Editor's note: This post was originally published on November 30, 2017 but was updated on January 18, 2018 to reflect Apple’s most recent guidelines.
Even though you use mobile apps every day, during the event app selection process you’ll come across concepts and terms you may have heard before, but never really understood. A better understanding of event app basics and lingo will help you choose the best event app for your association’s conference.
Native App vs. Web App
One of the first decisions in the meeting app selection process is whether to get a native app or a web app. And, naturally, one of the first questions is: what’s the difference between a native app and a web app?
Your phone’s home screen is filled with native apps. Native apps are developed for a mobile device’s operating system—Apple’s iOS or Google’s Android—and must conform to the design guidelines set by Apple or Google. Attendees download native apps from the App Store or Google Play. Because they’re built specifically for a device’s operating system, native apps can interact with all the device’s features, such as the camera, microphone, GPS, and contact list.
Native apps work without an internet connection—a crucial difference between native and web apps. If attendees can’t access a WiFi signal in all parts of the event venue, a native app is the better choice. Native apps also provide the fastest and most reliable experience for users.
A web app is a web-based app that’s accessible via a device’s browser. Web apps work on any device or browser but, unlike native apps, they’re not available in app stores. Instead, the attendee goes to a URL (website) to use, not download, the app. The app doesn’t show up as an icon on their phone’s home screen like a native app would.
Because the app is web-based, attendees need an internet connection and browser to use the app—something to consider if your venue has a spotty WiFi signal. Web apps are a less expensive option but provide a slower and, possibly, inconsistent experience for the attendee.
Types of Event Apps
You have two options for a native event app. You can work with a developer, like Eventpedia, to create a custom branded event app or you can opt for a container app.
The most popular type of app structure is a custom branded or white label app. Branded apps can be developed specifically for your organization’s needs for a single event or for year-round use at multiple events.
You might be wondering: didn’t Apple outlaw custom branded apps? Yes, they did back in June 2017 but then they changed their mind. In December 2017, Apple announced its revised App Store Review Guidelines 4.2.6 which confirmed that they would again approve custom branded apps. Hooray! You can learn more about their change of heart in our post on Apple’s New App Store Review Guidelines.
Associations and other organizations developing a custom branded app must enroll in the Apple Developer Program which has an annual membership fee of $99 (USD). However, Apple is waiving the membership fee for eligible organizations: “a nonprofit organization, accredited educational institution, or government entity based in the United States that will distribute only free apps on the App Store.” To enroll in the program, your organization will need a D-U-N-S number.
Custom branded apps must be published under the organization’s Apple account, not the app developer’s account. Creating your own account with Apple (and Google too) gives you ultimate control over the app submission process, content, and branding no matter which app developer you’re working with. Of course, if for any reason you need help with the submission process, we’re here to help.
A container app, on the other hand, contains the event apps of several tenants (conference organizers) and their events. An attendee downloads the developer’s container app from the App Store or Google Play and pulls up your event in the app.
Container apps require no development time and, therefore, are less expensive. Without having to go through the app development, submission, and approval process, you can have a container app ready in a matter of minutes. As soon as you’re prepared to publish your event content, the app is instantly available to your attendees for download.
Attendees enjoy the same features and functionalities in a container app as they do with a branded app. They’ll recognize the app as yours because you can brand it at the event level of your content. And, you can restrict access to the event by requiring attendees to log in at the start with their username and password.
Content and Data Import Process
During event app research, you’ll notice many apps offering the same feature set with a few differences here and there. But don’t overlook the app’s content and data import process—your future frustration and stress level depends upon it.
Ask potential app vendors how their import process works so you know what you’re getting into. Many event apps are not planner-friendly. Some still require planners to manually enter data into the back-end (content management system) of the app. Can you imagine? Some vendors offer an Excel template for bulk data import, but others don’t.
You want an app that makes your life easy by integrating with your event management or registration system and/or your association management system (AMS), like Eventpedia does.
Event App Development Time frame
If you choose a custom branded app, make sure your event planning timeline allows two to three months for app development and enrollment in the Apple Developer Program. In addition, allow time to acquire a D-U-N-S number if your organization doesn’t already have one.
To avoid anything falling through the cracks, we advise our clients to start importing content well in advance of announcing your event app’s availability to attendees. You can start the content upload and testing process and the Apple Developer Program enrollment process while the development team is working on your app.
Only after you’ve tested the app can you submit it to Apple and Google. Allow about two days for Apple’sand Google’s approval—although Google usually takes only a few hours. If your organization works on all these tasks simultaneously, the entire custom branded app development and submission process takes only two to three months (or less).
Because container apps are already developed, you don’t have to allow time for that, but we do suggest allowing six to eight weeks to load your content and test everything before you make the app available to attendees. Once your content is entered into the app, it’s instantly available to attendees as soon as you click the “Publish” button.
Event App Monetization
Ask potential vendors about the different ways you can generate sponsorship and advertising revenue with your event app. Make sure their monetization features are user-friendly and don’t interfere with the attendee’s event experience. In an earlier post, we suggested several ways an event app can drive revenue for your events and your association.
Event App Glossary
Before heading into the event app selection process, take a minute to learn some basic app lingo.
Native app: App developed for a specific device, downloaded onto the device from the App Store or Google Play, and accessed via a home screen icon.
Web app: Web-based app that’s accessed via a website using a device’s browser, not downloaded.
Branded app: A native app branded specifically for one organization, for example, with your own app name, app icon, and app listing in the stores. Typically, a branded app can be a single event structure or a multi-event structure.
Single event structure app: An app containing event-related info for one single event, for example, an annual conference.
Multi-event structure app: An app enabling an organization to host multiple events.
Container app: Native app, like Eventpedia, that contains events for several organizations.
iOS: Operating system that powers Apple’s mobile devices.
App Store: Apple’s distribution platform for mobile apps that run on its iOS operating system—where attendees download your event app if they use Apple devices.
Android: Operating system developed by Google for mobile devices.
Google Play: Google’s distribution platform for mobile apps that run on its Android operating system—where attendees download your event app if they use Android devices.
User experience (UX): The emotions and attitudes experienced while using an app—developers optimize their software so users have an effective and enjoyable experience.
User interface (UI): The look and feel of an app—a key element in the user experience.
Configurable: A feature is configurable if you (the event planner) can modify it, for example, change the color scheme, menu style (icon vs. tile style), and names of menu items.
Integration: Sharing data between two systems, for example, an event registration system and an event app.
API (Application Programming Interface): The code that gives software and applications the ability to communicate and share data with each other.
Banner ad: Rotating or static advertisements on the bottom of the app’s screen.
Splash page: The first page a user sees when opening an app, often used as a sponsorship opportunity.
Push notification: A message sent out by the event organizer that pops up on the app’s screen. These messages can also be sent on behalf of sponsors and/or exhibitors.
Interactive map: An app feature powered by Google Maps that directs attendees to their destination, for example, a specific meeting room or booth.
Lead retrieval: An app feature allowing exhibitors to scan attendee badges and collect visitor/prospect information.
We didn’t want to get too technical here, so if you run into an app concept or term you don’t quite understand, please give us a holler. We’re happy to translate and teach you more about the inner workings of an event app.