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.
What’s the Difference Between a Mobile Website and an Mobile App (Application)?
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 a 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 similar fashion to a website, or it may download the content so that it can be accessed without an Internet connection.
A mobile app is a software application made specifically for use on smart phones and other small, wireless devices such as tablets and smart watches. They are developed entirely separately from your website. In the beginning, apps were made to provide users with a similar experience to a website they can access on desktop. Today, apps are usually highly-specialized individual software that serves as part of a business’s mobile strategy.
Mobile App Pros
A native mobile app is an app that is developed for a particular platform, for example, iOS or Android, and are installed on the device itself. A native app is written in the language of the operating system of the device. Apps are a completely separate entity from a company’s website, and are often an extension of a brand.
1. Branding Opportunities
Since a mobile app is an entirely separate entity from a company’s website, it has the ability to offer new branding opportunities to users. This means that companies can experiment with new branding tactics and styles with a mobile app. It’s important to note that a mobile app offers a completely different experience for the user. If your website can’t offer enough value for your customers, a mobile app may be the way to go as it offers users with another channel for engagement.
Analysis shows that the applications are more popular than equivalent websites, as they’re more convenient. Mobile apps provide better user experiences, load content faster, and are easier to use. Besides, unlike websites, apps have push notifications. Sharing updates, special features, and reminders within an app increases customer loyalty and retention. Also, the design of mobile apps fits different screen sizes more elegantly than websites.
Mobile apps are a great solution for services that require regular use. An application allows users to set preferences, create personal accounts, and keep vital information at hand. From a business point of view, mobile apps provide better support for targeting an audience and therefore building marketing campaigns for different groups of users.
4. Working offline
Another crucial advantage related to mobile apps is the opportunity to use them offline. As apps are installed on a mobile device, they can keep providing access to content and features even without an internet connection
5. Customer Engagement
Mobile apps run with their own interface environment which enables users to become more immersed in the mobile experience. They are built with a purpose, for example, more convenient banking. They address user pain points and make it easier for users to achieve a goal.
Additionally, mobile apps allow for more interactive ways for the user to engage with your content. Rather than looking at the exact same text and images as a website, apps can integrate features which allow users to interact with certain components of the app. Finally, if a mobile app delivers a great deal of value to a user, they will return frequently, forming a habit. These factors all contribute to greater customer engagement, in turn, boosting conversion rates.
Mobile App Cons
The truth is that comparing mobile apps and mobile websites is like asking to choose between bread and butter. Bread is great, but it’s awesome with butter. Right? Since mobile websites are easier to get up, an mobile app need to have a strong argument for itself if you were to consider getting one set up.
- Added setup
This used to be a pretty strong con against mobile apps, but now with app building solutions like BuildFire, getting an app up and running isn’t really hard and definitely doesn’t take a long time. For a business, the app doesn’t have to be very elaborate at the start. The setup can be quick if you’ve planned ahead.
2. Extra cost
It’s rare that a business wants to have a fully custom app developed for them. Whether for functions like booking, mobile commerce store or as a customer service channel, app builders are able to provide a drag and drop platform for a fraction of the price of custom apps. Builders can charge anywhere for $30 to $100 monthly, which saves you a lot in upfront costs and ongoing support.
3. It’s more work
Mobile apps might be drag and drop but they’re not definitely going to operate themselves. Apps should be part of a larger mobile strategy and marketing strategy. You need to have someone who will spend time learning the ropes of app marketing so you can maximize your app and get a good return on your investment. It’s more work but it promises more returns.
A mobile website is a mobile version of your desktop website. It is separate from your desktop site and is designed for exclusive mobile use. Mobile websites typically do not have as much content as desktop sites. It has limited pages and each page is optimized to match what people usually need when using mobile to access websites.
Mobile Website Pros
As mentioned earlier, a mobile website is a website that has a responsive design and works for different screen sizes. Essentially, it’s a customized version of a regular website that is used specifically for mobile. Here are the benefits of a mobile website:
Broader Audience Reach
Due to the multi-device support that responsive web design provides across various platforms, it’s becoming easy to reach a broader audience than a mobile app can reach. In the “app vs website” debate, the website definitely wins in terms of potential audience. Secondly, in terms of search engines, it has greater reach capability than a mobile app which has to be searched and downloaded in either Google Play or Apple’s App Store.
