apple App Store to find the ones that work the best for you? From Workforce Management to Conference Calling or time/task management or List-making or even password keepers, the list of available productivity apps is almost endless. Here are some apps that can help boost worker productivity in significant ways. Our Favorite Productivity Apps Keeper (password management). This app provides impenetrable security for your passwords and digital assets, safeguarding your information from hackers and cyber criminals. Keeper generates strong passwords, autofills passwords across your apps and sites with KeeperFill™ and organizes passwords on all platforms and devices. This handy app keeps all your passwords behind a single master password that wipes your secrets if a hack is attempted. “When our office was broken into eighteen months ago and my desktop was stolen I panicked. Everything I owned was accessible from that note list on it. My mortgages, my shares, my savings accounts; someone could basically have accessed each and every part of my life and my business. I decided something more secure was needed because I’d got too used to the simplicity of having everything in one place. Keeper was the answer to my prayers!” Scott Seaman-Digby, Hawtrey Dene, told LifeHack.   Speek (conference calling).  This app simplifies conference calling, eliminating the need for dial-ins, PINs or downloads.  Conference calling is an important aspect of doing business, enabling teams and individuals working in different locations to connect, brainstorm, plan, or discuss. With Speek, the users pick a personal link that replaces traditional PIN or phone numbers and share it with the other calls. When they want to join the call, they just click that link from their mobile device to join in, with no third parties, hold music or other distractions. “Being able to share information with our team, often when we are out on the road, is a crucial part of our business.  So Speek allows us to do that with minimum fuss,” explained Lorraine Barker, of Workfish.   Shoeboxed (expense claiming). This free app helps make expense claiming a breeze, allowing users to scan and organize receipts and business cards, create expense reports, track mileage and more.  The app not only collects and organizes expenses, but can also generate the reports for submission, allowing users to send them right from the app. This app is great for frequent business travelers or salespeople who must keep track of reams of paperwork and hundreds of business contacts. Andrew Strain, of No.1 Traveller, told Life Hack, “Shoeboxed is an app that businesses of any size should be using. I don’t have to hold onto endless amounts of receipts when I’m away on business anymore or spend time putting an expense report together when I’m back – Shoeboxed does it all for me.” Any.do (collaborative task-management). This collaborative or personal task-management app for iOS, Android and Chrome has a unique facture that reminds you to make a habit of reviewing your daily task list first thing each morning in order to remain prepared for the day’s responsibilities. Never be caught off guard again, promoting productivity and positive results. Asana (collaborative workplace management). Asana was among the first collaborative workplace management tools to help transform how teams get work done together. It helps teams track tasks that need to be completed providing both visibility into work and accountability. It is being utilized by large and small businesses alike to help manage products, wean employees from email, and inspire a new approach to work. Creating Your Own Productivity Apps At the heart of every great productivity app is a solution to a specific problem. Some look toward efficiency, aiming to take an existing product, such as email, and make it easier to use so we waste less time futzing with it. Others seek to silence the noise of the net, bolster collaboration, or unite disparate data. Employers should select mobile apps that engage employees with alerts and notification, safeguard confidential information, and reflect how users work. Usability plus functionality make productivity apps shine. Let AppSheet help you develop your own unique productivity apps to meet your specific employee goals and needs. 

Are Your Apps Ready For the Holidays?

