White Label Apps: should you or shouldn’t you?

As the mobile app market continues to rapidly grow and evolve, the go-to stat on everyone’s lips is the colossal App Store consumer spend envisaged for this year – currently standing at $120 billion. According to App Annie, that’s “double the size of the global box office market, and bigger than the global live and recorded music industry” – in other words, it’s huge. The big question: If you haven’t been persuaded to jump headlong into the lucrative world of the mobile app yet, what are you waiting for? Today we’re exploring “White Label Apps: should you or shouldn’t you?”

If that sounds like a rhetorical, slightly brash question, it’s not. Building a mobile app isn’t something you ‘just do”. With a ton of factors to take into consideration before it even gets to the ‘discovery’ phase – time, investment and a lot of staying power – it’s not surprising that that big app idea of yours might never get off the ground if you’re going it alone.

But wait! What about White Label apps? You’ve heard of them, they entice with the promise of being faster, easier and cheaper than a custom build, and it’s a tempting route, indeed, the right route for some – but is it for you? In this blog, we’re going to explore the pro’s and con’s of each.

The White Label App – what is it, and what can I expect?

In a nutshell, a white label product – app or otherwise – is used or distributed under your own brand name, but created by another company. The initial investment you’ll make is often less than a custom-built app, the time to market can be reduced, and there can be less of a maintenance burden that a custom app demands. With so much going for it, it’s easy to see why the white label app can be a preferred option for some businesses.

Trivia: The origin of White-Label Solution can be traced back to vinyl records. Before records were to be released to the public, promotional copies were sent out in a white sleeve to DJs to solicit radio plays, in an effort to build hype and gauge public interest by the record labels.

Indeed, utilizing white label products often makes a lot of sense in many instances for organisations that simply don’t, and never will, have the resources or finances to create an own-brand solution – think e-commerce platforms (3DCart), websites (Squarespace), and managed services (Acronis), to name but a few.

But when it comes to mobile apps, is a white label solution ever the best solution for your enterprise? White Label apps have changed the speed and cost it takes to build and ship a branded app, and for many businesses that don’t have the infrastructure or resources in place to manage a custom build and upkeep, they can be a good route into mobile, allowing companies to test the waters by shipping an app that has minimum commitment. But when the brand experience is critical, and features and functionality need to measure up to that experience, the white label probably won’t cut it. Let’s dissect (no pun intended!).

Basic is what basic does: What to expect from a white label app

When it comes to white label apps, it’s fair to say that what you’re not going to get is a sophisticated, all-singing, all-dancing app that does everything you both need and want it to.

iPhone white label apps on screen

Rather, ‘basic’ is the term often used when it comes to white label apps, and for good reason. Control over app features, its design and functionality, and other brand-critical elements that you may want a say in, are very often limited. This can be an issue, particularly for delivering that crucial seamless brand experience we mentioned.

When it comes to set up, some developers will provide what’s called a ‘module’ system, allowing you to pick and choose the individual modules for your app. Usually, design, features and functionality can be customised (to a certain extent), and while it’s true to say white label apps can look and function as well as a custom build, you could run into limitations you hadn’t envisaged halfway through a project – then you’ve got a problem on your hands. Having the option to customise can come with higher costs attached, which will often be bolted on to your monthly fee – and you may still find your customisation options not quite measuring up.

What can I expect to pay for a white label app?

The idea of a ready to use, no-nonsense, out-of-the-box mobile app is appealing – particularly from a cost perspective. When it comes to white label apps, costs will always vary, and sometimes significantly. Expect to pay an upfront fee for initial set-up (though be aware, you’ll often be expected to do this yourself!), and then a monthly fee to the developer for as long as your app is live. Occasionally, you may also be asked to pay the developers a percentage of the app profits.

white label icons

These ongoing fees are worthy of consideration – you’ll need to make sure you can afford the monthly outlay, as well as being prepared for any price changes. What if the developer decides to double your monthly fee, or increase the percentage of profits you’re required to fork out?

It’s also worth mentioning that integrating a white label solution into an enterprise architecture and customer authentication process can be a mammoth task, and as such, an expensive process. But whatever the costs, if you opt for white label, remember you will never own the app. Why? Because the source code remains the property of the developers for life.

And while we’re talking about code …

Code is the very foundation on which your app – white label or otherwise – exists. Being the property of the app developer when it comes to the white label, you’ll need to be comfortable having limited, if any, control over the quality of said code. More often than not, this shouldn’t be an issue … after all, no developer wants to be known for turning out second-rate code. But equally, no one is ever going to tell you the code quality isn’t up to scratch, so you’ll need to be prepared to jump in with both feet and take a leap of faith.

The white label and scalability

Scalability is one of the key issues that businesses will face when opting for a white label option. While scalability may not be an issue for the majority of businesses who opt for the white label, the bottom line is that you need to be aware that you could be limited when it comes to timely, expected app updates, – not only when you want them, but when your audience is getting itchy too. What’s more, any updates that are made may not include those that you feel are needed the most. While this isn’t something that’s often seen, being stuck with an out-of-date UI that doesn’t address your audience pain-points isn’t ideal – you look bad, and your audience finds something newer and better.

And what happens when you outgrow the generic white label functionality and want to go on your own? Transitioning to a new app with the same functionality is a huge initial cost, and jarring to your users. If the vendor goes away, they may well abandon the white label platform, leaving you stranded.

