At YAMU we develop apps but they’re nowhere near as popular as our website or print productions. They are however A) cool B) necessary and C) part of our customer lifecycle. We do, however, face some unique issues developing apps in the developing world.
1. Payments Don’t Work
We can’t process in-app payments, at all. None of the app stores connect to Sri Lankan banks, PayPal doesn’t work, etc. There are really rough workarounds (get a foreign bank account, etc) but nothing that is actually usable in a competitive way.
For stuff like pizza ordering (which we’ve been testing) we just do cash or credit card on delivery and reconcile payments with the provider later, which is not how this should be done, either from our perspective or the users.
2. Developing Multiple Apps Sucks
This is really a problem with apps in general, not just in the developing world.
In many ways, apps are a step backward for the open web. For Android, iOS, Windows, Blackberry, etc we have to develop multiple apps. In Sri Lanka if we outsource it we have to hire people that usually outsource to the west, so it costs like $2,000 and up, easy. Plus we have failed every single time we’ve outsourced something.
Our solution has been to use something called Cordova that lets us develop in HTML5 (capacity we have in-house) but even though this is supposed to be deployable to multiple devices, it’s not. We still have to customize it each time. That means we ship an Android update within a day, iPhone within two weeks and Windows forever in the future. Blackberry never. This is unlike web pages where browsers and devices accept an open standard and work with you. Here you have to work with the device.
It’s a pain, it’s expensive and it goes against a lot of the initial value in the open web. That said, for certain intense apps like Hyperlapse you do technically need to develop native apps. For 90% of apps, however, you don’t, the functionality could be done in HTML+.
In this view, the new Firefox phone (which runs HTML apps and is cheap at about $40) is awesome.
And I though there’d be more but that’s about it. Beyond that it’s the usual problems of getting people to download it (relatively easy) and then getting them to use it (hard) and figuring out whether to add new features to the same app or launch new apps altogether (dunno).