Before you decide whether a mobile site or mobile app are best for your business’ marketing efforts, you first have to know the different between the two. To start, both apps and sites are accessible on handheld mobile devices, smart phones and tablets.
Mobile Websites are similar to regular websites in that they are a series or structure of pages that are able to be viewed within a web browser. The design and content of these mobile optimized websites are created to fit and work well within the mobile devices they are accessed from. Like any website, mobile websites can display text based content, images and videos. They can also access mobile-specific features such as click-to-call (to dial a phone number) or location-based mapping using the phone’s GPS or mapping features.
Mobile Apps or Native apps are applications require downloading through a marketplace like Apple App store or Android Marketplace and can be free or paid. These applications can pull information from the internet much like a mobile website but some may also download this information to the app itself so that it can be accessed directly from the device without an internet connection.
Which is Better – Mobile Website or Native Application?
This answer differs from business to business. The first thing you need to look at when trying to make this decision is what is your main goal for this new function. If you want your users to be able to access your content and tools in an optimized and mobile friendly environment, a mobile website is probably the way to go. It should be thought of as the first step in establishing your business or brand’s mobile presence. An application is normally the best bet if the functionality you intend to use cannot be accomplished within a mobile web browser.
Human Service Solutions provides a great rundown of the pros and cons of both Mobile Websites and Native Apps so check it out below.
If you are looking to expand your marketing efforts beyond your standard website, a mobile website is the best place to start. Firefly can help establish your goals as a business and determine which platforms are best suited for your intended audience
Advantages of a Mobile Website
Source: Human Service Solutions
Immediacy – Mobile Websites Are Instantly Available
A mobile website is instantly accessible to users via a browser across a range of devices (iPhone, Android, BlackBerry, etc). 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 – a significant barrier between initial engagement and action/conversion.
Compatibility – Mobile Websites are Compatible Across Devices
A single mobile website can reach users across many different types of mobile devices, whereas native apps require a separate version to be developed for each type of device. Furthermore, mobile website URLs are easily integrated within other mobile technologies such as SMS, QR Codes and near field communication (NFC).
Upgradability – Mobile Websites 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.
Findability – Mobile Websites Can be Found Easily
Mobile websites are much easier for users to find because their pages can be displayed in search results and listed in industry-specific directories, making it easy for qualified visitors to find you. Most importantly, visitors to your regular website can be automatically sent to your mobile site when they are on a handheld (using device-detection). In contrast, the visibility of apps are largely restricted to manufacturer app stores.
Shareability – Mobile Websites Can be Shared Easily by Publishers, and Between Users
Mobile website URLs are easily shared between users via a simple link (e.g. within an email or text message, Facebook or Twitter post). Publishers can easily direct users to a mobile website from a blog or website, or even in print. An app simply cannot be shared in this fashion.
Reach – Mobile Websites Have 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.
LifeCycle – Mobile Websites Can’t be Deleted
The average shelf-life of an app is pretty short, less than 30 days according to some research, so unless your app is something truly unique and/or useful (ideally, both), it’s questionable how long it will last on a user’s device. Mobile websites on the other hand are always available for users to return to them.
A Mobile Website Can be an App!
Just like a standard website, mobile websites can be developed as database-driven web applications that act very much like native apps. A mobile web application can be a practical alternative to native app development.
Time and Cost – Mobile Websites are Easier and Less Expensive
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).
Support and Sustainability
The investment considerations of app vs website don’t end with the initial launch; properly supporting and developing an app (upgrades, testing, compatibility issues and ongoing development) is more much more expensive and involved than supporting a website over time.
When does an app make sense?
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.