As the holiday shopping season quickly approaches, retailers need to ensure that their apps are up to snuff in order to capture their real value from consumers. During the holiday season last year, mobile accounted for 57.2 percent of all online traffic and 36.2 percent of all online sales – respective increases of 15.2 and 30 percent over 2014, according to IBM Watson Trend. And now today, there are actually more mobile devices on the planet than people. With digital sales and mobile shopping both anticipated to increase 25 percent this year, it is definitely a channel that retailers cannot afford to ignore. Mobile’s role for retail Holiday sales in 2015 hit approximately $626 billion, and smartphones take up an increasingly bigger piece of this holiday pie. In 2015, 57.2 percent of Black Friday traffic came from mobile devices – a 174 percent increase over 2014. Mobile also drove 49 percent of web traffic on Cyber Monday 2015, creating 28 percent of sales worth $514 million. “Mobile is growing rapidly,” said SteelHouse’s chief marketing officer Patrizio Spagnoletto. “Consumers are searching for last-minute deals, and they’re waiting longer to begin their holiday shopping with retailers that accommodate later delivery. These are important shifts that require marketers to be more strategic and thoughtful about how and when they reach the critical in-market buyer.” The challenge for store-based retailers will likely be to leverage their distinctive advantages to stay relevant. And that relevancy extends to the creation of strong mobile apps that meet their customers’ needs. Five essential tips for ensuring success 1. Leverage push notifications - while customers are in-store. IBM’s Eighth Annual Online Retail Holiday Readiness Report indicated that while half of consumers want to receive real-time promotions while they are in-store, just 5 percent of retailers currently have this capacity. By providing contextual, hyper-personalized push notifications, retailers can capitalize on these missed opportunities, particularly during the holiday season. When notifications are sent at the right time and offer the right message, they can increase user retention by up to 55 percent, according to Urban Airship. Get creative with your messaging, too, as these examples demonstrate, with push notifications that include instructions, calls to action, or emojis to help drive traffic: Interactive push notifications can also help connect with customers and drive immediate action, as Shop Direct’s MyVery app demonstrated last year. Their interactive notifications instructed users to swipe left if they wanted to receive daily deals during Black Friday. Those who did were added to a Black Friday segment intended to drive engagement throughout the campaign. According to Alex Baldock, CEO of Shop Direct, the e-commerce giant saw a “record week” prior to Black Friday, with overall growth up 64 percent year-over-year across all platforms.   2. Use the app to enhance the in-store shopping experience. By connecting your channels via a mobile app, you can help boost sales both online and in-store. Customers are searching for integrated shopping experiences because it makes their lives easier and more convenient. Home Depot has launched an app that lets customers type in a specific item and get directions to where to find it in the store, and associates can also use the app to determine whether a product is in-stock, available for order, or in-stock at another location.  The app also includes an augmented-reality feature that allows shoppers to see what a particular product might look like in their own home.  While the Home Depot app is not holiday-specific, it is helping to drive traffic on seasonal items. 3. Theme your content and in-app purchases to the holiday.  That also means decorating push notifications and in-app messages to reflect the season. When customers feel festive, they loosen their purse strings. “Decorating” for the holidays can help motivate shoppers to engage with your app, drawing them in with the seasonal themes. Create attractive holiday in-app offers  like: 10 Gifts for Him Under $10 3 Gifts Dad Will Love for $25 or Less 3 Must-Have Gifts for Kids for $50 or Less Get 8 Hanukah Gifts for $80 $15 Holiday Gifts for the Coffee Drinker 10 Appetizers Under $10 – Only During the Holidays Here’s an example from Ulta’s 2015 holiday campaign. Though the seasonal theme is subtle, it is strong enough to promote the festive mood among shoppers, combining it with a promotional message of affordable holiday gifts. And the Home Depot’s app also encouraged gift cards as “The Perfect Present”: 4. Deep link notifications to a holiday-themed message center to further engage customers. Last year, Game Stop used vivid imagery and holiday colors on its in-app message center to help spread holiday cheer. In 2015, four times as many retail apps used message centers than in 2014, with the volume of these messages increasing 152 percent. 5. Address several key elements of all apps, all the time. These include integration of context into the mobile experience; creating more natural interactions; securing brand and corporate reputation; and knowing how to differentiate between good and great. Content used to be king when it comes to mobile apps, but consumers now expect customized mobile interactions that are only possible when context is integrated into the mobile experience.  Location-based insights and the integration of detailed customer information and relevant information about the environment (think the weather) help create experiences that are contextually relevant and tailored to the specific user. Cognitive computing is also the next frontier for mobile apps, incorporating natural language processing and personality insights to help raise the customer experience to new heights. Enabling apps to process the way humans speak allows for a better user experience and therefore higher response rates and better service. Security is more important than ever for brands, so ensuring that your company has adopted well-architected mobile security will help protect the brand and its consumers. And perhaps most importantly, your company needs to ensure that it builds a great app. Consumers spend approximately 85 percent of their time on smartphones within apps. A recent Forrester Consulting study examined at the difference between great apps and good apps and found a dramatic gap. In fact, a great app produced five times more revenue opportunity, and expanded sales in other channels like brick-and-mortar stores and delivered cost savings at a higher rate than good apps. Ready, Set, App! Let AppSheet help you develop and tweak your mobile apps to help ensure their holiday readiness and drive customer sales. Whether it’s an e-commerce app, inventory management, tracking customer contacts, order capture, or something else, AppSheet can transform your data into convenient, custom apps just in time for the Holidays.

