2016 Is the Year Small Businesses Must Develop Mobile Apps

Apps are no longer considered merely a “branding exercise” for small businesses. Business owners are becoming wise to the marketing power a well-designed, intuitive app can bring. From simplifying online purchases to providing easy-to-access information, the benefits are undeniable which is why small businesses must develop mobile apps to stay competitive.

Why Small Businesses Must Develop Mobile Apps

In previous years, the rising cost of custom app developers made apps an impossible expense for small businesses. The recent growth of software development kits that streamline the app development process and allow even non-coders to create a fully-functioning app have dramatically reduced the cost of creating an app.

The affordability and fast development times these kits allow has encouraged more businesses than ever to create their own apps.

As social media use continues to rise, consumers are becoming more open to engaging with brands on a day-to-day basis, even if they aren’t specifically loyal to or purchasers of that particular business. Business owners and marketers are capitalizing on consumers’ desires for interaction by producing entertaining mobile apps. While being fun to use, informational or inspirational, a common characteristic of these apps is that they feature a strong call-to-action to persuade the user to purchase a product or in some way benefit the company in question.

What Types of Small Businesses are Making Apps?

A 2015 analysis of 40,402 apps created with an app development platform found that while “expected” businesses such as restaurants and gyms were highly prevalent, others such as golf courses, hotels, politicians and plumbers were also on the rise.

But why are these industries building more apps? Well, as the ease of building apps increases, so does the amount of potential functionality. One-off investments in systems such as in-app payments or bookings can save businesses money in the long-term as they reduce the amount of time their staff needs to spend fulfilling orders, taking payments or completing bookings.

For businesses that meet potential clients at various locations, the ability to show data or portfolio pieces offline using an app can make the difference between closing the sale and losing the prospect to a competitor.

How are Small Businesses Benefiting from Mobile Apps?

A recent survey showed that 62 percent of the businesses asked already had apps or were in the process of building one. Of those, 20 percent used their apps purely for branding purposes, 30 percent have revenue generating apps and 50 percent use them for support and engagement.

We spend 174 minutes on mobile devices every day. Mobile sales are estimated to have reached $74 billion in 2015 — up 32 percent from 2014. Thirty percent of all online purchases by Millennials are done on mobile devices. This jumps to 33 percent for moms and 43 percent for U.S. Hispanics.

However, apps aren’t just for commerce businesses. Push notifications can be used by any niche to put your brand name directly in front of the smartphone owner. Apps can be used for any type of activity: booking systems, file uploads, vouchers, newsletters, digital magazines, support, providing information, logging exercise or nutrition, showing videos and so much more.

Even businesses that you wouldn’t have thought would benefit from an app are proving critics wrong by producing innovative and engaging apps. For example, an independent pet food supplier could have an app that encourages users to upload comical photographs of their pets for a chance to win a prize. A product for new mothers could build a community of local mums and arrange meet-ups. A realtor could create an app that compares local house prices now to five years ago. The possibilities really are endless. All it takes is a little imagination to devise a system that consumers will enjoy engaging with.

What Does the Future Hold?

The projections around app driven revenue are staggering. Non-game app downloads are estimated to grow 23 percent in the next five years, exceeding $182 billion in 2020. Smartphone adoption in emerging markets should see mobile app store downloads more than double between 2015 and 2020.

Current data about mobile purchasing across the different age groups gives a strong indication that in 5-10 years, everyone is going to be a mobile shopper. Sixty-nine percent of millennials buy products on their smartphones, compared to 53 percent of Gen Xers and 16 percent of Boomers.

The increased market share and spending power this brings will make apps a necessity for B2C businesses in order to streamline a consumer’s journey from product browsing to payment.

The above statistics are also good news for digital agencies that offer mobile app development. As more businesses adopt apps, the demand for their services grows. The development of new ‘smart products’ such as virtual reality and wearable technology may compound this further as apps will need to be adapted to work on new online platforms.

Mobile Phone User Photo via Shutterstock

[“source-smallbiztrends”]

Microsoft Nokia Acquisition: Good For Small Businesses

Yesterday’s news that Microsoft will acquire Nokia for $7.2 billion is probably good news for both Microsoft and Nokia, and also for small businesses.

Naysayers – and there are a lot of them – use words like it’s “too little too late” and that Nokia “can’t save” Microsoft.  For instance, industry observer Vivek Wadhwa sees lots of problems on the horizon for Microsoft. He says the answer is for Microsoft to break itself up into nimbler pieces.

