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 (app) 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.
Differences Between a Mobile Website and an App
Before you can evaluate the benefits of a mobile website vs. an app it’s important to understand the key differences between the two. Both apps and mobile websites are accessed on handheld devices such as smartphones (e.g. iPhone, Android and Blackberry) and tablets.
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. Increasingly, responsive web design is becoming the new standard for websites that are not only mobile-friendly, but that can scale to any sized device – from desktop down to tablet and handheld smartphones.
Like any website, mobile websites/responsive sites 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.
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, in a similar fashion to a website, or it may download the content so that it can be accessed without an Internet connection.
Advantages of a Mobile Website vs. Native Apps
– Immediacy – Mobile Websites Are Instantly Available
– Compatibility – Mobile Websites are Compatible Across Devices
– Upgradability – Mobile Websites Can Be Updated Instantly
– Findability – Mobile Websites Can be Found Easily
– Shareability – Mobile Websites Can be Shared Easily by Publishers, and Between Users
– Reach – Mobile Websites Have Broader Reach
– LifeCycle – Mobile Websites Can’t be Deleted
– Time and Cost – Mobile Websites are Easier and Less Expensive
– Support and Maintenance
As mobile use continues to grow worldwide, 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 maintained, shared between users, and found on search engines, then the a mobile-friendly responsive website is the logical choice.
On the other hand, if your goal is to provide a user experience that feels more like a gaming interface or a computer program than a website, or if you need access to a user’s phone storage and native functions, then an app is probably going to be required.
In many cases, you may decide you need both a mobile website and a mobile app. If done correctly, both can be strategic and valuable choices. So when it comes to your brand’s mobile strategy, it’s not a question of a mobile website or an app, but perhaps a two-pronged approach.