Mobile App vs. Mobile Site - Which One Do I Need and Why?

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Christopher Nebel
Christopher Nebel



Burritos at the Mexican place up the street seem to spark the best conversations. Take today for instance: As we were enjoying yet another cilantro-infused burrito, the topic of mobile applications vs. mobile websites came up. The debate was which way to go on a specific project.

The easiest choice is for some is, well… do nothing. After all, anyone with a browser-enabled smartphone can visit an existing website, right? But doing so raises a few issues. For example, pages are designed for the desktop experience — images are large, text is small, navigating the site can be difficult and, of course, some parts of the site simply will not load or work correctly.

For these reasons, surfing the web via mobile device with a smaller screen and limited features of some operating systems and devices can be... let’s just say challenging.

The question then becomes, “If I am going to offer my customers a mobile experience, which do I offer – mobile site or mobile app?” This is a great question to start with because it helps you define your audience. The choice with the largest reach is the mobile site. It can be accessed via any device — iPhone, Palm, Blackberry or Android. These devices support an open-source framework, making sites universally accessible.

On the flipside, if your audience is niche in nature, and you want to reach them by a particular operating system or device, maybe the mobile app is the best way to go. Keep in mind though that mobile apps need to be developed for each type of device.

Back to the all-important question, “Who is my audience?” Applications, in general, will provide a more feature-rich experience because they can work natively with the device’s operating system.

So, if the experience requires interaction or engages the user as would a game or a utility (such as a banking app with an ATM locator), then the mobile app would most likely be more successful. However, as mobile browsers are becoming increasingly more sophisticated with support for HTML5 (with geolocation capabilities), that line continues to blur. If you are offering a content- or information-rich site that needs to be searchable and search-friendly, the mobile site is your best choice.

You’re left with a choice with no clear answers. Whichever direction you choose, there are clear advantages and disadvantages to both, and it definitely involves thoughtful research and consideration.

On one side, you have a mobile site that generally costs less up front and can work on all devices that have web browsers. Mobile site content is searchable and search engine-friendly, and brands can publish what they want, when they want with no app store approval, which is a notable barrier to entry.

With mobile apps, you have complete control over the user experience and your app can use all of a device’s capabilities — camera, photos, address book, etc. Plus, an app can raise your brand awareness and create revenue for your company.

Let’s face it, apps are definitely a hot topic and can create substantial revenue for the developer and company that releases them. states that the mobile app market could surge to $17.5 billion by 2013. That’s a lot of burritos.

Webapps 101

5 Benefits to Mobile Apps

1. Allows you to build a richer experience without impacting speed and data charges.
2. Allows you to take advantage of native phone features like the camera and voice.
3. The user does not have to be online via WiFi or data plan.
4. Ability to integrate with other services like Facebook Connect.
5. Can become a great extension of your brand attributes.

5 Benefits to Mobile Sites

1. Same content works across all smartphones and most feature phones.
2. Optimized to the highest common denominator.
3. You publish whenever you want. You’re not restricted by application approval processes.
4. Easier to market and drive visits. It only requires one click versus a download process.
5. Content on the mobile web is searchable online via Google or other search engines.

5 Things to Consider for your Mobile Application

1. Your app should complement your marketing campaign.
2. Focus on value first.
3. Your app should be content or experience driven — no one will use your app unless they have good reason.
4. Promise the end user a specific payoff.
5. Use the native elements of the smartphone — GPS, the camera, or other features to make your application experience richer.

5 Things to Consider for your Mobile Website

1. Define a specific purpose for the experience.
2. Make the most important information instantly findable.
3. Ensure your content is relevant to the mobile user.
4. Don’t try to recreate the online experience in mobile.
5. Build navigation that is intuitive on every page.

Topics: Mobile Apps

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