If you plan to establish a mobile presence for your company or organization, one of the first considerations that probably comes to mind is whether you want to create a mobile application for users to download (application) or a mobile website, or maybe both . Websites and mobile applications can be very similar to the naked eye, and determining which one best suits your needs will depend on a number of factors, including the target audience, the available budget, the intended purpose and the required functions.
What is the difference between a mobile website and an application (application)?
Before you can evaluate the benefits of a mobile website versus an application, it is important to understand the key differences between the two. Both mobile applications and websites are accessed from portable devices such as smartphones (for example, 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 connected to each other and accessed through the Internet (for mobile networks, usually WiFi or 3G or 4G). The obvious feature that distinguishes a mobile website from a standard website is the fact that it is designed for the smaller portable screen and the touch screen interface.
Increasingly, responsive web design is becoming the new standard for websites that are not only mobile friendly, but can scale to any size device, from desktop computers to tablets and handheld smartphones.
Like any website, mobile websites / receptive sites can display text, data, images and video content. They can also access specific features for mobile devices, such as clicking to call (to dial a phone number) or mapping based on location.
The applications are real applications that are downloaded and installed on your mobile device, instead of being processed in a browser. Users visit specific portals of the device such as Apple’s App Store, Android Market or Blackberry App World to search and download applications for a specific operating system. The application can extract content and data from the Internet, similar to a website, or you can download the content so that it can be accessed without an Internet connection.
Which is better, an application or a mobile (responsive) website?
When it comes to deciding whether to create a native application or a mobile website, the most appropriate option really depends on your ultimate goals. If you are developing an interactive game, an application will probably be your best option. But if your goal is to offer optimized content for mobile devices to the widest audience possible, a mobile website is probably the way to go.
In some cases, you may decide that you need a mobile website and a mobile application, but it is safe to say that it rarely makes sense to create an application without having a mobile website in place.
Generally speaking, a mobile website should be considered your first step to developing a mobile web presence, while an application is useful to develop an application for a very specific purpose that can not be achieved effectively through a web browser.
Advantages of a mobile website versus native applications
If your goals are primarily related to marketing or public communications, a mobile / responsive website will almost always make sense as a practical first step in your mobile reach strategy. This is due to the fact that a mobile website has a series of advantages inherent to the applications, which include greater accessibility, compatibility and profitability.
- Immediate: mobile websites are available instantly
Users can instantly access a mobile website through a browser on a variety of devices (iPhone, Android, BlackBerry, etc.). On the other hand, applications require the user to first download and install the application from the application market before the content or application can be viewed, a major barrier between the initial commitment and the action / conversion.
- Compatibility: mobile websites are compatible on all devices
A single mobile website can reach users through different types of mobile devices, while native applications require a separate version for each type of device. In addition, the URLs of mobile websites are easily integrated with other mobile technologies, such as SMS, QR codes and near field communication (NFC).
- Update: 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 content of a mobile website, simply publish the edition once and the changes will be visible immediately; On the other hand, updating an application requires that updates be sent to users, which must then be downloaded to update the application on each type of device.
- Search capability: mobile websites can be found easily Mobile websites are much easier to find for users because their pages can be displayed in search results and appear in industry-specific directories, making it easier for qualified visitors to find it. More importantly, visitors to your regular website can be automatically sent to your mobile site when they are on a handheld (through device detection). On the contrary, the visibility of the applications is restricted to the manufacturer’s application stores.
- Availability verification: mobile websites can be easily shared by publishers and users. URLs of mobile websites are easily shared among users through a simple link (for example, within an email or text message, Facebook or Twitter post). Publishers can easily direct users to a mobile website from a blog or website, or even in print. An application simply can not be shared in this way.
- Reach: mobile websites have a wider reach Because you can access a mobile website in all platforms and can be easily shared between users and search engines, has a much greater reach capacity than a native application.
- Useful Life – Mobile websites can not be deleted: The average life of an application is quite short, less than 30 days according to some research, so unless its application is really unique and / or useful (ideally, both), it is questionable how long it will last on a device. user. On the other hand, mobile websites are always available for users to return to them.
- The website can be an application. Like a standard website, the Mobile websites can be developed as web applications based on databases that act much like native applications. A mobile web application can be a practical alternative to the development of native applications. Verification and cost: mobile websites are easier and less expensive. The development of mobile websites is much more profitable than the development of a native application, especially if It is a native application. you need to have presence on different platforms (which requires the development of multiple applications).
- Support and maintenance The investment considerations of the application against the website do not end with the launch initial; The proper support and maintenance of an application (updates, tests, compatibility issues and continuous development) is much more expensive and involved than supporting a website over time.
When should you have an application?
Despite the many inherent benefits of the mobile web, applications are still very popular, and there are a number of specific use scenarios where an application will be your best option. In general, if you need one of the following options, an application makes sense:
- Interactivity / Games: for interactive games (think of Angry Birds) an application will almost always be your best option , at least for the foreseeable future.
- Regular use / Personalization: If your target users are going to use your application in a personalized way on a regular basis (think of EverNote), then a application offers a great way to do it.
- Complex calculations or reports: if you need something that requires data and allow you to manipulate it with complex calculations, charts or reports (think of banking or investment ) an application will help you to do it very effectively.
- Functionality or processing required: mobile web browsers are getting better at accessing certain functions specific to mobile devices, as click-to-call, SMS and GPS. However, if you need to access a user’s camera or processing power, an application will still have much more effect.
- No connection required: if you need to provide offline access to the content or perform functions without a network / wireless connection, then an application makes sense. As with any project, when developing an application, you must ensure that you get optimal return on your investment. What you want to avoid at all costs is the unnecessary and expensive exercise of building an application to do something basic that can be achieved with a mobile website.
While the Mobile use continues to grow throughout the world, the question “application vs web” will continue to be a very real consideration for organizations seeking to establish a mobile presence. If your mobile goals are based primarily on marketing, or if your goal is to deliver content and establish a broad mobile presence that can be easily maintained, shared between users and found in search engines, then the responsive website optimized for mobile devices is the logical choice. On the other hand, if your goal is to provide a user experience that feels more like a game interface or a computer program than a website, or if you need access to the user’s phone storage and native functions Then an application is probably necessary. It is also important to remember that a mobile / responsive website and a native application are not necessarily mutually exclusive. Many organizations have a public website compatible with mobile devices for their general presence on the web, as well as a native downloadable application to adapt to more specific requirements. In the end, it is about choosing the right tool for the job.