If your charity or cause is thinking about developing an app, try and think about how it solves a problem that your service users are experiencing. Over a quarter of all apps are only used once, so make sure it counts.

Apps! They’re all the rage right now.  We saw the first big boom in the Apple app store with iBeer. You remember, right? That app you could use to show your mates in the pub what it looks like when you down an imaginary pint, as opposed to drinking the real thing in front of you.

The first real milestone for a charity app came in the form of iHobo by The Dupaul trust.

Ihobo image from Itunes

Image from iHobo Itunes page.

The app was based on gamification principles where you act as the caretaker of your Tamagotchi-like character. You feed and take care of your character and in doing so, Dupaul hoped to show you the desperate plight of street homeless people in the UK.

The app certainly divided opinions and it wasn’t short on controversy, but whatever your thoughts are about iHobo, there’s no doubt that the app paved the way for other charities to think about how they too could highlight their causes.

What problem does our app solve?

One of the biggest issues we hear about on Shelter Scotland’s Get advice pages and free housing advice helpline is private tenants losing their deposits.

Annually, tenancy deposits amount to over £74 million in Scotland and it’s estimated that 11,000 tenants have £3.6 million of their deposits wrongly withheld each year by landlords.

Disputes can be avoided if an accurate inventory is compiled at the start of the tenancy.

Step up HouseMate

Housemate was launched to complement the arrival of tenancy deposit schemes in Scotland – which went live in July.

Soon the deposits of all private tenants in Scotland should be placed in a tenancy deposit scheme. Something Shelter Scotland has campaigned hard for. For users of Housemate, arguments over deposits will become a thing of the past.

Although designed with Scotland’s private rented sector in mind, the app could be used to create an inventory of any property.

Thanks to the sponsorship by Orchard and Shipman, the HouseMate app can be downloaded free from the App Store.

Achievements – how many people use the app?

So far we’ve had over 500 downloads and we’ve heard from quite a few landlords who have found it useful. The other measurement we wanted to use to evaluate the app with was how much media coverage we got for it. For this we worked out what it would cost to get that coverage if we paid for it (advertising value equivalent), which gives us a quantitative measurement of £72k. On a more ‘elevator pitch’ level, when you want to impress your Director, you’d probably want to emphasise the national coverage including a spot in the Guardian Online as one of the top 20 iPhone apps of the week.

So far we’ve received some pretty good feedback as to how we can improve the app, so look out for some nifty updates soon! In my next post I’ll talk about the development process – sign up to receive notifications when that happens.

Do let me know in the comments below if you have any questions, or if your charity is thinking about developing an app, I’d be happy to chime in!

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