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What Makes a Great iPad App?

I&T went straight to the experts to get the best practices for creating insurance iPad apps to optimize the tablet's unique talents.

Related Slideshow: A Look at 8 Insurers' iPad Apps

Just more than a year after Apple launched the iPad, the tablet computer owns more than 80 percent of the U.S. market, Nielsen reported in May. Recognizing a similar opportunity to interact with policyholders as they did when PC-based Internet and then mobile penetration spiked, forward-thinking insurers have quickly developed apps to target those iPad users, who tend to be more affluent than average, given the device's high price point.

"It's hard to ignore Apple's dominance in terms of marketshare within the [tablet] space," says Brett Leary, vice president of mobile marketing for New York-based marketing agency Digitas. "We have the reach with the iPad, and users know how to interact with the iOS, and developers are comfortable developing for the environment."

Of course, insurance agents and other people within carrier enterprises are among the throngs of iPad users, which is why Columbus, Ga.-based Aflac (approximately $18 billion in 2010 premium income) worked with Digitas to develop an iPad app for the carrier's sales force. That app, which is one of several top insurance apps spotlighted on the following pages, illustrates another way insurers are leveraging the device: as a new platform for delivering business applications.

Leary suggests that companies that want to break new ground in the app space develop a list of capabilities they want to deliver and then figure out the best way to utilize the platform's unique functionality to achieve those goals. "The tablet is a unique interactive experience -- in theory, an insurance agent could be walking on the beach reviewing claims information," Leary says.

"There are some things in terms of how do we better use the front-facing camera or the graphics accelerator" that are important differentiatiors, he continues. But, "We're less focused on that. ... [Now] making use of the functionality to enable the experience comes in at the end of the process."

More than any functionality, the iPad's biggest selling point is simple: its large, responsive touch screen. Unlike a smartphone, whose apps reflect the fact that it's a utilitarian device worked with your thumbs, consumers expect a better experience on a tablet, according to David Berkowitz, senior director of emerging media and innovation at New York-based agency 360i.

"The iPad's really a two-hand device rather than a one-hand device," he says. In addition, people use the iPad differently from how they use a mobile phone -- it's not being whipped out on a whim to answer a pressing need.

"It's something people are using at home, in the office," Berkowitz says. As a result, "Certain location-based features matter less on the iPad. Other factors like content matter more. Images and video really work well, and that is what people enjoy."

Through the Eyes of the Beholder

In fact, says Digitas' Leary, one of the most important considerations for companies to remember when building an iPad app is that people appreciate the visual appeal of iPad content. "Think of your app experience through the eyes of the consumer," he explains. "Usage context differs greatly on this device. It's a lean-back, enjoy-type of device. Financial services companies have the ability to take some of their longer-form content and put it into an app for research for someone who will be doing it at their home, for example."

And though the iPhone itself was challenged quickly by Android and other phone operating systems, another important point to remember is that the iPad is miles ahead of other tablet computers in terms of market penetration, 360i's Berkowitz asserts. This means that the return on investment for iPad apps is likelier to be realized before there's a need to transition the apps for other platforms.

"When you're dealing with phones now, you're dealing with this two-horse race between Apple and Google. You see all this back and forth and you don't know what to focus on," Berkowitz says. "But for tablets it's pretty easy. It's a safe bet that for the next year Apple will have 90 percent market share. There hasn't been a compelling reason to buy an Android tablet."

The insurance iPad apps on the following pages can be roughly grouped into three categories: policyholder portals, business apps and non-insurance consumer apps. Policyholder portals leverage the iPad's unique user interface to provide an alternative to the traditional web-based versions. Business apps offer insurers' employees a way to take some of their work mobile. And non-insurance consumer apps are created by carriers as a way to build brand awareness.

Related Slideshow: A Look at 8 Insurers' iPad Apps

Nathan Golia is senior editor of Insurance & Technology. He joined the publication in 2010 as associate editor and covers all aspects of the nexus between insurance and information technology, including mobility, distribution, core systems, customer interaction, and risk ... View Full Bio

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