Apps as a Service: The Ultimate Guide

by | Dec 12, 2018

We all know by now that apps can be an important part of the marketing and communications strategy for many businesses and nonprofits. And they aren’t just for your large multinational corporations and enterprises:, 47% of small business with 50+ employees have had a mobile app since before 2017. However, there are still many companies that haven’t embraced the idea of building a mobile app.

For many companies, mobile apps are too expensive to build, and are burdensome to maintain, requiring expensive technical talent to manage the code base and keep it up to date. That’s where Hatch Apps comes in, as well as other apps as a service platforms. This new wave of apps as a service mitigates cost and maintenance issues making app development easier and more accessible than ever before.

What are apps as a service?

Apps are built with code, right? But who owns it? Traditionally, if you have a mobile app for your business, you own the code that the app is built on, and you’re responsible for making software updates, maintenance and changes. But with apps as a service, you essentially subscribe to use the source code that an app is built on. These apps are built, published, and managed through the cloud, but are built and deployed in the same way as a traditional app. This idea isn’t  actually a new concept in today’s economy. Most companies utilize some form of a subscription services, including services like Adobe Creative Suite, Salesforce, and Hubspot. With app services, it’s the same thing, just instead of subscribing to manage your CRM, you are subscribing to use the source code that your app is built on.

 

What is the Subscription Economy?

Apps as a service are part of the Subscription Economy. In the past, the economy was formed around the idea of products, that is, having a defined product or service that is a singular transaction between a customer and a company. Today, with services like Salesforce and Dropbox, companies are turning towards building long-term relationships with customers by offering subscription experiences that meet their ever-evolving needs better than a one-time product or service ever could.

The truth is, most people don’t necessarily care about ownership. We care about value, we care about access to the item or service when we want it, and we care about the product functioning at peak performance when we want to use it. Subscription services enable companies to achieve all of the above, creating exceptional experiences for their users.

The Subscription Economy is also all about customization, something customers often crave more than ownership. Apps as a service are relatively new to the Subscription Economy, but they fall under the same characteristics of other subscription businesses, enabling people to create custom apps without dealing with managing and maintaining the code behind it.

 

Why are people hesitant to subscribe to apps?

There are a few reasons why people are hesitant to subscribe to apps as a service. The first is that most people believe that it is very important to own your own code, as it is a protection of your intellectual property (IP). The truth is, most apps aren’t uniquely distinct in their IP, as they are often a compilation of the same features and functionalities, just compiled in different ways.

While the code is owned by the app service provider, there are important things that are only owned by you, such as your data (and any data that travels through the app), your brand, your users, and your unique application of those features, all of which are often more valuable than the source code. For example, any customers on the Hatch Apps platform are the sole owners of their user data and can access it at any time, and even take it with them in the event that they no longer require our service.

As a no-code app development platform, we are often compared to automated web development platforms such as WordPress, which offer a similar value to businesses, but for websites instead of native apps. While businesses used to have similar hang-ups with their websites, such as wanting to own their code, these days they understand that a website as a service make more sense from an economic and operational standpoint. There are massive businesses that build their sites on WordPress for these very reasons, including: Tech Crunch, The New Yorker, The Walt Disney Company, Time, Inc. and the Facebook Newsroom.

The last hang-up people have about subscriptions to apps is the psychological perspective that they are paying more money. Many people see paying a one-time bill, even if it’s a large one, as cheaper in the long run than having to pay out every month for the same service. What they don’t take into consideration is that when services are updated, you often have to buy a whole new package at the same high rate, as opposed to getting automatic updates year round with a subscription. With apps as a service like Hatch Apps, you are getting the benefit of improvements to the platform over time, as well as code maintenance that are included in the subscription. We’ve learned that the average cost of maintenance with a software development firm is about $2,495 per month, but with a streamlined service it can cost about half that amount.

A good example to show the economics of a on-time fee versus a subscription is the Adobe Creative Suite, which is now only a subscription service (but used to be a software that you could buy once and install). While many grumble about having to pay every month, subscribers automatically get software updates for the platforms, whereas in the past once it became out of date, they would need to rebuy the suite over again. So, while many are hesitate to pay a subscription, it is usually more cost effective than the repeat big ticket purchases.

What are the benefits of subscribing to an app as a service?

There are many benefits to subscribing to apps as a service. First of all, with app services you don’t have to worry about code maintenance or the burden of owning and managing code bases, which can become cumbersome to say the least. App services are a good example of the “work smarter, not harder” mentality.

Another benefit of apps as a service is that they’re economical. By subscribing to a monthly service, you don’t need to pay the high fees of developing the code from scratch, or paying a production management team to manage the code (after all, app maintenance can play a huge role in your development cost). Apps as a service become especially economical when you are planning to build an app on multiple platforms, such as iOS, Android and the web. Historically, you would need developers with different skill sets and areas of expertise to manage these different code bases, but with apps as a service you’ll have access to all three for a much lower price point, and faster turnaround times.

Apps as a service also usually include access to app management features. These include content management, push notification management, and app user management. These features are often critical to an app’s success over time, as they help you to attract and maintain user relationships and promote your app.

 

“Backend as a service” and “cloud as a service”

Another term you might have heard floating around is backend as a service, or alternatively, cloud as a service. This is the idea of using a provider to power the backend of mobile app development. Basically, what backend as a service does is manage all of the technical infrastructure behind an app (the backend, if you will) that allows it to work properly. This is different from a full app as a service, because an app as a service helps you deploy the entire mobile application architecture, not just the backend elements. A full app as a service provides you with more help in deploying and managing your app, which might be better or worse depending on your situation.

What’s the downside to apps as a service?

Even with all the benefits of apps as a service, there is the one obvious drawback: you don’t own the code your app is built on. This means that you can’t make fundamental changes to your app through the source code yourself, so you can’t completely overhaul the functionality and design of your app on your own. That being said, you can still make updates to your app’s content and functionality using the no-code app management platform, and you can also benefit from the improvements made to the platform over time, with access to additional features and capabilities as they are built into the platform.

The issue of code ownership can be more problematic for certain companies, such as very large corporations who want their development team to maintain full control of all of their digital products. For many small-medium sized companies who are just getting started with mobile development in their overall marketing strategy, the fact that you are servicing your source code from a cloud-based service is less of an issue.

 

Are apps as a service the next “big thing”?

Are apps as a service going to take over the mobile app development world as the main way to create, deploy, and manage an app? Potentially. In 2015, $420B spent on subscription services in the US. As time goes on people seem to be more and more interested in subscription-based services rather than traditional one-and-done products and services. But the answer to this question is it depends on you, your business, and the app you want. Weighing the pros and cons of app services and cloud application development, and how they would function as part of your business model and strategy is important. Do your research and make the best decision for yourself in the moment.

Learning to code is hard but there are several different ways you can build an app without coding. But if you’re interested in learning more about a no-code app builder like Hatch Apps, make sure to set up a 15-minute conversation with our team. We’d love to learn about your app idea!

 

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