The New York Times recently reported on the “Wi-Fi overload phenomenon that regularly interrupts speakers at large events who can’t get online.” As the Times noted, Wi-Fi was not designed for large venues and thousands of event attendees armed with smartphones, laptops, iPhones and iPads. The Times quoted Ernie Mariette, founder of Mariette Systems, which installs conference Wi-Fi who said “Wi-Fi is meant for homes and other small spaces with more modest Internet demands. You’re asking a technology to operate beyond its capability.”
A recent blog post in Trade Show Network News goes further. The author Mark Haley writes:
Smartphones now represent 1 in 4 cellular phone subscribers… And, even if a smartphone is not connected to a Wi-Fi network, it constantly emits signals that create background noise. Too much of this noise will overload a network and make it impossible for users to get online. Add to the smartphone users all of the laptop users, as well as those using various other Wi-Fi enabled devices, and a Wi-Fi system with limited coverage or bandwidth easily can become clogged and overwhelmed. Ensuring all of these devices have a fast and reliable Wi- Fi connection requires a robust network and sufficient bandwidth that can support hundreds or thousands of users simultaneously.
Even if the facility has installed a robust network to accommodate the growing Wi-Fi demand, meeting planners still need to know what level of services to order for their event. An event’s audience changes daily in terms of number of users, location of users and intensity of usage. There is no standard network configuration for a convention center or meeting complex.
So, what does this mean for your meeting and event app? Is a mobile-web-based solution really up to the task?
SwiftMobile has always offered a mobile-web alternative, but, honestly, we don’t think mobile-web is a good enough solution for most meeting planners, most events, most attendees, most exhibitors and most venues. This is why we primarily build high performance native apps for iPhone, Android, Blackberry and iPad. Why? Your apps won’t work if your users can’t get a connection: we think that is totally unacceptable, but you’d be surprised at how common that is. Most people won’t launch an app twice if it doesn’t work the first time. Some will skewer your app in public forums. A lot of people will think less of your organization (see this previous post). And if your apps don’t load or work well, you aren’t providing good value to exhibitors or sponsors who have paid to be in your apps (see # 8 in this previous post).
It’s unclear, we think, if there’s going to be a wi-fi solution to this problem anytime soon. Meeting planners know that providing high performing venue-wide Wi-Fi at most large conventions centers can be extremely costly—if it’s even possible. One of the major line items in any meeting budget is already wi-fi access, which, as we have seen, doesn’t always meet attendee needs. It’s often much smarter to provide strategically placed Internet “cafés” or “lounges” during your event where people know they can go for reliable access, so they don’t expect it everywhere.
To bowdlerize Mark Twain, the costs of native development have been greatly exaggerated. The marginal cost of native development is not a lot more, no matter what you’ve heard or read—even for BlackBerry, which still has close to a third of the market. Event apps do not need to be reinvented every time. If meeting and event planners did real “apples to apples” comparisons, weighed in the extra costs of enhanced Wi-Fi, or considered the risk involved in making a promise to event attendees and then not delivering on it, it might even be less!
Of course, some developers might have a different view. Kim Pimmel, writing in Smashing Magazine, recently wrote: “Who wants to study yet another SDK, learn another language, and go through yet another app submission process? Who will continue to keep the code up to date for all these platforms as each one splinters into new incarnations, releases new hardware and OS updates.”
Well, Kim, we do, and we will. Great usability is incredibly important to us. Being genuinely useful and indispensable to people who have to travel to your event is our goal. When people travel to a major meeting, conference or trade show, they have real needs for information on the go. People do not want to wait for a mobile-web page to find a bathroom. Our customers want apps that have significant numbers of “page views” so that sponsors receive value for from their investment. Our customers have spent a lot of time building their brands and their constituents. Why would they want to their name on something that doesn’t perform well?
Just our opinion, but making your developer’s life easier is NOT a good reason to build a mobile-web app instead of a native app. If you care about your users, we think the choice is pretty clear.
Smartphone apps, if they are native, can be part of the solution—not part of the problem. Native apps do not need wi-fi to deliver information and may be a far better and less expensive way serve your attendees needs at large events—and even eliminate some of that annoying overload in traffic.
You Get What You Pay For
Mobile-web will always perfect for small meetings where the wi-fi flows freely. We typically include it at no additional cost, too, because there will always be the older Blackberry phone or Windows phone user or the laptop user who needs a mobile-web option. But for large, professional events, mobile-web feels like a low-rent solution because of its inferior and unreliable performance. If your attendees are decision-makers, if they are business travelers, if they are professionals with $200+ phones, you may find that mobile-web apps just look and feel, well, like cheap hotels—if they load at all.
Photo: Talking Tree