Should I get a Mobile App or a Mobile Website?
Wednesday, September 3, 2014
Most business owners are just beginning to address the fast-growing mobile market. They are now realizing the need to engage their customers in this realm. People are now mobile - it's that simple. Expense and understanding the market has been holding many business owners back. The good news is that the mobile development business is going strong, and it is driving development costs down. Business owners can now gain a mobile presence for a realistic price.
As you make plans to take your business mobile, there is a bit of homework to do in creating a mobile strategy that will work best for your business.
Here we will explore the differences between Mobile Apps and Mobile Websites. Which one should you go with, and why?
A quick little note: Sometimes Mobile Websites are called "Web Apps". While this is an accurate description, it can be confused with "Mobile App" which is not the same thing. So I will call them Mobile Websites for clarity.
How do users access Mobile Apps vs. Mobile Websites
Mobile Apps are software programs, and here is how they get used: People will learn that an App exists, and then go find it in a Mobile App Store, and then download and install it on their mobile phone - then they can use it. Mobile Apps can be free, or companies can charge a price per download. Some companies even charge monthly subscription fees. In this way, Mobile Apps can be money-makers themselves - if they are popular.
But for marketing your brand, this approach adds a layer of work between you and your audience: You must first make your audience aware that your Mobile App exists, and then entice them to download it. If they download it, your App must be useful to them on a daily or weekly basis for them to keep it on their phone and use it, which keeps your brand in front of them.
Mobile Websites are exactly as described: they are websites. And you access all websites by going to a web browser, such as Internet Explorer, Safari or Google Chrome. All smart phones have a browser pre-installed on them (that's what makes them "smart" - they can access the Internet).
For example on an iPhone, a user will tap on the Safari icon to go to the Internet. Then they will type in a website address to bring up a website, or do a Google search to find a website they are looking for. Here is where your Mobile Website comes into play.
Once the user connects to your website, it can figure out if the user is on a small mobile phone screen or on a big computer screen. If the user is on a small phone screen, your website will automatically show them your Mobile Website – sized for the small screen. This mobile site will look big, easy to read, and easy to scroll on the small phone screen. Of course, if the user is on a regular computer, your website will show its usual self. The bottom line is that user doesn't know the difference - it's all automatic. They will always see your website in the best way for whatever device they are using.
What can users do on a Mobile App vs. a Mobile Website?
In general, Mobile Apps are used for accomplishing things from a phone, while many Mobile Websites are used for finding a business, or looking up information from a phone. Although this is the most common scenario, Mobile Websites can be just as functional as a Mobile Apps for accomplishing things. Any website, including a mobile site, can support thousands of online accomplishments such as shopping, registering for classes, moving funds between bank accounts, filling out forms and emailing you.
Why choose to develop a Mobile App?
Most Mobile Apps can work off-line without access to the Internet or a Cell phone connection. This is because they are installed on the phone, and they work exactly like any other piece of software on any computer. In this case, the phone is the computer. You can see this in practice with Games which you have downloaded to your phone. These are Mobile Apps that you can usually play them on your phone without Internet access.
Mobile Websites cannot work off-line on a phone. Either cell phone access or Internet access must be available for a Mobile Website to work on a phone.
So if your business model includes the ability for people to use your Mobile App offline, your decision has already been made – you must go with a Mobile App.
Because a Mobile App is installed directly on a phone (which is a computer), it has more ways to interact with the phone itself. For example, a Mobile App might be able to add something to the phone's Calendar, or to alert the phone to ring or vibrate. It might also be able to send "push" notifications to the phone owner. People can use their phone Settings to control the Apps they have installed. If they grant access, Mobile Apps can send Email from the phone, access the Contacts (names, phone numbers, and addresses), send Text messages and GPS locate the phone (used in Map and Driving Apps). If allowed, Mobile Apps can access a lot of data on each person's phone. This data can be a real asset to your brand marketing efforts. However, I must say here that as mobile phone users become more aware, they are learning to limit the access they allow each App to have.
Why choose to develop a Mobile Website?
I earlier defined a Mobile App as a piece of software. When buying software you probably know that you need to buy specific versions of software to run on specific types of computers. For example, you have to buy a different version of Microsoft Outlook for a PC than for a Mac (Apple) computer. One software version won't run on both types of computers.
The same is true with your Mobile App software. If you want full market access, you must develop a Mobile App for each type of popular phone: iPhone and Android. Now with the growing popularity of Windows phones, you will need yet another Mobile App for that as well.
You can already see the added expense in developing at least 2 versions of your Mobile App to cover the same market as you already get with just 1 Mobile Website. According to Mashable the average cost for developing a Mobile App is $10,000, but they also note this price is dropping.
In addition, every time you want to change something on your App, you must "push" your update through the network to all your user's phones, asking them to download the update and install it once again. So, users who don't do automatic App updates on their phones are still running old versions of your App, which you must still maintain as long as there are users on them.
By contrast, we found a common price quoted for developing a Mobile Website is around $400. And with a Mobile Website, all you do is change the web page and everyone sees and uses the most recent version, all of the time. There are no back-versions to maintain.
Availability for Use
If you develop a Mobile Website it is always there on the Internet for direct access or to be found in a Google search - things people do normally every day. While, as I've already noted a few times, a Mobile App has to be consciously downloaded onto a phone and installed.
My suggestion for most businesses is to start with a simple Mobile Website, which will make it easier for new customers to locate your business, call you with one touch, and learn more about your company. As you begin seeing more customers from the mobile realm, you can then add functionality to your Mobile Website, allowing for people to transact with your business from their phone.
Kristi Dittmann is Partner and Webmaster at W3Now Web Design, Inc. in Parker, Colorado.