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Q&A: Planys Mobile on Creating Innovative Digital Solutions

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Companies around the globe are getting serious about their digital initiatives, rethinking business as usual and introducing new, innovative experiences. It’s a fast-moving space that is quickly turning into a battlefield in which brands must fight for user attention. But they don’t have to fight that battle alone.

Planys Mobile is a Scotland-based mobile and web app development company dedicated to developing strategic digital solutions for clients. The team at Planys works closely with customers across a host of industries — finance, sales, hospitality and beyond — to pair web and mobile interfaces, leveraging the strengths of each, to create robust multi-channel solutions.

We sat down with Joe Henry, co-founder of Planys Mobile, to discuss the ins and outs of digital solutions and the role mobile plays. Here’s what Joe had to say:

Q: At Planys Mobile, you work with a wide variety of companies coming to you for digital solutions. How do you define a digital solution and what type of challenges do clients typically approach you with?

A: Our clients tend to be experts in their own specific field. They have recognised an opportunity to use digital technology to solve a problem in a new way. They may know that they need an app, but don’t understand how to make that happen. Often our clients have seen something in another sector that they want to replicate or improve upon for their own industry. It’s up to us to understand the use case for each client and how a digital solution can add business value.

The real challenge is that we’re usually working with a very low budget in the early days and a need to demonstrate value before clients can secure significant investment. Our approach is to first help them understand what that app could look like, what the development process would entail and then help them figure out how to demonstrate commercial value. Mobile apps offer a wide variety of possibilities, so our next challenge is to narrow the numerous possibilities down to a Minimum Viable Product that’s sufficiently interesting, powerful and will be accepted by the market. That’s where Appcelerator comes into play. The platform offers a huge advantage in terms of speeding up the development process and reducing the cost of getting to that Minimum Viable Product within a tight budget.

Q: How can companies use mobile as an extension of their offering, rather than just another channel?

A: The key here is to understand that mobile is a different context. What you do when using a mobile device and what you do when sitting with a laptop are two completely different things. There is no point in shifting screens from large to small and expecting the same types of interaction to take place. For example, when we worked with RealRider to create their original mobile app, we discovered that users weren’t finding their way into some of the fantastic features that we wanted them to try. The first iteration of the app had all the tools available on their website, but many of the more compelling mobile features were going unused. Because of this, we recreated the app to leverage the unique smartphone capabilities to enhance safety in new ways. The resulting app is very much focused on Crash Detection, a system that uses accelerometers within your mobile device to detect a potential crash incident. It’s a feature that was meant for mobile, and that’s why we decided to bring it front and center.

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Q: Oftentimes we think of mobile apps as tools for those that are “tech savvy”, but many of the apps you’ve created are actually geared toward those looking for simple solutions. How can developers create apps that add value, but are also intuitive?

A: One of the temptations for any developer is to add new and exciting features to apps because they can. However, some of the most successful apps are those that perform one function very, very well. That’s because the vast majority of users are non-technical and require a simple solution to a problem.

When we began developing Business Hound, which is a financial admin system for small business owners, our mantra was to remove features rather than add them as the system is meant for under-serviced business users rather than tech-savvy freelancers. Similarly, our ClickGo application, which is a platform for managing healthcare home appointments, is geared toward users that may suffer from limiting conditions. The app had to be intuitive and easy to navigate.

Simplifying can be a real challenge for developers and forces them to consider the world of the user. It’s crucial to understand the user and anticipate what they’ll need next. Users now expect apps to be thinking one step ahead of them, predicting what they want to do before they do it. In many respects ‘technology’ is irrelevant and should be invisible. It’s vitally important for app developers to be prepared to truly walk in the user’s shoes rather than hide behind the technology.

Q: What are some of the unique features that Planys Mobile harnesses in order to create innovative mobile experiences?

A: We make very frequent use of open APIs such as Google’s location services and federated login, which allows users to share content via major social networks. In the past, we have also used online Semantic Analysis Services to detect positive or negative sentiment in batches of Tweets, Image Recognition services to build a database of beer labels and we’ve even used FourSquare’s venue database to map ‘what’s playing’ in public places. We also regularly build online/offline features for apps that need to operate seamlessly on-the-go.

Most recently, we’ve been looking for new ways to leverage beacon technology — particularly the ability to push geographically contextualised information onto a mobile device without the need for an app at all. We see fantastic potential for this in many markets, particularly retail and tourism.

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