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Mobile Web vs Mobile Apps - Which should you Develop First

05 Mar 2015

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There’s no denying any longer that mobile computing, in one form or another, is taking over from traditional PCs. Desktop computer sales have plummeted this year as the smartphone and tablet markets have really hotted up, which will make for an interesting festive season as brands fight for the biggest slice of the tablet pie.

Bearing this in mind, if you have been thinking about having a mobile web or app developed for your business, then now is the time to jump on board, unless you want your company choking on the dust of others as they race ahead of you.

There has been a fair amount of debate surrounding which will see the biggest growth in the mobile market; webs or apps, so let’s take a look at why this might be and the differences between the two technologies.

Apps, of course, have taken off with a bang. What with all the new smartphones doing more and more sophisticated things and the emergence of the recent tablet wars, they were always going to be popular. However, not all app stores are created equally and only iOS and Android are really ahead of the game for the time being.

However, recently more attention has been paid to mobile websites; there may be a million or so apps on the market but there are billions of websites, which begs the question, which is the most important for your business to develop?Mobile Web App Information

[infographic source: http://mashable.com/2012/06/06/mobile-site-mobile-app-infographic/ ]

What’s the difference?

Mobile apps of course have to be discovered and downloaded before you can use them and they’re not all free, some apps charge customers to download them. An app can be great for speed and interactivity, but why bother if your customers can find you easier via a mobile website, optimized for web with location services and such like.

Mobile web sites are also less expensive to build and if you want to submit an app to Apple, then it will have to go through a lengthy approval process. This is less the case with Android of course, and this is why the Android platform has seen a huge rise in malware over the past few years.

Whilst last year many people preferred to use mobile webs, this has changed somewhat this year as more tablet devices have come onto the market and more sophisticated apps are being built, with attractive features such as augmented reality.

Which to develop first, if indeed you want both, will depend a lot on the type of business you’re in. If you’re a retail company, then studies have shown that many people prefer to use a mobile web for shopping, searching for restaurants etc. or what’s going on in their area.

Apps can be limiting in this area as often a user may click through expecting to reach a certain page on a mobile web, only to find that they arrive somewhere unexpected and then have to search the site anyway.

However, for connecting with others, apps are more commonplace, I would doubt that there isn’t a Facebook user in the world who doesn’t have the app on their mobile device. Apps are also useful for entertainment such as games, navigation, business intelligence and more, to name just a few.

Ok, which should I choose first?

It’s really just a case of finding the right balance; you need to know your audience and research accordingly, using analytics from your existing website and the demographics of your customers.

Whilst apps can easily become ‘lost’ in an app store, especially if not properly optimized, mobile webs can be stumbled across whilst a user is browsing. It’s also worth bearing in mind that apps should be frequently updated in order to hold a user’s attention.

ROI also needs to be considered, how useful will an app be to a retail business or restaurant? It depends; if a user can shop within the app then why wouldn’t they use it, likewise, a restaurant could use an app to show menus, take booking and so on. However, this can also be done on a mobile website with much more functionality and interactivity.

Again, it depends on the nature of your business, with a mobile web you’re likely to reach a far wider audience than you could with an app, unless of course it’s strictly a gaming app. However, even then, without a website in place, who is going to hear about your app, unless they’re endlessly browsing the app stores.

In general, a fully optimized mobile website should be your first choice, you can always go on to develop an app afterwards, especially as technology continues to race along in terms of app functionality.

For marketing purposes, it’s also best to opt for a mobile web first of all as:

  • They are available instantly, with no need to pay for or download them first.
  • They are cross-platform compatible: whilst different mobile OS will require different apps, anyone can reach your mobile web using a browser.
  • Flexibility: it’s much easier and quicker to update a mobile website than it is an app, not to mention that apps have to be updated manually by the user.
  • Accessibility: mobile webs are much easier to stumble across than apps and mobile webs are much more ‘sharable’ through social channels such as Facebook and Twitter. This gives webs much better reach than an app would.
  • Mobile web can behave like an app by integrating a Content Management System (CMS), so that staff can update easily and quickly.
  • Cost: mobile webs are less expensive to develop than apps and take less time.

Generally, it would seem a better idea to develop a mobile website for your business before considering an app, as the mobile computing world certainly isn’t going anywhere. If you don’t have a site optimized for web, then you should, it’s as simple as that. You can be found via search engines much easier and many, many people use their phones to find local services or retail outlets through search than apps.

The infographic above gives an overview of the differences in usage and it seems that mobile web wins out, for the most part, although users are more ‘engaged’ with apps. However, the nature of the app makes for this engagement, depending on what the user is actually doing with it.

All in all, if you’re wondering which to develop, I would go with web first and then consider apps at a later date, bearing in mind how good for your business it will prove and ROI.

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