The Mobile Dilemma: Mobile Website or Mobile App?
As more people adopt smartphones and purchase tablets it is important to be able to present your brand on those formats. According to Pew’s internet project research 56% of American adults own a smartphone, 34% of American adults own a tablet and 17% of all adult cell phone owners are “cell-mostly internet users”. The smaller screens need a different approach than a traditional desktop website; one that is well thought out and consistent with your marketing goals and plans.
When developing a mobile strategy for a brand, choosing which option to use is crucial. To begin to make that decision, it is important to understand the differences between the two major options available: a responsive mobile enabled or optimized website or a mobile app. It is also essential to know how those options are used and experienced by the consumer.
Mobile Enabled or Optimized Website
A responsive mobile enabled or optimized website is a site that is designed to function on the smaller and varied sized screens of mobile devices such as smartphones or tablets. It typically takes the traditional web page, simplifies it, and makes it usable in a smaller touch screen setting.
A mobile application or mobile app is a piece of software that is designed for a specific mobile operating system and device type that can be downloaded by the user through a store like the Apple App Store or the Google Play store.
Before deciding which platform is best for your company, think about the reason your business needs a mobile platform, what your goals are for the platform and how your customers are going to use that platform. Like any other investment decision the end goal should be considered before you begin the design process. There are a number of other factors to consider once you have developed a goal for your mobile platform. For example the budget available, the desired reach of the project, the need to make constant updates, and ease of development.
Benefits of a mobile site versus a mobile app:
Cost: A mobile site is typically less expensive to develop.
Time to Market: A mobile site will usually takes less time to develop.
Searchable: Like traditional websites they are searchable and therefore can be found by search engines and used with Search Engine Optimization tools.
Universal Availability: Once published the websites are immediately available on any mobile device, on any mobile web browser, unlike apps that must developed for each unique operating system and downloaded by the end user.
No Upgrades Required: When changes are made they are published and are visible to all users and do not require a new download by each individual.
Shareable: Once a mobile site is found it can be shared like any other link.
An app makes sense when you want the experience to be:
Personalizable: An app makes it simple for users to personalize their experience and how they interact with the app.
Interactive: Most interactive activities like games and social networking sites will be more appealing in an app format and will function better for the user.
Online/Offline: Apps can function both on and offline, at least for some features.
Data Intensive: Anything that is data heavy and computes complex calculations for things like banking or stocks will work better as an app.
Use of the native hardware: If your product requires use of hardware such as the device’s camera, an app will be the best choice for you.
For a more detailed list of differences check out this chart from Adobe.
In most cases a company will start with a mobile enabled website before considering an app. However, always remember to start with the business need and purpose and work from there to determine the best choices for your enterprise. If available, evaluate your current website’s analytics to see how you are performing now and what platforms your existing customers are using. An iPhone app would be the logical choice if the majority of your clients are iPhone users. A mobile site makes the most sense if your users are spread equally across all operating systems.