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Mobile Website vs Mobile App

Do I need a mobile app or a mobile website

mobile website vs mobile app

If you're planning to establish a mobile presence for your business 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 both. 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?

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 Wi-Fi, 3G or 4G networks). The obvious characteristic that distinguishes a mobile website from a standard website is that it is designed for the smaller handheld display and touch-screen interface. (Please see Responsive Website design for tips on developing once and viewed on many devices.)

Mobile websites can display text content, data, images and video just like any other website. They can also access mobile-specific features such as click-to-call (to dial a phone number) or location-based mapping.

Apps are actual “applications” that are downloaded and installed on your mobile device. The app may pull content and data from the Internet in similar fashion as a website or it may download the content so that it can be accessed without an Internet connection.

Which is Better?

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. 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. 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. It’s pretty safe to say that it rarely makes sense to build an app without already having a mobile website in place.

Advantages of a Mobile Website vs. Native Apps

If your goals are primarily related to marketing or public communications a mobile website is almost always going to make sense as a practical first step in your mobile outreach strategy. This is because a mobile website has a number of inherent advantages over apps, including broader accessibility, compatibility and cost-effectiveness. When Does an App Make Sense?

Despite the many inherent benefits of the mobile web, apps are still very popular and there are a number of specific use scenarios where an app will be your best choice. Generally speaking, if you need one of the following an app makes sense:

Interactivity/Gaming – for interactive games (think Angry Birds) an app is almost always going to be your best choice, at least for the foreseeable future. Regular Usage/Personalization – If your target users are going to be using your app in a personalized fashion on a regular basis (think Ever Note) then an app provides a great way to do that.

Complex Calculations or Reporting – If you need something that will take data and allow you to manipulate it with complex calculations, charts or reports (think banking or investment) an app will help you do that very effectively.

Native Functionality or Processing Required - mobile web browsers are getting increasingly good at accessing certain mobile-specific functions such as click-to-call, SMS and GPS. However, if you need to access a user's camera or processing power an app will still do that much more effectively.

As with any project, when developing an app you want to ensure that you are getting an optimal return on your investment. What you want to avoid at all costs is the needless and expensive exercise of building an app to do something basic that can be achieved with a mobile website.

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