Google's Apps store hit 100,000 apps last week! Apple's Apps store has over 300,000 to choose from! Downloads of apps are in the BILLIONS (and that's on Apple's Apps store alone)!!! Apps have amazing, almost magical, abilities that weren't even dreamed of just three years ago! Isn't it about time we start making some apps to reach the lost!?!
Maybe, but I'm not so sure. If you're interested in reaching people living in the West and the affluent of the developing world I'd give it a qualified yes but read on to make sure that building an app is really the best place to apply your ministry's resources. If you are seeking to reach the lost in the developing world I'd have to say hold off on apps for now. Why do I say that?
1) To use an app you need to have a smart phone. The lost in the developing world, unless they are at the very top strata of their society, cannot afford a smart phone. Many, in fact, can't even afford a $20 to $25 dollar phone (article). A smart phone typically costs more than $200.
2) While 100% of mobile phones can SMS text message, a large percentage can surf the web and at least 60% can play audio-video media only 20% (smart phones) run apps. That means that if you focus on apps you are automatically missing out on 80% of the potential mobile audience.
3) If that wasn't bad enough, once you decide to focus on apps you then have decide which of the following is the lesser of two evils
A- Buidling a web-based app that can work on any and all smart phone operating systems BUT requires a high speed (3G plus) phone connection and a consumer willing and able to spend the big bucks for heavy data usage. Both the high speed phone systems and the consumers with spare change to throw into data uploads/downloads are few and far between in the developing world.
B- Building a "native" app that only works on a particular smart phone operating system but doesn't necessarily require internet connectivity. If you want to go this route you might want to consider the Nokia Symbian system first and foremost as it is the operating system used in the greatest number of smart phones on the market- 40%. The RIM Blackberry operating system comes in second while Apple's iPhone comes in third with a 17% market share. Realize, though, that even if you went with the big boy, Nokia's Symbian Operating system, that is 40% of 20% of all mobile phones (smart phones only make up 20% of the mobile phone market) meaning that you will have an app that can only reach 8% of the potential mobile audience!!! If you went for an iPhone app you'd only be reaching less than 4% of the potential mobile audience!!!
4) Three recent studies (Borrell Associates, Open Cloud, Adobe) have raised questions as to whether or not apps have been overblown and if their future is limited. The Open Cloud study showed that "the average user downloads 14 apps, and does not use them much following the initial 'app download honeymoon.'" A full 43% of those surveyed said they didn't plan to download any further apps. While apps use didn't rank highly, the third most regularly used smart phone function (after SMS texting and taking photographs) was found to be browsing the internet. The Borrell Associates and Adobe studies brought into question whether, with consumers preference for browsing the web versus using apps, apps future is limited due to ongoing improvements in smart phones web browsing capabilities as well the increased use of the powerful HTML5 web standard. The Borrell Associates study went so far as to say "The improved power and platform-spanning convenience of HTML5 may relegate apps to the fringes of the [mobile] space."
Both the current status quo of the mobile "market" as well as research indicating where its future may be heading would lead me to caution ministries from putting their initial investment in mobile ministry into apps. I fear that far too much of ministries' precious, God given finances and time are being invested in a product, apps, that has entirely too little true utility and impact "on the ground". My one qualification for that would be in situations where a ministry is seeking to equip their own workers with tools that they will personally utilize in their spiritual or physical ministries. In situations where the app is meant to get out to and be used by the local population, or "target audience", I think you would do far better to consider investing in mobile ministry that takes advantage one of the other capabilities listed in point number two. If you'd like to know more about how to go about doing that keep following this blog and check out other sites listed in the Mobile Phone Ministry Web Links paper.
Please feel free to add your opinion or other information you have about the subject either below as a comment or via the forum.