Smartphones and tablets are now well and truly set to overtake the classic desktop (and laptop) as the primary means by which we will connect to the internet. The stats, therefore, speak for themselves – no matter what your business, you need to be establishing a mobile presence for those users on the move. One of the most important things to consider, however, is whether you want to create a specific mobile application (app) for users to download directly onto their devices, or a mobile website.
Deciding which way to go will depend on the scale of your business, your target audience, your budget, the features required and the intended purpose, and indeed the answer may even be that you need both.
To help you get to the bottom of this dilemma, below you will find some pros and cons of each platform so that you may be better equipped to decide in which direction you want your mobile presence to go. But firstly, let’s define precisely what each one is.
What is a mobile website?
Both mobile websites and apps are accessed using handheld mobile devices, such as smartphones (Blackberry, Android, iPhone etc.), tablets or phablets. Mobile websites are actually very similar to any other website that you might encounter when browsing from your desktop or laptop. Indeed, most of the actual content will be exactly the same, with the only real distinction being that the design is optimised for the small handheld display, rather than the big screen of your computer. Having said that, mobile-specific features will also be available on the mobile website, such as location-based mapping or ‘click number to call’ (whereby simply tapping the phone number on-screen, your phone will automatically dial it up).
How Apps Differ From Mobile Websites
Perhaps the main difference between an actual app and a mobile website is that apps are actual applications that you download and install directly onto your mobile device, rather than being a site that you access via a browser. The app may still need an internet connection to function to its full capacity, though some may download all the content that is needed for the app to work successfully without any internet connection at all.
So, Are Apps Better Than Mobile Websites?
Unfortunately there’s no easy answer to that question and it rather depends on your end goal. Games are almost certainly best suited for apps, but if you are just looking for a mobile friendly extension of your site, complete with all the same content that you want to put out there to the widest possible audience, then the mobile website is probably the way to go.
The way to look at it is that apps are generally built to serve a very specific purpose, which would not be very easily achieved via connection with the standard web browser.
However, there are some very distinct advantages of the mobile website over the app, so it’s worth taking into consideration everything before you start making any hasty decisions.
Advantages of Mobile Website:
- Discoverability: Depending on the functionality of your product, it will be more likely that mobile users will stumble across your website whilst browsing the web, than it will be that they discover your app in an app store. Indeed, what web users will not have to do is even go to the app store in the first place, try and find your app, and then download it, perhaps at a cost. Instead, with a mobile website, they will just be ready and able to start engaging with your content immediately upon discovery.
- Compatibility: Mobile websites can be instantly accessed across nearly every mobile device that’s out there. Apps, on the other hand, have to be developed with a specific platform in mind i.e. Android or iOS, and if you it to be available on both then you have to develop it separately for both.
- Shareability: Mobile websites are easily shared amongst social networks, emails etc. Simply by providing a link, any internet user can start leading traffic towards your site. This just simply isn’t possible with apps, because each user will need to download it onto their devices individually. People can make recommendations of course, but these don’t always turn into conversions.
- Easy To Upgrade: You can update and upgrade a website almost instantly – simply by making the amendments on the back end and hitting update. Apps on the other hand require a completely new installation – these, of course, you can offer out for free, but users will still need to be hassled as they will have to approve the download in the first instance.
- Apps can be deleted: If a user gets bored of your app, they can delete it from their device, and that will probably be the end of it. However, your mobile website will always be there to any user who wants to access it.
- Cost: It’s certainly easier and cheaper to make sure that your website is optimised for mobiles rather than going through the whole process of having an app developed.
So, When Should I Consider Developing An App?
As mentioned above, apps are usually developed because they perform a specific function, rather than just being mini model of your existing site.
So, you should start to think about developing an app if you’re:
- Producing Video Games: It just makes sense to have the software installed right there on your device. It will always deliver a better functionality.
- When No Internet Connection Is Required: If you want to produce something that is available to use offline (perhaps music or video downloads for instance) then an app is probably the only way that you can achieve this.
- If The Use Of Phone Is Required: For example, if there is need to access the phone’s camera or processing power then it’s an app all the way.
So, in conclusion, only ever embark on the timely and costly venture of building an app if the functionality of which cannot be readily achieved through the use of a mobile website. There are many advantages of the mobile website in the first instance, however, there are limitations, so in the end it will always come down what exactly it is you are trying to achieve for the end user experience.