Do I really Need An iPhone App?

I’ve been asked this question a few times lately and no one likes to hear the answer, “It Depends”.  This question reminds me of the “Do I Need A Website” question that everyone asked in 1999-2000. 

Leander Kahney on Cult of Mac had a great article about a similar conversation at CES called “CES: Companies Must Have An iPhone App or They Don’t Exist”.  The article is great and the comments are even better. 

You first need to focus on what experience you are looking to provide to your customers.  After you’ve decided on your purpose and how you want to present this to the user, then you should select your medium.  You also need to ask yourself if you are ready to own a software product.  Unlike a website you need to worry about versioning, piracy, installation problems, etc.

My recommendations 80% of the time is to focus on optimizing your website for mobile browsing.  This approach allows you to target all of the popular mobile devices (iPhone, Android, Blackberry, etc) without having to build an application for each platform.  CSSiPhone.com shows some excellent examples of websites optimized for the iPhone and other mobile devices.  With frameworks like iUI and jQTouch you can style your site to mimic native applications using only CSS and JavaScript. 

There are several frameworks and articles listed below help get you started.

If you feel you need an app anyway but don’t want to invest in developing and maintaining a software product there are tools/services that help you convert your website into an iPhone app quickly and cheaply.  Although I’m not a fan of this approach, it allows you to publish content to a mobile device without any real development concerns.  When using these tools/services I would caution that you read their features closely.  They almost always provide less functionality then any of the existing apps you are looking to mimic.

Below is a list of a few services that help with this conversion.

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