Can RMAD Create Better Apps Than Traditional Developers Can?

  As the demand for mobile apps escalates, low-code/no-code rapid mobile app development platforms are rising to meet the need, allowing so-called “citizen developers” to produce apps in less time at far lower costs. And as tech users become increasingly tech-savvy, an increasing amount of app development is falling not to traditional developers, but to those outside the IT department in order to address particular technology needs. App Demand Outpacing Developers’ Ability To Create A recent Gartner Study found that opportunities are ripe for Rapid Mobile App Development in 2016, and another Gartner report warns that by the end of 2017, “market demand for mobile app development services will grow at least five times faster than internal IT organizations’ capacity to deliver them.” That spells trouble for application developers who are barely meeting custom mobile app demands in enterprise today. According to Gartner’s James Wong, “We’re definitely seeing a sprawling demand for RMAD tools by businesses. There’s IT that’s trying to meet the demand of the business units to fulfill all these mobile apps they need for employees, business partners, and even consumers, but there’s just not enough skilled mobile developers at this point. It can be very expensive to hire and train [new developers] because the demand for these business talents is also so great that it’s hard to retain them.” By 2019, mobile phone sales will reach 2.1 billion units, which will in turn “fuel demand for apps in the enterprise that meet the high performance and usability of consumer apps.” Employees and employers alike will want custom mobile applications that are slick and easy to use but also improve workflow and productivity without sacrificing enterprise must-haves: security, data integration, offline access, and more. How RMAD Tools Compare To Traditional Developers But can RMAD tools actually produce better results than those created by its developer counterparts? RMAD reveals its true value in the fact that low-code and no-code platforms allow non-developers to product secure, highly functioning apps at a lower cost than hiring traditional developer talent. Wong provided some insight into this challenge, explaining: “RMAD tools are becoming very popular because these tools allow enterprises to use and train their existing resources, business analysts, and folks that are maybe designers, that use Photoshop or InDesign or have worked on Microsoft Access building macros and things like that.” These “citizen developers” are taking app creation to new levels, Wong says. “They don’t know coding, but they can put together a user interface, they can use modeling to create work flows and model some of the business logic, so they’re able to ramp up these resources faster to deliver applications.” The demand for mobile apps is five times that of ITs ability to deliver on it in the current environment. Using MAD tools allows IT to decentralize some of that work so IT’s not a bottleneck and these “citizen developers”  can work within the lines of business to fulfill immediate needs. Corporate App Stores and IT Developers’ Response Wong says that corporate app stores are becoming the norm as more internal business apps are being produced, with each employee developing their own portfolio of apps that is unique to his or her own department. And actually, Wong explains, most IT developers are a bit relieved that citizen developers are taking some of the pressure off of them. He stated that IT “would rather focus on all that backend stuff they’re familiar with and start picking and choosing RMADs that make sense for their business partners to leverage to build the apps that they need. IT can start concentrating on the core of backend stats, making sure that it’s reliable, open and its governance and security apply to it so when these frontend tools are using those services, there are guardrails for them to build the applications using these RMAD tools.” According to Gartner, mobile apps will be downloaded more than 268 billion times, with mobile users providing personalized data streams to more than 100 apps and services every day. The pressure to create these apps far exceeds the available IT talent to produce them. “We predict that enterprises will have upwards of one thousand apps,” says Wong. “Today you have hundreds of desktop applications in a large enterprise; HR systems, sales systems, financial systems, customer service, and for each one of those apps the backend sits on a desktop. These apps could be repurposed for different types of users; information from those backends could live in different types of applications.” Non-developers Have The Edge When It Comes To Understanding Needs “Mobile applications are much smaller. So when you work, you work in an application to fit your profile and your persona. You go in and do a task fairly quickly, then get out. There’s going to be several different apps you will need based on your profile; you can have some business productivity apps. If you’re a salesperson, you have document apps, multiple sales apps, your time expense application, schedule application, weather application when you’re traveling, and things like that; there are going to be lots of applications out there.” Non-developers, being closer to the needs and intricacies of the mobile apps they need, may in fact be able to produce better final products than developers, but it will depend on how well IT, developers, and other stakeholders can collaborate in the process of developing the best possible apps with available resources. Download our comprehensive guide to rapid mobile app development & launching business apps within your organization.

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