Others, such as Business Insider’s Henry Blodget, see it as a “smart move” but one not likely to be successful because it’s too much of a Hail Mary pass, in his opinion.  If it works, it can win the game.  But chances are high it won’t work, for a variety of reasons.  For example, he notes that the big party in the mobile space has been tablets, but that Nokia has a nonexistent tablet offering.  Microsoft, on the other hand, has tablet offerings, but they have been high priced and slow to catch on.

The Microsoft viewpoint was aptly put in an announcement sent to members of Microsoft’s Voices for Innovation community, by Jonathan Friebert, Microsoft’s public policy manager, who explained:

“This deal adds to the momentum of Windows Phone and will accelerate growth as the next billion people come online using mobile devices. In addition, the transaction provides Microsoft with leading geospatial and mapping technologies. The integration of hardware and software will strengthen the position of the Microsoft ecosystem and provide a wide range of choice to consumers worldwide.”

Why A Microsoft – Nokia Combo is Good For Businesses

For businesses that are Windows shops, having a range of Windows smartphones and tablets is an attractive thing.  It provides a real alternative for businesses.

Apple and Google’s Android dominate the consumer mobile devices market today.  It would be a hard row to hoe, to try to gain substantial market share there. But for business users … by combining forces Nokia and Microsoft have the potential for a stronger offering for the business market.

Businesses need that.  For business users, there’s real benefit to being able to use a phone and tablet that integrate seamlessly with your desktop or laptop  computers.  It’s efficient.  It puts less burden on businesses that use Windows.  There’s less of a learning curve.

When a device makes it easier to conduct business, then small businesses and enterprises have a real reason to choose a Windows smartphone or a Windows tablet.

That’s especially true with tablets. Until recently there was somewhat of a void in the marketplace.  Yes, iPads and Android tablets are fun.  But for business users they have limited business value.   If my own Google Nexus tablet is any example, it tends to get used mainly for entertainment and occasionally on business trips when I have to write something longer than an email with two or three sentences.  It’s not very functional when it comes to the heavy lifting of business work I do.  My little 4-year old netbook computer is unpleasant to use for entertainment purposes, but far more useful than my tablet when it comes to real work, despite being old and slow.  Consequently, I often carry both on business trips — one for watching movies and catching up on email and social media, and the other for real work.

Some think that Microsoft’s acquisition of Nokia is as much about tablets as smartphones.  It gives Microsoft access to hardware technology and access to Nokia’s distribution network.

To date, Microsoft has had limited success with tablets.  After the market failed to positively receive its stripped down Windows RT tablet, Microsoft reduced the price.  Its Surface tablet with full Windows 8 was better received, but pricey and so Microsoft also dropped the price of the Surface tablet.

Yes, Microsoft was slow to the tablet and smartphone party.  But there really is a place for good Windows phones and good Windows tablets in the business world.  Those that prefer a unified operating system across all their devices were essentially out of luck before Windows tablets and phones. They were forced to pick one of the big industry leaders, Google or Apple, for the operating systems on their mobile devices instead.  Now they could have more options, if the Microsoft – Nokia acquisition is successful. For the sake of business users, we hope this acquisition will lead to more mobile device choices.

Images: Wikipedia

[“source-smallbiztrends”]

10 Features of Apple’s iOS 10 Small Businesses Need to Know About

10 iOS 10 Features for Business That Small Businesses Need to Know About

The new iOS 10 by Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) has been described by the company as its biggest release yet, and as an operating system with more personal, powerful and playful features. The good thing for small business owners is that the new features would seem to drastically enhance the way you can run your business on your iPhone or iPad.

Whether you are using the new iPhone 7 or many of the previous versions also supported by iOS 10, there are some new features that will make you more productive, the company says.

Here are 10 features small business owners can start experimenting with right away with iOS 10.

iOS 10 Features for Business

Comprehensive Privacy and Advanced Security

With smartphones and tablets now inexorably linked to the way we do business, and the threat of digital security also an inevitable part of this ecosystem, it is extremely important to have a comprehensive privacy and advance security solution in place.

The privacy features in iOS 10 now require your permission if an app in Calendar, Contacts, Reminders, Photos or others wants your location information or personal data. These features extend with even more control to the way in which HealthKit and HomeKit access your data.

