As tablet applications become more prevalent, many companies
are struggling to decide if they want to build a single application that
provides a multitude of functionality or multiple single-purpose apps. This
debate occurs both with customer-facing applications and internal use apps.

The “one app” approach

A single application delivering a multitude of functions has
some immediately compelling benefits. Users searching for applications from
your company are not presented with a confusing array of different application
choices, and you’re able to present one user experience and set of branding.
From a technical perspective, you can employ a common set of functionality that
can be reused across different application functions and have only one codebase
to maintain and update. In short, one “tool” serves a variety of functions, much
like the popular Swiss Army knife.

This makes a great deal of sense if your organization provides a
relatively cohesive set of services. For a company like an airline, a single
application that ties flight searches, bookings, check in, and airline
information benefits from a cohesive experience. For companies that have a
broader set of products or services, this begins to make less sense, especially
as you consider internally-targeted applications. Suppose you want a single
internal application for your company. How do you integrate functionality that
might be as diverse as displaying financial performance, booking meeting rooms,
or entering a new IT support ticket?

The single purpose

Much like a purpose-built sniper rifle that’s designed to hit a
narrow target, some companies choose to create purpose-built applications that
serve a very narrow function. Your sales force might require a very different
user interface and functionality than your supply chain staff, and thus
different applications may make perfect sense. For public-facing applications,
highlighting specific products might drive a purpose-built application or a
desire to get some piece of functionality, however small, to your customers
sooner rather than later.

Deciding between the

To decide between the two broad categories of applications,
start with the following questions:

  • Who is my audience?
    Determine the audience for your application, and if they’ll have similar
    expectations for your application and similar requirements for information.
    While the aforementioned airline app has a very broad audience, they all
    represent travelers on my airline.
  • What are their
    While your audience may be in the same demographic — for
    example, people who work for your company’s European office — they may have
    dramatically different expectations as to what they hope to accomplish with
    your mobile application. A current customer for your company might expect deep
    support and troubleshooting capabilities, while a prospect would expect flashy
    imagery and product information. Internally, someone in the back office might
    expect internal support functions, while someone in field sales would expect
    access to customer and product information.
  • What’s our timeframe?
    A “Swiss Army knife” may sound like the right approach initially, but sometimes getting some functionality out the door is better than getting
    complete functionality. Conversely, if the resources are available, shipping an
    app that offers minimal functionality and low benefit might sour your customers
    to future apps, steering you toward a more complete solution.

There’s really no perfect answer as to whether a highly
functional single application trumps optimized, point solutions in every case.
Spend the time considering the three questions above and, like most areas of
technology, you’ll find the solution that best suits your company and its
current circumstances.

Which is the best fit for your organization and why? Share your feedback in the discussion thread below.