In a "touchless" society, is there an app for everything? According to recent data, we're well on our way. Shutdowns, remote work setups, and shelter-in-place efforts have drastically changed personal and professional societal norms, and with the average person spending nearly four hours on their smartphones each day, as reported by app store intelligence firm App Annie, it's no mystery more companies are getting in on the app action.

Having just launched an app for my e-commerce fulfillment business, I learned a few things along the way that would have been incredibly valuable to have known at the start. These are some of the most important.

1. Solve a Problem

The primary purpose of any mobile business app should be to provide a solution for its intended audience. Case in point: creating contactless engagement capabilities to ease uncertainties surrounding public spaces and interactions. This is being accomplished with apps that either replace a physical experience with a digital one--like app-based fitness classes--or have features that actively prioritize users' health and safety--like Microsoft and UnitedHealth Group's ProtectWell app, which helps employers screen workers for Covid-19 so they can clear them or direct them to be tested if at risk.

We developed the Dotcom Distribution app to provide clients with the flexibility to manage orders, inventory, and shipping methods and view returns data directly from the Shopify admin panel, from anywhere, at any time.

2. Mind Your Budget

Developing an app for the two main mobile platforms (iOS and Android) at the same time can be quite expensive. If your budget cannot accommodate both, consider taking the native development route, rolling out the app on only one platform. Before you make this decision, review your customer data to determine which mobile devices are most frequently used to interact with your company. If there is a major disparity, that makes your decision much easier.

Another option is to use cross-platform development for the two platforms, which is a universal solution supported by multiple mobile platforms simultaneously. Costs can be better controlled using this method, because the app is developed using a shared operating environment, as opposed to programming for each platform in its native operating environment.

3. Keep Security Tight

When given a choice between downloading an app that protects user data and one that doesn't, all other things being equal, the former is going to come out on top. Especially now, with emergence of "bring your own device" culture, data protection is a bigger part of the digital conversation. During our app development process, we discovered that these types of  security features are, in fact, required.

Particularly if an app features a commerce transaction component, developers must ensure a robust security infrastructure to protect users above all else. Examples include embedding code encryptions, enabling biometric authentication, and building trusted payment gateways.

4. Explore Beacon Technology

Beacon technology, which enhances location technology and proximity marketing, has been around since 2013, but the market is currently on a steep growth trajectory that market research and strategy consulting firm Global Market Insights predicts will surpass $25 billion by 2024. Beacons are small, wireless transmitters that connect and send information to smart devices. Once connected, the beacon carries out whatever function it has been programmed to perform.

When used properly and under the correct circumstances, beacon technology can improve offline attribution, amplify out-of-store marketing, and garner more accurate data collection. Mobile App Daily provides a useful primer on the process.

5. Test, Test, Test

App development is not for the faint of heart. It is often a long, laborious, expensive process. Before going public, test your app on every platform where it will be made available and anticipate every possible way users may use the app. In my opinion, this step is not optional. Testing allows you to detect and correct any issues with little or no user impact, paving the way to release the app as you envisioned it.

Through the Play Console, Google allows developers to test apps with specific users or open tests to various-size groups of Google Play users. Apple's TestFlight allows developers to invite up to 10,000 users to test apps and collect feedback before releasing them publicly.

With so many users converting and adapting to digital services that make their lives easier or better, it's likely many will continue using apps in the long-term future. Keep those objectives of utility and longevity top of mind throughout your company's app development process. Apps create a tight connection with your customer that positions you as the problem solver, and that's a great way to earn loyalty and continued business.