Building an Optimal Mobile Experience: App vs. Site

Your customers are mobile. So, it’s time for your business to go mobile. Ready, set, develop, right? Not so fast. First, let’s address the ongoing debate of when to build a mobile app versus a mobile site. Is one better than the other? Does it make sense to build both? There aren’t clear-cut answers to these questions, but we’ll do our best to provide some helpful guidelines.

It’s Not About You

Users care about functionality and experience. Period. They don’t spend countless hours wondering whether they’d prefer to download an app or visit a URL. They care about accessing information, games and services in a way that caters to their needs with the device that’s in their hands at that very moment.

This is why content usage is one of the most important factors to consider when deciding whether to build an app or a website. According to a number of studies, Internet users prefer mobile apps for managing data, navigation and connecting with others, while mobile browsers are the preferred medium for shopping, searching and entertainment.

Let’s take a quick glance at the advantages of a mobile website and apps, along with real examples that demonstrate the value companies gain from utilizing each medium.

The Case for Mobile Websites

The website model of an open platform available to all innovators and accessible to all consumers and creators has a number of compelling advantages:

  • Low development cost/time: since a mobile website is essentially a different front end for a website, the development costs are lower than those of an App. The engineering team can simply tweak existing code so that it works ‘responsively’ on mobile web interfaces. Maintenance is naturally easier as well.
  • Lack of red tape: add new features on a whim—no need to request permission from “big brother,” like Apple, or navigate a tedious approval process.
  • Simpler cross-platform scalability: works across all platforms, while apps are device-specific (i.e. iPhone, Android, etc.), requiring a business to develop an app for each platform. Accounting for slightly different capabilities of mobile devices such as Android and BlackBerry OS based phones is much easier than managing several development teams working on different platforms.
  • Analytics-friendly: tracking clicks and behavior is as simple (and insightful) on a mobile site as it is on an old-fashioned webpage.

Let’s look at an example of when it makes more sense to build a mobile website. A mom-and-pop pizzeria needs only to convey simple, static information to help customers place orders easier and faster. They’re working with a limited marketing budget. A site that features location, hours, menu and contact information delivered in a mobile, easily-clickable format is the perfect solution.

SoWe, a chic restaurant in Philadelphia, kept their more sophisticated market in mind when designing a mobile site that integrates with Open Table, allowing customers to place reservations directly from their mobile browser.

The Case for Mobile Apps

An application that is native to the mobile device offers a unique set of advantages:

  • Faster, more interactive: supports action-packed 3D games and resource-hungry applications that rely heavily on touch.
  • Functions without Internet connectivity: accessible anywhere, anytime. A farmer needs to access crop data from a remote field?  Done. A businessman wants to house hunt during his morning subway commute? No problem.
  • Revenue and reach potential: if you’re looking to make money, apps can be monetized and user reviews can increase exposure.
  • Integrated: apps can integrate with all of a device’s features, enabling users to access contacts, camera and geo-location services.
  • Seamless operation: transitions are smoother and usability is simpler.

Due to the fundamental nature of travel as a mobile activity, it’s no surprise that the tourism industry is increasingly leveraging apps to engage users. Applications like TripIt and Hotel Tonight have become go-to resources for travelers seeking better ways to plan trips and access last-minute deals. Applications like these that are packed with robust features are better supported by, and more easily navigated on, a native mobile app. Capabilities such as anywhere, anytime data access and geo-location are more easily integrated into a mobile app and therefore the preferred choice for development.

Conclusion

There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to deciding whether to build a mobile app or a site. A number of factors must be evaluated, including the type of content or service being provided, the goals for the project and the needs of the end user. Since we have yet to find a way to grow resources freely, the time and money available for the project is also a critical consideration.

Check out the below infographic from MDG Advertising for a detail-rich comparison of how mobile apps stack up against mobile sites.

Should You Build a Mobile App or Mobile Website? [infographic by MDG Advertising]

Infographic by MDG Advertising

This is a guest post by, Star Borner,  founder of  Papercut Marketing

 starborner