If you're planning to establish a mobile presence for your business or organization one of the first considerations that will likely come to mind is whether you want to create a mobile application for users to download (app) or a mobile website, or perhaps both. Many argue that you don’t need a mobile app, you just need a website that looks good on mobile devices. Others say that mobile apps have benefits that a website cannot provide.
Mobile websites and apps can look very similar at first glance, and determining which is most suited to your needs will depend upon a number of factors, including target audiences, available budget, intended purpose, and required features.
What’s the Difference Between a Mobile App (Application) and a Website?
As technologies for both web and mobile apps have evolved rapidly, organizations fall into the dilemma of choosing the right medium to reach target customers. There are situations in which organizations can develop either a web app or a mobile app due to budget constraints. Before you can evaluate the benefits of a mobile website vs. an app it’s important to understand the key differences between the two. Simply put, a web app is a website that is designed fluidly, responding to being viewed on a smartphone. There are many different types of websites out there, some are static and rarely updated, while others are responsive and have a great deal of interactivity. Web apps, specifically, function like downloadable apps, but all from the comfort of your phone’s browser.
Both apps and mobile websites are accessed on handheld devices such as smartphones (e.g. 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 linked together and accessed over the Internet (for mobile typically WiFi or 3G or 4G networks).
The obvious characteristic that distinguishes a mobile website from a standard website is the fact that it is designed for of smaller handheld display and touch-screen interface. Increasingly, responsive web design is becoming the new standard for websites that are not only mobile-friendly, but that can scale to any sized device - from desktop down to tablet and handheld smartphones. Apps are actual applications that are downloaded and installed on your mobile device, rather than being rendered within a browser.
Users visit device-specific portals such as Apple’s App Store, Android Market, or Blackberry App World in order to find and download apps for a given operating system. The app may pull content and data from the Internet, in a similar fashion to a website, or it may download the content so that it can be accessed without an Internet connection.
Which is Better – an App or a Mobile (Responsive) Website?
When it comes to deciding whether to build a native app or a mobile website, the most appropriate choice really depends on your end goals. If you are developing an interactive game an app is probably going to be your best option. Mobile apps work differently than responsive websites. They don’t run on all devices and need to be installed separately but what they give is unique user experience. While your website is aimed at attracting new or occasional clients your mobile app works with regular clients.
But if your goal is to offer mobile-friendly content to the widest possible audience then a mobile website is probably the way to go. In some cases, you may decide you need both a mobile website and a mobile app, but it’s pretty safe to say that it rarely makes sense to build an app without already having a mobile website in place. Generally speaking, a mobile website should be considered your first step in developing a mobile web presence, whereas an app is useful for developing an application for a very specific purpose that cannot be effectively accomplished via a web browser.
As mobile use continues to grow worldwide, the “web vs app” question will remain a very real consideration for organizations seeking to establish a mobile presence. If your mobile goals are primarily marketing-driven, or if your aim is to deliver content and establish a broad mobile presence that can be easily maintained, shared between users, and found on search engines, then a mobile-friendly responsive website is the logical choice.
On the other hand, if your goal is to provide a user experience that feels more like a gaming interface or a computer program than a website, or if you need access to a user's phone storage and native functions, then an app is probably going to be required.
It's also important to remember that a mobile/responsive website and a native app are not necessarily mutually exclusive. Plenty of organizations have both a mobile-friendly public website for their general web presence, as well as a downloadable native app to accommodate more specific requirements. In the end, it's all about choosing the right tool for the job.
Frequently Asked Questions
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