There’s no doubt that mobile has gone mainstream with consumers increasingly on the move and companies seeking more ways to stay in front of their eyes and right at their fingertips. As a result, businesses are realizing the importance of maintaining a mobile presence, yet many are uncertain whether a mobile application or mobile website is the best way to go to reach consumers on the go.
If you’re planning to establish a mobile presence for your business or organization one of the first considerations that will likely come to mind is whether you want to create a mobile application for users to download or a mobile website, or perhaps both. Mobile websites and apps can look very similar at first-glance, and determining which is most suited to your needs will depend upon a number of factors, including target audiences, available budget, intended purpose and required features.
Before going on to take a pick as to what suits your organization/brand, you first need to comprehend as to what is the basic difference between a mobile-specific website and a mobile app that is built for the various ecosystems out there.
THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A MOBILE SITE AND A MOBILE APP
Even though both mobile sites and mobile apps will directly be made available to the end user on their respective mobiles and smartphones,both of them have a lot of key differences.
If I go by the definition, I would say a mobile website is similar to any other website in that it consists of browser-based HTML pages that are linked together and accessed over the Internet (for mobile typically WiFi or 3G or 4G networks). The obvious characteristic that distinguishes a mobile website from a standard website is the fact that it is designed for the smaller handheld display and touch-screen interface.
Like any website, mobile websites can display text content, data, images and video. They can also access mobile-specific features such as click-to-call (to dial a phone number) or location-based mapping.
On the other hand, mobile OS-based apps are actual applications that are downloaded and installed on your mobile device, rather than being rendered within a browser. Users visit device-specific portals such as Apple’s App Store, Android Market, or Blackberry App World in order to find and download apps for a given operating system.
The app may pull content and data from the Internet or it may download the content so that it can be accessed without an Internet connection(in offline mode).
SO HOW DO YOU CHOOSE?
When it comes to deciding whether to build a native app or a mobile website, the most appropriate choice really depends on your end goals. If you are developing an interactive game an app is probably going to be your best option. But if your goal is to offer mobile-friendly content to the widest possible audience then a mobile website is probably the way to go. In some cases you may decide you need both a mobile website and a mobile app, but it’s pretty safe to say that it rarely makes sense to build an app without already having a mobile website in place.
Frankly speaking, I would say that a mobile website should be your first step if you want to venture into the mobile and devices space. Also, it may be noted that a mobile app might be the choice for you if you’re looking to accomplish something with the app that you can’t do with a mobile browser. No, this is definitely not the end. In order to make the right decision, you need to know about the advantages of each option before you vis-a-vis the other contender.
ADVANTAGES OF MOBILE SITES
If your goals are primarily related to marketing or public communications, a mobile website is almost always going to make sense as a practical first step in your mobile strategy. This is because a mobile website has a number of inherent advantages over apps, including broader accessibility, compatibility and cost-effectiveness.
1. Mobile Sites are instantly available
A mobile website is instantly accessible to users via a browser across a range of devices (iPhone, Android, BlackBerry, etc) and even feature phones, which still account for a significant portion of sales in emerging economies. Apps on the other hand require the user to first download and install the app from an app marketplace before the content or application can be viewed.
2. Mobile Sites are compatible across devices
Like I mentioned in the last para, mobile sites can be accessed across a range of devices, and you need not develop apps for specific mobile ecosystems for that matter. Generally speaking, the same mobile site can be made available to users of different device sets, regardless of their hardware and software specifications.
3. Mobiles Sites can be updated instantly
A mobile website is much more dynamic than an app in terms of pure flexibility to update content. If you want to change the design or content of a mobile website you simply publish the edit once and the changes are immediately visible; updating an app on the other hand requires the updates to be pushed to users, which then must be downloaded in order to update the app on each type of device.
4. Mobile sites have a broader reach
Because a mobile website is accessible across platforms and can be easily shared among users, as well as search engines, it has far greater reach capability than a native app.
5. Time, Cost and Support
Last but certainly not least, mobile website development is considerably more time and cost-effective than development of a native app, especially if you need to have a presence on different platforms (requiring development of multiple apps). Supporting a mobile site over time is relatively cheaper than maintaining a mobile app.
ADVANTAGES OF MOBILE APPS
Despite the many inherent benefits of the mobile web, apps are still very popular, and there are a number of specific use scenarios where an app will be your best choice. Generally speaking, if you need one of the following, an app makes sense:
1. Interactivity/Gaming – for interactive games (think Angry Birds) an app is almost always going to be your best choice, at least for the foreseeable future.
2. Regular Usage/Personalization – If your target users are going to be using your app in a personalized fashion on a regular basis (think EverNote) then an app provides a great way to do that.
3.Complex Calculations or Reporting – If you need something that will take data and allow you to manipulate it with complex calculations, charts or reports (think banking or investment) an app will help you do that very effectively.
4.Native Functionality or Processing Required – mobile web browsers are getting increasingly good at accessing certain mobile-specific functions such as click-to-call, SMS and GPS. However, if you need to access a user’s camera or processing power an app will still do that much more effectivley.
5. No connection Required – If you need to provide offline access to content or perform functions without a network/wireless connection then an app makes sense.
DRAWING A CONCLUSION
As long as mobile remains a relatively new frontier, the “app vs web” question will remain a very real consideration for organizations seeking to establish a mobile presence. If your mobile goals are primarily marketing-driven, or if your aim is to deliver content and establish a broad mobile presence that can be easily shared between users and found on search engines, then the a mobile website is the logical choice. On the other hand, if your goal is interactive engagement with users, or to provide an application that needs to work more like a computer program than a website, then an app is probably going to be required.