Being able to reach your customers and customize the app experience with your own brand image and colors is really effective at keeping your brand relevant in their daily life. Unfortunately, this level of customization is often expensive, takes time to setup, and usually can't be changed easily. There is a reason for this, so let's dive deeper and take a look at behind the scenes on how these things are done.
Generally, to be able to customize and brand a mobile app, there are two approaches: apply a theme to an existing app or manage multiple apps each with their own theme. Let's discuss these options and explain which one we chose and why.
In this approach, the engineering team clones an existing app with all of its features and styles into a new app that is then assigned to the customer. A series of feedback loops between the team and the customer happens to achieve the desired look and feel where the customer has to pay a setup fee.
Once the fee is paid, the customer gets their new app with the branding they want into the app stores and they are on their own now. You might think, okay this is great, what's wrong with this?
While initially this could be great (provided you can afford it), after some time, you come to find issues in the app because bug-free software does not exist. Your team isn't an engineering team so you would need to get support from the original provider. But guess what, engineering support is usually expensive. Engineering salaries are one of the highest in the world so someone has to pay for this. Correct, the customer.
So now as a customer, you have paid for the setup fee, the high-tier subscription plan and also support fees. You may think, if the software is done right, there will be no bugs or issues to be fixed, right? not quite. In computer science, people have been trying to figure out a way to prove that software can be bug-free (zero issues). There are ways to improve the software quality and reduce bugs/issues with more automated testing, best practices and so on but there will always be bugs. If you're interested by this topic, you can follow the discussions here, here, and here.
What about improvements to the original app that your branded app got cloned from? how do you get the latest shiny new features? how long does it take to upgrade your app on the app store with the new features? how often and who is responsible for keeping it up? is there an extra cost for it?
As you can see, the list keeps going and as the provider of this service gets more customers, it gets harder and harder to scale and keep customers happy with what they have. Again, the mileage may vary between providers but we're talking about the fundamental way how these things are done behind the scenes.
In this approach, the engineering team applies your brand colors and image to an existing app. The same app can be themed to all the customers and all of them are able to get the latest updates and fixes to the app. The engineering team handles the support since they are building just one app. So far, the cost should be lower since there is less work to be done and only one app to maintain instead of X number of apps.
The problem with this approach is that it is not as flexible as the first approach in most of the technologies available to build mobile apps. Some things are hard to implement and may not be possible depending on the technology stack, such as:
- Customizing the navigation of the app and the navigation bars. Some apps may have 4 buttons, some apps may have 5, some may have just icons or just text
- Disabling features per user. Some customers only want 60% of the features and others want 100% and some want some of their clients to have a different experience depending on some conditions
- Changing the brand/colors dynamically without needing a designer and the extra cost that comes with it
- The app name and icon on the app stores
Now that you're more familiar with the approaches, we chose the approach that scales better and provides flexibility thanks to our design choices and vertical integration. We call it Smart Themes.
This improves on the App Themes approach by solving the problems numbered 1, 2, and 3 above. Thanks to our technology stack, real-time platform and integrating both the experience for coaches on the web and their clients on mobile. So let's dive into how we fixed those problems.
Due to our technology design choices and programming languages used, we are able to write code that can be reused on both the mobile and web apps. This makes our engineers spend less time implementing features for iOS/Android and the Web as they can reuse their work. This cost-saving (in time and effort) is passed on to our customers. This means, all our customers on any paid plans are able to get their own branded app without additional fees!
We also built our own feature flagging system that can be controlled by our customers which is unusual in our industry. Usually, feature flags are controlled by the engineers to provide a certain user experience for the end user. But in Foodzilla's case, we want to achieve a solution to problem two: the ability to turn features of the Foodzilla mobile app on and off per user to achieve the highest level of customization possible.
Let's say you are coaching 3 clients, one of them has an eating disorder and you don't want them to see their calories or any nutrient data in the app. However, the Foodzilla app provides extensive nutrition data for every user, so what do you do? Well as their coach you can easily go into the client dashboard and disable all these features for this specific client while the experience for the other two clients is unchanged!
The coach web app and the mobile apps connect together in real-time. This means changes/updates done on the web app are reflected on the mobile app and vice-versa without needing to refresh or close/reopen the app. This also means you are able to update your branding at any time without getting in touch with our designer or engineers. Just update it from your account brand settings. Easy as!
We build and maintain two products: the web app for coaches and health professionals to manage their clients' nutrition and a mobile app for their clients. The Foodzilla team manages both of these products including support requests and regularly improves the entire platform with new features and fixes every month.
This level of integration allows us control the experience end-to-end. Unlike other solutions on the market, you're usually given the choice between a great web app to manage your clients or a great mobile app for your clients to manage themselves. We built both of these products and whatever is in between so you can also control the entire experience end-to-end and apply your own brand with no fees and comes as part of any paid subscription plan. Lower cost, faster, better.
So if you've read this far and you're interested to know more about this and how you can offer your clients a mobile app with your own brand, signup today at Foodzilla and get 10 days free trial (payment info not required).
Thank you for reading.