Your conversations in iMessages and FaceTime are encrypted, so hackers waiting in the middle of a conversation won’t be able to see, hear or read what you are communicating. And when you are on Safari surfing the web, you can browse privately, block cookies, and prevent websites from tracking you.

The security, according to Apple, is the most advanced security of any mobile operating system. The new features help secure your personal protection with hardware and firmware that have been designed to protect against malware and viruses throughout the entire system. The device is protected with Touch ID and the apps have high-grade encryption, app transport security, and more.

Maximized Graphic Performance

When you are on a smartphone or tablet the last thing you want is lackluster performance from your device. Since iOS has been engineered specifically for the iPhone and iPad with a framework the company calls Metal, it is able to maximize graphic performance whether you are videoconferencing, accessing applications from the cloud, viewing a PowerPoint presentation, moving from app to app or playing the most complex 3D video game after a hard day of work.

Enchanced Machine Intelligence

The new OS has been designed to take advantage of the progress that has taken place in software intelligence. This includes Apple-developed machine-learning technology, which has also been incorporated into Siri.

The result is a more intuitive system that makes everything you do with your device easier and faster.  Proactive suggestion, and predictive typing have been combined with Siri for a personal assistant that will answer many of your questions and take your requests by speaking naturally. Siri now works with your favorite apps, so you can request a ride, send payments using Square Cash, book a reservation through OpenTable, and more.

Continuity Across All Devices

Even if your business is mobile first, there are multiple computing devices that are part of the total technological solutions in place in your company. This generally means laptops and desktops both at the office and at home. In order to ensure continuity across all devices, iCloud and iOS automatically connect many of Apple’s products.

You can start a task on the iPad and finish it on your Mac and stream video from your iPhone or iPad to your television through Apple TV. Everything gets synced automatically, so any time you add a new document, image or video the latest version will appear on all your devices.

AirDrop for Large File Sharing

You now work outside of the office just as much as you do inside, and this means sharing large files that far exceed the limitations of email servers. AirDrop is a feature that lets you send large files wirelessly no matter where you are, so you won’t have to go back to the office when you are on location.

Handoff Email and Messaging Across Devices and Solutions

The continuity feature extends to an application called Handoff which lets you write an email and hand it off to Mail, Safari, Pages, Numbers, Keynote, Maps, Messages, Reminders, Calendar, Contacts, Notes, Podcasts, Clock, and News.

When you are ready to text you can send messages from any of your devices, receive it on your iPhone and reply on your iPad or Mac. You can choose a number from Safari, Contacts or Calendar to quickly send a text message.

Multilingual Typing

We live in a very connected world, and even the smallest of businesses now interacts with people in many countries around the world. This means multiple languages, and the multilingual typing feature lets you type in two languages at the same time without having to switch keyboards.

The OS recognizes English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese and Spanish pairs, as well as Chinese.

CarPlay

As a small business owner on  the go, you can sometimes use your car as your second office. CarPlay makes it possible to safely and easily use your iPhone to make calls, send and receive messages, get directions and more so you can focus on your driving. It puts the functions you want to use on the built-in display of the vehicle so you can control them with your voice, touch or the knobs and controls of the car. Currently CarPlay is available on more than 100 automobile models, with more on the way.

Unsecured WiFi Network Warning

Free WiFi is so tempting but if you are not 100 percent sure it is secure, you can easily fall victim to an attack. Unsecured WiFi Network Warning makes recommendations when you connect your iOS device to an unsecured network.

New Notifications with 3D Touch

The new rich Notifications feature lets you quickly view videos, photos and reply. All it takes is tapping on the notification to launch the app or force press with the new feature rich 3D Touch to popup a preview. It also lets you clear the notification and delete emails from the expanded notification.

New APIs for Developers

Although Apple is notorious for protecting its intellectual property, the company has been coming around after witnessing the great benefits of what APIs have accomplished for other companies.  The Apple iOS 10 SDK has new APIs and services that now contain its more popular applications, including Messages, Siri, and Maps. Developers will now be able to create innovative functionalities using Apple’s platform creating more business models for small developers.

Greater Compatibility with Other Apple — and Android — Devices

The new iOS 10 is compatible with: iPhone 7 and 7 Plus; iPhone 6s, 6s Plus, 6, 6 Plus; iPhone SE; iPhone 5s, 5c, 5; iPad Pro 12.9-inch and 9.7-inch; iPad Air 2; iPad Air; iPad 4th generation; iPad mini 4; iPad mini 3; iPad mini 2; and iPod touch 6th generation.