Security & Privacy with the white label

No mobile app is a great mobile app without reliable security and privacy to go along with it. When it comes to the white label and security, there’s lots to consider –

  • Multi-Tenancy systems. Will your user data live with all other companies user data in the proprietary system? What about backups?
  • Are the developers security aware? Are they following the Mobile OWASP guidelines, and how do you know?
  • You’ll need complete visibility of what customer data your white label app developer holds, as well as what they’re doing with it.
  • Libraries can contain malicious code such as cryptominers that, unless the devs are doing due diligence on them, will be in your app without your knowledge.
  • You must ensure you’re confident that malicious code is not – and won’t be – an issue.

The difference between White Label and bespoke mobile apps

Now that we’ve covered the key points you’ll need to consider around white label apps, let’s talk about how they measure up to the bespoke app solution.

As we race through 2019, one thing that’s racing alongside us is the growth of mobile. Showing no sign of a slowdown, by the end of this year, consumer spend in the App store is expected to exceed $120bn.

For the many businesses that have started their mobile transformation, the benefits have been clear – from building a stronger brand to improving the customer experience, reducing operating costs to opening up new possibilities in their markets … the list goes on. For those that have yet to board the mobile bandwagon, the pressure to do so is reaching boiling point – even if budgets say otherwise. And it’s why the white label app is courting popularity right now – white label apps are affordable, and can be shipped in just a few days. Doing the sums, a custom build can seem like a pipe dream … but is it?

Look and feel

We know that the white label app is all about basic, and for many, basic will do just fine. But for companies that have a brand to build and protect, where look and feel is critical to a seamless cross-platform experience, custom-build offers the precision and flexibility to do just that. Remember, white labels will give you the option to customise, but that customisation could come at a premium, and is likely to be very limited.

Functionality

When it comes to the white label UI, again, expect basic functionality with the potential to customise – just not perhaps the precise way you’d like. Updates for your white label will be when the developer decides, which may not necessarily be when you need them. What’s more, there will be many other companies deploying the same white label app, and as such, updates made will be those that address the collective needs of the widest possible user base.

The custom-build, on the other hand, will have as many bells and whistles as you need, meaning that the UX is always going to be a superior experience for your end users. The custom build will also allow you to offer a seamless user experience that marries with what your customers have come to expect, with updates made when you need them, and they’ll be based on comprehensive user analytics.

Code

So, we know that white label code is the property of the developer that writes it. We also know that no developer wants to write second-rate code. So for most businesses that opt for white label apps, the code shouldn’t ever be an issue. But there will be times when it is, and there will be very little you can do about it. The downside is you’re stuck with a glitchy app that may or may not be a priority to fix. Why? You’re in a queue with all the other customers to have it fixed. What’s more, if it only affects your specific use case, it could take even longer, or worse, never be fixed.

With a custom build, however, the code belongs to you, which means the upsides are myriad:

  • changes and updates when you need and want them
  • the ability to address bugs as soon as they’re spotted
  • and reassurance and flexibility around future planning (you decide, not the vendor)

All good for the bottom line, and your users.

Security

Security is never just a single option, it’s a spectrum of options. With a custom build, you’ll be in the driving seat. That means control over how and what to implement in a way that exactly fits your own needs.

The need to be able to respond to new security issues rather than waiting for a white label app provider to get around to patching their system may well be at the top of your list of ‘must-haves’. If that’s the case, you’ll only be able to do this with the custom option. Having first-hand knowledge of the developers, the libraries they use, and the tooling they have to check for virus’ and malware, means you’ll need an expert guide and partner. Here are a few of our security must-do’s, whatever option to take:

  • Make sure that standards are followed to avoid leaving your app vulnerable
  • Use trusted libraries that have been well peer-reviewed rather than roll your own e.g. Don’t implement your own encryption algorithm.
  • Penetration testing. Hiring an independent security expert to try and crack your app is the best way to know you’re keeping your customers safe and your name out of the tabloid headlines.

Cost

Ask most business leaders how much it costs to build a mobile app, and most would be unable to tell you. Costs vary widely, and will mostly depend upon app functionality. You need to be very clear about what that looks like from the outset.

Let’s recap. For the white label, you’ll likely have a setup fee, your standard monthly fee, plus any additional costs incurred for, say, customisation. For a custom build, the complexity of the project, the preferred OS, app design, features & functionality and post-launch maintenance and management means this route is likely to require a bigger budget. But the payoff  will likely far exceed those of the white label:

  • owning the app outright
  • having robust flexibility around every element of design, functionality and UI/UX
  • enhanced scalability & security
  • quicker problem-response times –

… the benefits are numerous and reassuring.

Conclusion

In most cases, a white label solution will be a consideration to bring your mobile app to market if:

  • you’re a small company
  • you want to ship your app very quickly
  • you’re playing with a small budget
  • and you’re confident that having scalability and flexibility won’t be an issue further down the line.

If, however, maintaining your brand reputation through the best CX (customer experience) is crucial, the custom build is always going to be your best bet. Let’s be clear – an app that’s been built from the ground up exactly how you need it, that delivers a value-add user experience, and that will scale with your enterprise as it grows, is going to deliver an ROI that will far outstrip the financial investment  in the long-run.

Helping cut costs, manage manpower, and accelerate time to market for the app, is what an efficient, effective project team will aim to deliver from the outset. The ability to rapidly evaluate and automate processes, promote cross-team symbiosis and ensure milestones are met, is what any good custom-build team will be aiming towards. We have to conclude that’s incredibly valuable.

To learn more about what to consider when it comes to shipping your first mobile app, head over here to read our recent blog on the subject. Want to find out first-hand whether or not you should go white-label, talk to us for impartial, honest advice – then get building!


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