Finding and Using Mobile Apps During Your Convention
Careful pre-planning reaps numerous benefits.
By Andrew Abrams
It’s time for your convention. Encourage everyone attending to download your convention application so they know what’s going on, where events are occurring, who else is attending, who’s speaking and who’s exhibiting.
This app isn’t just available on the day of your convention; it needs to be planned for at least six months or more prior to the event. How do you find the right app and will it have the features, integrations and work within your budget?
What’s Your Budget?
First, budget drives everything. There are many “off-the-shelf” convention/event apps already in the marketplace for you to choose from. They vary in price from $599 (you get what you pay for) to more than $10,000 for custom apps. There are actually two different kinds of apps, web apps and native apps.
A web app is really just a responsive website written specifically for a mobile interface that you can’t “download” but rather “pin” it to the home screen of a mobile device such as a bookmark. Web apps require a constant Internet connection because they are accessed via the mobile browser.
To utilize a web app though, you must have an excellent and consistent Internet connection available inside your convention that is easy to access and won’t be congested. Otherwise the people at the convention won’t be able to use the app. While web apps can run on any type of mobile device, they don’t offer the same feature set that native apps do, one thing being push notifications, as well as caching of data.
A native app is one that is written specifically for each mobile platform – iOS, Android Windows Mobile and BlackBerry. This means that a native app is really four different apps and needs to be written for each platform independently by porting over the code from one to the other. If changes are needed to the interface, code must be replicated across all the different versions related to their respective platforms. This makes native apps more expensive, but also more robust in feature set and capability.
Native apps get installed on a device like anything else downloaded from the app store. This allows the native app to cache information in the background so that when it’s launched or left running in the background, it can store and receive content related to the convention without users needing consistent Internet to pull in the data each time they click on a button or area in the app.
Native apps can be expensive though because of the multiple platforms they can run on. Take Apple iOS devices for example. You can go with an app that works on the iPhone and iPod touch interface and iPad as well. Since the iPhone and iPad have a different sized screen, two versions need to be written for iOS so users can access it on those devices. Older versions of iPhone such as the 4s have a smaller screen, so the version for the phone needs to be backward compatible for users of 4s all the way to 5s. If functionality needs to be changed in iOS then it has to be done twice, once for the phone version and again for the tablet version. The nice thing about apps for Apple devices is that iOS is consistent across all of their device types with screen size really being the only difference.
Android devices, that’s another matter. It’s the wild, wild West. This is because there are many different phone manufacturers that build devices to run the Android operating system that are all with different screen sizes, processor and memory capability, as well as different versions of the Android OS. If you want an app written for Android phones and tablets, it may need to be written four, five or more different times to be compatible. Therefore most mobile event app providers write their apps for mainly Samsung and other newer and higher resolution devices that make the app not backward compatible to older Android phones, as well as web apps for Windows Mobile and BlackBerry.
Now that we have covered budgets and platforms, let’s consider what the app should do for the convention? Key features should include, but not limited to:
- Social media integration – link the app to your Facebook page, Twitter account, LinkedIn page;
- People – list attendees, speakers and exhibitors’ profiles;
- Places – all the venues and locations at the convention;
- Details – what the convention is for or what’s going to occur;
- Agenda – all the sessions and special events;
- Surveys – get feedback on break out sessions, speakers and content;
- Photos/videos – ability for people to upload pictures during the convention for others to view;
- Map – exhibitor area and break-out session locations with hyper links back to the booths or rooms where things will take place; and,
- Connect – allow attendees to contact the staff of the convention to service any needs or questions they may have.
What about other integrations?
Not all convention apps can or will integrate with registration systems. An app is only as good as the content loaded into it and the ease of use of getting that content in. If your company is utilizing an event registration system, it would be worth the time and cost to integrate that into the app. This will allow attendee information to automatically load into the app when someone registers so that you don’t need to upload spreadsheets of attendees into the app prior to the event. Allowing registrants to edit their profile in the app and choose sessions they are attending can update the registration system, as well as create their agenda and let organizers know who will be at which events/sessions and when.
Wouldn’t it be nice to have the app released to the public well in advance and allow people to register for the convention from within the app? This not only gets the app in the pocket of your attendees well ahead of the event, but it allows you to start pushing notifications to them prior to the event even beginning. All of these integrations more than likely will add a substantial cost to the app so make sure that it’s in your budget if you want these features.
Finally, make sure that whatever app provider you select has a vested interest in the success of the convention and therefore the success of the app. It is imperative the app gets tested prior to launch and that support is provided throughout the process. Keep in mind that programming changes may need to be made once the app is launched as issues arise that weren’t noticed during the release. Any necessary changes to the app after it’s been built need to be done on all platforms; this may pose additional costs as well. Think of it like building a house: he design, architecture and construction need to be planned prior to digging the foundation as it’s easier to change it before it gets built.
Andrew Abrams is co-founder of Out Of The Box Technology APPS, LLC, specializing in custom mobile apps, small business and convention apps, as well as integrations into QuickBooks and other platforms. Find him at http://fransocial.franchise.org.