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Mobile Website vs. Native Apps: Which is Best?

Mobile vs. AppsAmerica is dependent on their mobile devices!  If you think I am exaggerating, check out these statistics:

  • 4 out of 5 consumers use smartphones to shop
  • 75% of American admit to taking their phone to the bathroom with them
  • 71% of marketers believe mobile marketing is core to their business.

Smartphones and other mobile devices  are here to stay and the numbers will continue to grow.

Mobile marketing is the future.  As a business owner, are your prepared?   Do you have a mobile site?

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.  In some cases, you may decide you need both a mobile website and a mobile app.

Generally speaking, a mobile website should be considered your first step in developing a mobile web presence.   An app is useful for developing an application for a very specific purpose that cannot be effectively accomplished via a browser.

Mobile Website vs. Native Apps

If your goals are primarily related to marketing, a mobile website is almost always going to be your first step. This is because a mobile website has a number of inherent advantages over apps.  Let’s look at a few.

  • Always Available
    A mobile website is instantly accessible to users via a browser on various devices.  Apps require the user to first download and install the app from an app marketplace before the content or application can be viewed.  This can be a barrier. 
  • 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 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.
  • Mobile Websites are Compatible Across Devices
    A single mobile website can reach users across many different types of mobile devices. Apps are often device specific.
  • Mobile Websites Can be Shared Easily 
    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.
  • Mobile Websites Can Be Updated Instantly
    A mobile website is  dynamic. Content can be updated easily.  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 requires the updates to be pushed to users, which then must be downloaded in order to update the app on each type of device. 
  • 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. 
  • Mobile Websites are Easier and Less Expensive
    Mobile website development is considerably more time and cost-effective than development of a native app. 
  • 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 Should I Choose an App?

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:

  • 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.
  • Interactivity/Gaming
    Interactive games (think Angry Birds) an app is almost always going to be your best choice, at least for the foreseeable future.
  • 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 effectively.
  • 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  way.
  • 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.

When developing an app you want to ensure that you are getting an optimal return on your investment. What you want to avoid is the expensive exercise of building an app to do something basic that can be achieved with a mobile website.

So take inventory of what you need  your mobile presence to do and provide and then take action.  If you have a mobile site or app, let your link in the comments.  I will check it out on my smartphone!