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When building an app, you’ll be faced with two decisions:
Build a custom mobile app or Buy an off-the-shelf (otherwise known as ‘white-label’) solution. There are benefits and drawbacks to each when it comes to time, cost, and longevity.
In this post, we’re going to be looking at the benefits of custom mobile app development so that you can make an informed decision for your next project.
Custom app development is the process of building an app largely from scratch.
You might build a custom mobile app using your in-house talent or by outsourcing the design and development to an expert agency or service that can build your app for you.
An off-the-shelf app, on the other hand, is when you purchase an app that is nearly complete or acts as a template of sorts.
You may change some colors, fonts, and UI elements around, but the general structure, look, and functionality of the app have already been locked in place.
Ready-made apps have the benefit of being a bit more affordable and much faster to develop as they are deployed across a number of clients.
However, you won’t own it, you’ll need to rely on them for fixes and they’re generally less customized, tailored to your needs, or unique to your vision.
There’s no one size fits all approach to app development — and that’s equally true when it comes to custom app development vs off-the-shelf.
Custom apps won’t be the best option 100% of the time for 100% of projects, but nor are white-label, off-the-shelf solutions either. It’s all about the resources you have and the needs of your current project.
Here are some questions you can ask yourself to decide whether building a custom mobile app is right for your business or not.
First, you’ll want to consider how much time and money you have to dedicate to this project.
As mentioned, an off-the-shelf solution is almost always going to be more affordable upfront. And it’ll definitely be quicker to launch when compared to custom app development.
For that reason, an off-the-shelf can be the right move if you’re just looking for proof of concept via an MVP.
When it comes to more robust needs, though, the extra time and financial investment of a custom mobile app will pay off in the long term.
Not to mention that an off-the-shelf will tend to have hidden optimization costs over time, which can make the difference in price negligible.
This is where building a custom mobile app will truly show its strengths.
If you are building an app with a strategic, commercial, long-term purpose and function for your customer/user, then you’ll almost always want to go with custom app development.
You’ll own the app and all related intellectual property (IP), will have more control over the app’s functionality and will be able to fine-tune it to your needs.
Businesses looking to break into highly-competitive spaces or tap into emerging trends should seriously consider custom app development to create and protect their competitive advantage.
Read more about custom mobile apps for the cannabis eCommerce space in our Forbes article here.
So how does an off-the-shelf app compare?
It will usually have several elements included that you do not own. This can lead to your app’s lifespan being cut short whenever the supplier goes out of business, stops supporting your app, or simply changes its rules.
If your app is being built to serve an internal purpose within the business, however, then a white-label solution could work just fine.
Lastly, you’ll want to consider who your audience is when debating custom app development.
As we mentioned above, if you’re looking to build an app for internal use within your business, and the customer is you, then you might be safe going with an off-the-shelf app.
That’s because the design and IP elements, as well as lifespan of the app, probably won’t end up being a priority for your business but again it depends on the purpose and needs of the business.
Moving quickly and saving upfront capital might be more important.
If your audience is going to be customers or clients or support a complex internal operation, then a custom mobile app is much more favorable.
It can be updated and improved with time, which is important to compete in the busy mobile space.
And having more control over your IP and functionality means that you can present a consistent and marketable face to your users.
Of course, not everything has to be black and white. You could compromise by using an off-the-shelf back end and a custom mobile app front end.
This can help you save costs while still presenting a customized, feature-packed UI.
A sector that can especially benefit from this sort of compromise is finance. That’s because financial apps tend to need a lot of integrations and technical know-how to put together.
You can lean on a white-label app’s pre-built features to supply these technical components for you while giving it a customized front-end layer.
Custom mobile apps ensure greater competitive advantage, especially if your app is going to be used by clients or customers.
Building your app from scratch means you’ll be able to better align it to the needs of your customers, integrate more cutting-edge features, keep your app updated over time, and create a bespoke front end that speaks to your brand.
An off-the-shelf app can’t guarantee these kinds of results. You’re more likely to blend in with competitors, or even worse, get left behind in their dust.
Custom app development empowers unique user experiences.
You can build innovative features, delightful elements, and engaging interactions into your app that will set you apart from the crowd.
This can go a long way towards establishing your product as something unique and valuable in the market. You can offer something that no one else can.
With a white-label app, though, you’ll likely wind up offering the minimum standard that everyone is used to.
It’s worth repeating this point and shouting it from the rooftops: building a custom mobile app means that you’ll own your app’s greatest asset, and that’s the IP.
And unless a white-label solution is open source, you are very unlikely to end up owning the app you build. A significant portion of it (or all of it) will be owned by the supplier.
That means that you’re dependent on them to keep your app updated, functional, and available. At any moment, they could go out of business or pull your app from the market for a variety of reasons.
By going the route of custom app development, you can prevent yourself from running into these sorts of issues.
When you want to build a custom app, you’ll want to work with an experienced design and development partner.
Our expert app creators use a reliable, repeatable four-phase process for building mobile apps:
Together we can make your mobile app the most valuable option for your target user.
Get in touch today and let’s discuss your custom mobile application needs.
Jeremy Stephan is no stranger to building digital products. In fact, he's worked with Disney, NBC, Mercedes-Benz, HotelTonight, and many other companies in helping to guide them through the app design and development process. Jeremy has led client engagement in the digital space for over 10 years and served as a mentor within the TechStars network.