If the current trend continues, very few businesses can afford not to have a mobile presence. The growth of smart phones continues to explode. (Case in point my 65 year old father just bought a brand new IPHONE 4S – guess who gets to help him with tech support?) So should you pay a developer to create a downloadable application for your business, or have a web development company produce an optimized mobile version of your website? Let’s take a look at the differences. While they are both accessed from a mobile device (Phone, Tablet, etc.) there are some significant distinguishing characteristics:

Mobile Websites

  • An optimized mobile site is similar to other sites in that it is accessed from a browser and based on HTML pages that are linked together and accessed over an internet connection (either your data plan or wi-fi if your device supports it). A mobile optimized version of the site is designed specifically for the smaller screen of the device. Navigation is designed for the size of the device it being viewed on. Additionally a good web developer will create a mobile version of your site that requires less data and bandwidth than a traditional “computer accessed” site.
  • Like any traditional website a mobile version can display text, data, images and video and can access mobile specific features. (i.e. click to call or click to navigate).

Applications:

  • Applications on the other hand are actual software products that are downloaded and installed on your device.
  • They must be downloaded from an app store (apple, android, blackberry or Microsoft) depending on the device your customer is using.
  • The APP (Short for application may be pulling data and content from online similar to a website or it may be using content baked into the application and accessed without an internet connection. How to decide which is better for your business?
  • What are your end goals?
    • If you’re developing a game then an app is probably going to be the best option.
    • If you’re goal is to offer mobile friendly content to the widest possible audience a mobile website is probably your best option.
  • However, if you are going to consider building an app, you will most likely still need a mobile version of your site so that the application can pull data from it.
  • A mobile website should be considered the first step in having a mobile presence. Your customers can access the data and information on all mobile platforms.
  • An App has to be developed separately for every platform and device.

Mobile website advantages:

  • Instantly available any device that can access the web regardless of brand or model, etc. can access your mobile sites. Whereas a mobile app requires the user to download the software specific to their phone, tablet etc. This is a barrier to immediate engagement with your customers. Don’t make your customers jump through another hoop.
  • Compatibility Mobile sites can work across all devices. Apps need separate versions to work on each type of device. Mobile website urls can easily be integrated with QR Codes, SMS messages and soon to be ubiquitous near field communication technology.
  • Ease of upgrade Mobile sites can be updated instantly. It is a dynamic content repository. If you have changes to content, specials, or promotions they can updated instantly. Updating and APP on the other hand requires changed to be pushed out to users through multiple marketplaces. Then the user must download the revised app on each separate device.
  • Sharing A mobile website allows your customer and publishers to easily share content. URLS can be sent easily through links that most users are now comfortable using. It allows for easing sharing of content on social media networks such as Twitter, Facebook etc. You can share your urls easily though your traditional advertising as well.
  • Reach Mobile websites have a broader reach. Because it is accessible through all platforms with browser capabilities as well as search engines it has a far greater reach than a native application.
  • Lifecycle An app is easily deleted. In fact according to Pinch Media the avg. life span of a native app is less than 30 day before most users will delete it. So unless you really have made an app that is unique and useful data suggests most users will delete rather quickly. A mobile website on the other hand is always available without having to download another application.
  • A mobile website can appear to look like an APP! If you really want your user to see a small icon on their mobile device that appears as an app a web developer (Like Click Magnet Internet Marketing) can make the database driven site appear to look like an app.
  • Time and Cost Mobile sites are far less expensive. An app has to be developed for each mobile platform. That quickly boosts the price into the high range.
  • Support and testing The investment in an app doesn’t end with the initial launch, supporting, developing, testing and app (upgrades, testing, compatibility and ongoing development) is much more expensive than supporting a website over time.

So when does an APP make sense?

  • Interactive games (think Angry Birds)
  • Active usage with personalization capabilities
    • If your users are going to be using it in a personalized fashion and on a daily basis like (Evernote or Fitness applications)
  • Calculations and Reporting
    • If you need something similar to banking or investing resources that require complex calculations, charts or reports; apps may be a better bet.
  • If you need to use the devices’ built in technologies.
    • If you are integrating your phone/tablet’s camera or gps as an integral part of the experience you may want to consider an application.
  • No internet available
    • If your customer does not have access to cell signal or Wi-Fi a native application may be their only way to access your content.

The mobile space is exploding right now. The debate between mobile sites vs. apps will continue for a while until the players settle down a little. One thing I like to remind clients is that apps are really best if you are using the devices’ unique technologies. Otherwise almost anything can be done with a mobile website at a much less expensive price point. While a mobile site may take the place of an application, an App will not take the place of an optimized mobile website.