Native Event Apps: Come on, Get App-y!

The case for going native with your event apps.

Remember how meeting organizers used to ask attendees to turn off their mobile devices? Today, they wouldn’t dream of making that request because they understand how devices can help attendees get more out of meetings.

Developing an event app—which can contain schedule information, facilitate registration, provide updates and room changes, and administer the post-event survey—can be a smart strategy.

“I would say 85 percent of my attendees have smartphones,” says Teresa Perrell, conference manager for the American College of Veterinary Surgeons (ACVS), which launched its free app in 2011 and saw 78 percent of the event’s attendees download it. She is also developing an app so participants can earn continuing education credit for the sessions they attend by entering a code given by the instructor. “When it comes down to it,” she says, “it’s really about what our people want to be able to do.”

The truth is, WiFi is not free. Someone is paying for it.

But that begs the question: What about WiFi?

“WiFi is the most controversial issue right now,” says Ann Windham, president and CEO of Imagine Xhibits, Inc., which specializes in tradeshows. “How to determine the right amount, should you have to pay for it, should it be free … The truth is, WiFi is not free. Someone is paying for it.” Usually, meetings and shows offer free WiFi in public spaces, but it must be purchased for individual rooms, and even then, it is rarely flawless.

Perrell had to decide how much WiFi to purchase for the ACVS meeting— the service had to be strong enough so that attendees who downloaded the conference app could get updates. “It’s $56 a seat for three days,” she says. “For 2,000 people, that’s expensive.”

Building a native app—one that is actually downloaded to your device—means that users don’t need to access WiFi every time they pull up the program. “It’s probably triple the cost to build a native app,” Windham says, “but if it lives on the internet, and the WiFi capability isn’t there, and if people can’t use the app, you’re wasting your money.”


Melanie D.G. Kaplan

By Melanie D.G. Kaplan

Melanie D.G. Kaplan writes regularly for the Washington Post and is a contributing editor at Smart Planet/CBS Interactive. MORE

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