App VS Mobile Site: Which is right for you?

Published on September 21, 2014 under Business, Technology, Customer Education

App VS Mobile Site

In my line of work, I get many a client asking me if I know how to create smartphone/tablet apps, or even if they need one. Granted apps are all the rage right now. Some experts even claim that users are headed to an app store over the web browser, but statistics are now showing the “gold rush” of app development has come to an end, with one problem being saturation and the business model becoming unsustainable.

Now I won’t try to nail a coffin shut on mobile apps, but more try to advise clients not to rush into making an app when it might not be necessary. The evolution of mobile computing has changed my line of work from what was a “nice to have” feature into a necessity. Whether it’s a separate mobile site or a fully responsive website, any business on the web should think mobile first.

So when you’re thinking of a mobile solution, there’s three choices to consider:

Native App

Native Apps are most of what you encounter. Everything from Instagram to Shazam. Users would download and install said app into their devices and thus they work as their own entities within the device.

What to consider: Native apps do mean an “entry” in the store and some pretty cool functions brought on by the APIs. However, the investment in building one is much more than any of the other choices. You’ll need a real programmer/software developer who knows Objective-C, Java, or C#, and he/she will also have to be knowledgeable in the operating system(s) you choose to focus on, which means you’ll be building a version for each OS.

I’ll also add you will have to deal with the approval process of the store(s) you choose to submit your app to. Thus for all your work you might end up with a rejection. Lastly, most users veer away from paying for apps, thus you might have to consider building your app to be free with the potential of some in-app sales (if revenue is a goal)...and you’ll be sharing a piece with Google, Apple, and/or Microsoft.

Hybrid Native App

This one isn’t as easy to spot compared to a Native App. You still find and install it from whatever app store you use. However, this app is really just a website built into the form of an app. The Facebook app is a prime example of this.

What to consider: The advantage of this kind of app over a Native is you only really need expertise in HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. The downside though is if you want deeper functions, then you’ll need software developers to tap into the APIs of the system you’re building this for. Lastly, you’ll still need to get approval from the app store to get placement.

Mobile Website/Responsive Website

Using the browser is the easiest and most universal solution in many circumstances. You just need to know HTML, CSS, and JavaScript; there’s no need to version based on OS, and no approval system to deal with.

What to consider: Without any “app store”, you’re now at the mercy of the search engines to potentially be found. Plus despite that you do not have to version for the OS, you are inevitably doing much to make sure this site works on all browsers...desktop and mobile. I won’t even delve into the pain of dealing with old versions of Internet Explorer.

So what’s the ideal choice?

Beyond the “what to consider” points made on each choice, you seriously should think of all this in a few factors:

  • What your business is about
  • What your demographic is (and what device they mainly use)
  • Your budget
  • Your business goals

Probably the biggest mistake I’ve seen made are when businesses make apps for the sake of having something in the app stores, believing it will get them prestige and exposure. Usually these apps end up as just their websites made into an app form, which waste away and are barely downloaded.

Don’t make this same mistake. You should really be thinking hybrid or native app when it seems the web browser cannot fulfill your needs. When you need functionality that you can’t pull off in Safari, Chrome, or Internet Explorer.

For instance, I can use Facebook on the mobile browser, but it never runs as smoothly as their app. The sheer frequency of users pulling up Facebook does justify them having an app. CNN is another example of a need, as their UI and video/interactive needs go beyond what the browser can do.

On the flipside, a website like my food blog would not easily benefit from an app. I rely more on search engine traffic and social media shares too much to lock users into a closed app. Plus, the information and functionality can all be done on the web browser, thus I have no need for a hybrid or native app. Now if I wanted to have users post recipes and create virtual recipe books, then an app would likely be needed.

It’s the old ideas on never taking six steps when three will do. Only spend time and money on something like an app when it’s truly necessary, not just as a “nice to have”.

Do you have an app for your business? Or just a website? What influenced your choice?

Tags: mobile, app, website, responsive, business

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