Websites also cost less to upgrade. You need to maintain just a single version of a them. Compared to mobile apps, which require downloading of every single update, responsive/mobile websites let you change the content or design just by editing them once, and allow you to do that efficiently and flexibly. After implementing, updates become active and visible immediately across all types of devices.
Depending on complexity, a responsive mobile site can be more cost-effective than mobile app development. This holds true if you want your app to have a presence on more than one platform.
3. SEO & Brand Visibility
Mobile optimized sites are now ranked higher in search engine results pages than sites that are not optimized for mobile. Companies with mobile-friendly sites are more likely to rank better, which results in greater brand visibility and higher website traffic.
Mobile websites may be a less expensive option, however, they are very limited when it comes to personalization and engagement. Additionally, websites simply can’t be as tightly integrated with the user’s device, so they can’t leverage the phone’s other capabilities as easily.
It’s also important to note that mobile website design relies on the networks being used to access it. The network access, quality, and speed are all factors that will impact your mobile web experience, if a wifi network is even available.
Mobile websites are also more difficult for a user to navigate since they’re on a much smaller screen than desktop. This means that you should have fewer steps for the user to take. If you don’t simplify the user journey, users can get frustrated and will abandon the site altogether. This will not only lower conversion rates, but can also damage your brand image. Make sure to optimize your site’s functionality on mobile devices, ensuring that the user journey is simple and straightforward.
A website enhances the user experience across different types of mobile devices. In contrast, a mobile application requires developing a separate version for each operating system and device type. Users who own devices of different types may especially appreciate the benefits of compatibility that responsive websites provide. Besides, they support easy integration with other mobile features like QR codes and text messaging.
Mobile Website Cons
If you have a desktop website, it’s pretty simple to setup a mobile site. If you had someone else or an agency develop your site, it shouldn’t take a lot cost and time-wise to setup a mobile site. That said, businesses should have mobile sites. For the purposes of comparison, here’s how they stack up against mobile apps.
No app store presence
As a business, being visible on all marketing channels is useful.
2. No push notifications
Push notifications are a delicate but amazing way to communicate with your audience. It can be highly targeted and is aligned with their interests.
3. No offline access
Mobile websites need the internet to work.
4. A challenge to design
If you’ve put mobile web design duties to someone who isn’t familiar with usability practices and performance benchmarks, your site can be useless and do more harm than good.
Comparison: Mobile Website Vs Mobile App
|Criteria||Responsive/Mobile Website||Mobile App|
|Compatibility||Displays equally well on all types of devices||Requires development of separate version for each platform|
|Reach||Reaches wider audience; covers all devices (mobile, desktop, laptop)||Accessible for smartphone and tablet users only|
|Working Offline||Limited offline functionality||Works well offline|
|Ongoing Maintenance||Supporting and updating across all mobile devices is easier; flexible; requires less effort||Requires extra time and cost for regular updating, including time for approval from app markets|
|Convenience||Provides limited convenience due to screen size and inability to keep all needed info on one page||Provides better experience in regular use; loads content faster; has push notifications|
|Personalization||Provides average opportunities to personalize settings||Provides wider options for personalization|
Thus, both alternatives have their advantages and disadvantages. A mobile app is not always better than the mobile version of the site and vice versa. To choose one of them you must understand the purpose of the product: who will use it and how often.
Also one should know, what is more important: higher performance and functionality or the product development price. From the point of view of money saving web development is a better option. In this case, the content is more important than the visual expression of the app. The mobile app is likely more preferable to a responsive mobile website if your plans require high performance.
In addition, the offline/online availability is an essential issue. Mobile applications do not depend on the Internet access as responsive websites so that many operations can be performed in the offline mode.
Of course, there is no clear answer to what business needs: a mobile site or a mobile application. The main thing is to think about your clients as users of mobile devices and make their life as comfortable as possible.