A Comparison of Mobile App and Mobile Website

Should I create a mobile version of my website?

Or, should I launch a run-of-the-mill downloadable native application?

Mobile websites and apps can appear very comparable initially, but defining which is best fit for your requirements is subject to the following key considerations:

  • Customer base – who are you trying to reach out to?
  • Financial viability – how much is your CIO willing to shell out?
  • Lead time – do you need something quick and dirty or time-consuming and elegant?

Let me try to define the above terms without sounding too techie or too simplistic. I do not intend to start off another debate you would so often hear: Which is better – mobile website or native mobile app? There is always a trade-off between having a cutting-edge native app on a proprietary platform and having a slightly less advanced browser-based application that works on most handsets.

A mobile website is a mobile-ready version of your existing website that uses browser-related internet services, accessible from a handheld mobile device. It provides a usable site by stripping out some of the functionality of the main website.

A native mobile app is a smartphone application tied to your device’s operating system leveraging the device’s native features like GPS, accelerometer and camera.

Here, I would like to focus on the different aspects of choosing a mobile strategy – again, there is no right or wrong when it comes to deciding which way to go! I hope the table below helps to clear the air:

Functional Aspects

Mobile Website

Mobile Native Application

Availability / Conversion

Instantly available and accessible to users with the help of a browser

Accessible only from app market – lead time between initial engagement & action/conversion

Sharing between users

Shared easily via emails, text messages, and Facebook or twitter posts. Possible to direct consumers to mobile websites from any blog, website or print medium

Shared through app store links only.

Reachability

Cross-platform capability makes it possible to reach out to a larger audience.

Platform specific. Focus should be more on the users’ smartphone affinity.

Application Updating

Development updates are almost instantaneous and transparent to user

Changes to a native app are rendered through newer versions and download processes

Usability

Don’t play well with a mobile devices’ native resources– like accelerometer, gyroscopes etc. cannot be used

Interactive applications with full utilization of devices’ smart features

Offline Access

Offline usage is limited to offline caching – information in a form is saved on phone’s database

Offline access to information or execution of certain functions without a web or wireless link is possible

Upload Files

Specifically for iOS, mobile browser cannot access file system on the phone operating system

Not a problem whatsoever

Shelf life

Websites would live as long as the domain exists

On an average, users tend to delete an app within 30 days of installation unless it is utility based or has ‘Angry Birds’ in its title

Loading time

Browser lag comes along when using mobile websites

Faster to load as native app is queued up on the device

Approval process

Automatically approved as it is based on web

Need to filter your app through the smartphone company (like Apple) to get it approved

Cost to consumer

FREE

Depends on the level of complexity of app

ROI (Return on Investment)

Testing of mobile website on different platforms needs to be factored in. Cost effective when it comes to marketing and promotion especially with the advent of QR codes.

Investment is directly related to the number of platforms the app needs to be launched for. Promotion and marketing of app should also be factored in.

 

In addition to the above options, some companies opt for a “mobile web app” which is essentially a mobile website “wrapped up” as a mobile app. This option is a quick and dirty way to make an existing mobile website somehow appears as a mobile app. This helps to make it distributable on app markets – but may irk users who expect a true app experience.

So, all in all, it really comes down to who is meant to use your app or who you are marketing to. Web designers and developers can build device optimized web experiences that could compete with that of native apps – there could be a noticeable paradigm shift on both the business and consumer end as mobile web browsers become more sophisticated and are “allowed” to access more native resources of the mobile device.