Apple has also made it much easier to move to iOS on your Android device. You can download the Move to iOS app on your Android device from any Android app store, and it supports all phones and tablets running Android 4.0 and later. You can get more information from Apple here.

If you want to upgrade to iOS 10 here‘s where you can do it.

Images: Apple

[“source-smallbiztrends”]

How to Improve Inventory Tracking: 5 Solutions for Small Businesses

Being mobile is an absolute essential for small business entrepreneurs who need the flexibility to run their businesses from just about anywhere. This flexibility can come easily if your business deals with virtual services, like consulting. But if your company provides a physical sales product, you can’t escape the need to track inventory.

Enterprise-level inventory tracking systems are not only expensive, but they can also be complex and difficult to use. This can be especially frustrating if your inventory tracking needs are more on par with a small local storage room than giant warehouses on multiple continents. Good news: flexible cloud-based apps are making it easier to remotely manage stock without breaking the bank.

These are five of my favorites that can simplify your inventory tracking needs.

StockPile

Built by Canvus Applications, StockPile is a free (yes, it’s really and truly free) online inventory tracking system designed specifically for small businesses. The Canvus Applications team releases updates every quarter as they add new features and enhancements for daily operation management. Create inventory items (“stock”), assign them a location and quantity, and add/remove stock during a transaction. One potential downside some users have noted: StockPile isn’t great about handling units with decimals since it is built to handle single inventory units (e.g., 500 bags of flour rather than 10.5 kg of flour).

But this is a minor complaint about an otherwise solid inventory tracking system. Stockpile pledges to be forever free for unlimited uses, unlimited items, and unlimited locations. If you’re still tracking inventory with spreadsheets, this is a good “starter” inventory tracker app.

Wasp Barcode Technologies

Take the logistical nightmare out of tracking and auditing inventory supplies with Wasp Barcode Technologies. Their affordable inventory management software system reduces waste and makes inventory control a piece of cake. Built-in features include automated reports for managing inventory and quickly conducting audits. Notify suppliers when levels are low or items are past due.

Design your own inventory and shipping labels or choose from more than 100+ pre-designed templates with integrated barcode labeling software. Stop running out of stock, eliminate costly end-of-year inventory write-offs, and increase profitability by getting your products to the consumer faster.

JumpTech

JumpTech offers three great cloud and mobile-based inventory management systems. JumpStart, designed originally to assist healthcare providers, offers easy, automated recording of all supply transactions for better supply planning and management. Never lose an inner-office package again with InnerTrack, a smart package workflow tracking system for monitoring pickups, delivers and material transfers that eliminates manual processes and — even better — creates an easy-to-follow electronic audit trail. JumpCart is a streamline procurement platform designed to reduce ordering time and decrease inventory purchase errors. The apps all work with a mobile scanner that sends information instantly to the cloud so everyone’s on the same page about inventory status at all times. With software that’s so interactive it’s almost like having a real-life inventory manager on staff, JumpTech’s solutions are all built to utilize low-cost, cloud computing technology that’s compatible with mobile phones and tablets.

Goods Order Inventory System (GOIS) Pro

This Web and mobile app is built specifically to address the inventory management needs for small and mid-sized businesses. GOIS Pro uses your mobile camera as a barcode scanner to quickly pull up stock information and make on-the-go stock adjustments or transfer inventory from one location to another.

The flexible app includes useful features, like the ability to define some products as freebies or gifts, set discounts and manage tax rates. Line up multiple items within one order to be processed partially or at once using the multi-part procurement feature. Real-time synchronization means everyone on your team is working off the same up-to-date inventory data.

Stock Control

This simple inventory app covers all the basics without any unnecessary bells and whistles: list your items, sort them into categories, and import/export your inventory lists with CSV files. For precise stock level management, Stock Control allows for basic inventory tracking in multiple storage spaces and includes automatic shortage alerts for each item. The barcode scanner organizes items into groups and subsets. Stock Control includes mobile apps for iOS/Android and a desktop companion version.

Bottom Line

From mobile barcode scanning to automated alerts, inventory tracking apps are a must for simplifying small business management. Have a favorite that I missed? Share it in the comments below!

Inventory Scanner Photo via Shutterstock

[“source-smallbiztrends”]