By Sham Careem, co-founder and CCO of mobile portal solutions company Momac

Operators see app stores primarily as one of three distant, nice-to-have but non-essential assets: simple self-care channels, WiFi hotspot finders or TV services. Instead, they should be looking at them as a powerful conduit through which to deliver a personalised and sticky customer relationship management tool.

Technologically speaking, the vast majority of current operator initiatives are done though “native” apps, meaning apps that are coded for a single operating system and do not function cross-platform. They are static, inflexible and remain unchanged anywhere from six to 12 months.

Hybrid apps, on the other hand, can be changed and updated daily. Malleable and flexible, hybrid apps still contain all the advanced functions of native apps – self-care, contextual FAQs, personalised content and services, user recognition, etc – but give operators the opportunity to market products and services on a daily basis.

Operators engage in promotional campaigns multiple times a month and would do well to exploit the adaptableness of hybrid technology, designing “living” applications that support marketing efforts and revolve around the products and services that interest each individual subscriber.

Just like a native app, hybrid apps are found on app stores such as iTunes, Android Market, Windows Marketplace and Blackberry AppWorld.

While users see almost no difference between hybrid and native apps, developers do.

Originally, developers adopted them to reduce costs when it came to developing an application that needed to be distributed to several app stores. Instead of recreating a native app for each specific operating system, they write part, if not most of the app in a cross-platform language such as HTML, CSS, JavaScript or HTLM5.

Hybrid apps remove the weighty limitations of native apps, making way for a much more lighter solution. Product time to market is reduced and app front-ends are updated in real-time, which greatly enhance the overall customer experience.

Moreover, the mobile app versus mobile site debate becomes irrelevant. Operators still require both a mobile site and an app because, roughly speaking, they correspond to different tiers of customers.

But with hybrid apps, the hardest part of development is done only once and can serve both mobile assets, combining best of the two worlds.

Apps are for operators’ most loyal subscribers; the ones who routinely use their operator mobile interface to pay their tariffs, get personalised services and premium content, and access operator loyalty perks.

However, not every subscriber wants to download an app to simply check their balance. For these infrequent subscribers, there should be an operator mobile site where they’re able to quickly do the same thing as they would on the app without having to download anything.

If the operator’s mobile site is relevant and useful enough, subscribers who casually use the mobile site naturally turn to then download the app.

Customer conversion is largely a game of numbers, and operators should seek to reach as many potential customers as possible on whatever channel they naturally tune in to – mobile browser or app store. That’s one more step towards a better customer experience.

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