Mobi site or APP?

Whether you’re a startup looking to create maximum buzz for your new product, or a well-known brand seeking the best way to engage a new generation or develop a new income stream, a great mobile app or mobile website should be considered a vital component of your overall marketing plan.

If you intend to establish a mobile presence for your company or organization one of the first considerations that are likely to 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 sites and applications can look very similar at first glance, and determine which is most suitable for your needs will depend on a number of factors, including target audiences, available budget, destination and the required characteristics.

What’s the Difference Between a Mobile Website and an App (Application)?

Before you can evaluate the benefits of a mobile website in relation to an application, it is important to understand the main differences between the two. Both applications and mobile sites are accessible on handheld devices such as smart phones (i.e. iPhone, Android and Blackberry) and tablets.

A mobile website is similar to any other website in that it consists of HTML pages based on a browser that are linked together and accessible on the Internet (typically mobile Wi-Fi or 3G or 4G networks). The obvious feature that distinguishes a mobile site from a standard website is that it is designed for the smallest of the screen and handheld touch screen interface.

Like any website, mobile sites can display the content of the text, data, images and video. They can also access specific mobile features such as click-to-call (to dial a telephone number) or mapping based on location.

Applications are real applications that are downloaded and installed on your mobile device, rather than being rendered in a browser. Users visit specific portals to the device such as the Apple Store, Android Market or BlackBerry World to find and download applications for a given operating system. The application can retrieve content and data from the Internet, similar to a website, or can download the content so it can be accessed without an Internet connection.

Which is Better – an App or a Mobile Website?

In general, a mobile website should be considered the first step in developing a presence on the mobile web, while an application is useful for the development of an application for a very specific purpose that cannot be effectively accomplished through a web browser. When it comes to decide to build a native app or a mobile website, the most appropriate choice really depends on your end goals. If you develop an interactive game application will probably be your best option. But if your goal is to provide the easy mobile content to the widest possible audience, while a mobile website is probably the way to go. In some cases, you may decide that you need both a mobile website and a mobile application, but it’s pretty safe to say that if you going the app route you already have a mobile website or responsive site in place. 

Advantages of a Mobile Website vs. Native Apps

If your goals are mainly related to marketing or public communications, awareness for your business or organization a mobile website is almost always going to make sense as a practical first step your mobile outreach strategy. Indeed, a mobile website has a number of inherent advantages on applications, including wider accessibility, compatibility and profitability.

Immediacy mobile websites are instantly available

A mobile website is instantly available to users via a browser through a range of devices (iPhone, Android, BlackBerry, etc.). The other applications, the user must first download and install the application from an application market before the content or application are available – an important barrier between the initial commitment and Action / conversion.

Compatibility – Mobile Websites are Compatible Across Devices
A unique mobile site can reach users in many types of mobile devices, while native applications require a separate version to be developed for each type of device. In addition, the URL of mobile websites are easily integrated into other mobile technologies such as SMS, QR codes and near field communication (NFC).

Upgradability – Mobile Websites Can Be Updated Instantly
A mobile website is much more dynamic than an application in terms of pure flexibility to update the content. If you want to change the design or the content of a mobile website simply publish the change after changes are immediately visible; updating an application, on the other hand requires updates to be pushed to users, which must then be downloaded to update the application on each device type.

Findability – 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 included in directories specific to the industry, making it easier for qualified visitors to find you. More importantly, regular visitors to your website can be automatically sent to your mobile site when they are on a Smartphone or Tablet (using a detection device). However, the visibility of applications are largely limited to the manufacturer app stores.

Shareability – Mobile Websites Can be Shared Easily by Publishers, and Between Users.
Mobile Website URL are easily shared between users via a single link (e.g. in an email or text message, Facebook or Twitter post). Publishers can
easily direct users to a mobile site from a blog or a website, or even in print. An application cannot simply be shared in this mode  Reach – Mobile Websites Have Broader Reach.  Because a mobile website is available on all platforms and can be easily shared between users and the search engines, it has much higher capacity range of a native application.

Lifecycle – Mobile Websites Can’t be Deleted

The average lifespan of an application is quite short, less than 30 days according to some research, so if your application is something really unique and / or useful (ideally both), one wonders how long it will last on the device of the user. Mobile websites, on the other hand are still available for users to return to them.

A Mobile Website Can be an App!

Just like a standard website, mobile websites can be developed such as database-driven Web applications that act much like native applications. A mobile Web application can be a practical alternative to the native application development.
Time and Cost – Mobile Websites are Easier and Less Expensive  Last but certainly not least, the mobile website development is far more time and cost-effective than the development of a native application, especially if you need to have a presence on different platforms (requiring the development of several applications).

Support and Sustainability

Application Considerations vs. site does not end with the initial launch investment; good support and develop an application (updates, testing, compatibility problems and ongoing development) is much more expensive and complex than the support of a website over time.

When Does an App Make Sense?

Despite the many inherent advantages of the mobile Web, applications are still very popular, and there are a number of specific usage scenarios where an application will be your best choice. Generally, if you need one of the following, an application makes sense:

  • Interactivity / Gaming – for interactive games (think Angry Birds) an application is almost always going to be your best choice, at least for the foreseeable future.
  • Regular use / Customization – If your target users will be using your application individually on a regular basis (think Evernote) and an application provides an excellent way to do it.
  • Complex calculations or declaration – If you need something that will take data and will handle with complex calculations, charts or reports (or investment banking think) an application will help you do that so very effective.
  • Native functionality or processing – mobile web browsers are increasingly good at getting access to specific mobile functions such as click-to-call, SMS and GPS. However, if you need to access the camera or a user’s processing power application will still do much more effectively.
  • No connection required – If you need to provide offline access to content or perform tasks without a network connection / wireless, and a logical application.

As with any project, when developing an application that you want to make sure you get an optimal return on your investment. What you want to avoid at all costs is unnecessary and costly exercise to build an application to do something basic that can be achieved with a mobile website.

In Conclusion

As mobile is relatively new frontier, the “app vs Web” issue will remain a very real consideration for organizations looking to establish a mobile presence. If your mobile targets are primarily marketing-driven, or if your goal is to provide content and establish a large mobile presence that can easily be shared between users and found on search engines, then a mobile website is the logical choice. On the other hand, if your goal is interactive engagement with users, or to provide an application that needs to work more like a computer program from a website and an application will probably be necessary.


Feel free to contact us for more information or to discuss whether an application or mobile website could be the right person for the needs of your organization.


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