The spread of mobility has resulted in a proliferation of mobile apps. However, are apps superfluous when there are already highly intuitive, responsive websites which deliver the goods admiringly well?
On the face of it, mobile apps and websites seem as two sides of the same coin, but scratch beyond the surface, several differences emerge.
A mobile website is technically a shrunken-down version of a normal website, consisting of a series of linked browser-based HTML pages, and accessed over the Internet through the browser. A mobile app, on the other hand, is generally developed specifically for a mobile OS and configuration, and downloaded directly to the device.
Mobile website pages are indexed by search engines, and as such easily found. It is also easy to list a link to mobile websites in directories, and share such links through blogs, websites, and even in print media.
The visibility of apps is largely restricted to app stores. The apps cannot easily be pushed in directories, or the links shared easily. However, once installed, the app icon remains in the mobile screen always, and users may access it even offline. Also, once the initial trouble of getting users to download an app is done, the user is unlikely to go elsewhere.
UX and Design
Websites designed for mobile devices are generally different in appearance and UX, compared to conventional websites. Such websites often have larger icons and buttons to suit the touch-screen interface and improve UX. Incorporating responsive design ensures the web pages scale up or down, to be optimized for any sized device.
Mobile websites rely heavily on browsers to perform even the most elementary functions. For instance, it depends on browser features like ‘back button,’ ‘refresh button,’ and ‘address bar’ to work, with little scope to customize such basic features. The efficiency and seamless functioning of a mobile website depend on an up-to-date browser.
A mobile app is free of browser constraints and may be designed with elaborate and customized functions, co-opting ‘tap,’ ‘swipe,’ ‘drag,’ ‘pinch,’ ‘hold,’ and other advanced gestures. Such gestures may be leveraged for innovative functionality, and to perform tasks better. For instance, moving to the next page is much easier with a swipe than by having to press the back button.
Mobile websites display text content, data, images, and video, just like any websites, but generally, have a limited range of options compared to a conventional website. Nevertheless, mobile websites are often cluttered with dense content, popups, ads, and other content of varying nature. Apps, in contrast, are designed to facilitate a specific function, process or workflow. The best apps are highly focused help users achieve something which cannot be fulfilled easily or seamlessly through the website. Some web developers try to give mobile websites the look and feel of an app, but often end up over-optimizing the website, complete with over-designed layouts.
Mobile websites are getting increasingly better at accessing functions such as click-to-call, SMS and GPS, hitherto considered the forte of apps. However, apps are still a better bet to access device functionality in a reliable way, especially the camera and the processing power of the device. Apps also facilitate a much deeper engagement.
Both apps and websites can be used to deliver the same content or functionality to users. However, both are best suited for specific purposes.
A mobile website, which offers ready access, scores over an app, which have to be downloaded first before the user can access the contents, when the intention is to offer ready content to a wide audience. However, for interactive situations, and use-cases involving complex calculations and reporting, and manipulated data, charts, and reports, apps are better suited than websites.
Apps are better to drive engagement. As long as the user takes the trouble to download the app, the odds are the user would open the app before trying to access anything else for the same purpose.
It is far easier to update content in a mobile website, where changes to the back-end make it applicable to anyone who accesses the website. In contrast, to make changes in apps, the developer has to roll out updates for each app and push the same to the users. The changes apply only when users download the updated version of the app.
However, what the app lacks in flexibility to update content, it compensates in personalization. App also offers scope for greater personalization. Unlike websites, apps allow users to set preferences and be served customized content. Apps have the capability to observe and track user engagement, also leverage the device’s location capabilities, to provide users with custom recommendations and updates. One of the biggest advantages of mobile apps is the ability to send push notifications. Push notifications deliver click-through rates of about 40%.
Cost – Performance Conundrum
Apps generally cost more to develop and maintain compared to websites, for the simple reason a new version of the app has to be developed and maintained for each OS or platform. The mobile app development process has to be repeated for each platform. In contrast, a single instance website runs across all devices.
Again, apps compensate through superior performance. Well-designed apps perform actions much quicker than mobile websites. Apps store data locally on the device, whereas websites have to pull in data from remote web servers. Apps, by virtue of its high customization features, take proactive actions on users’ behalf, further speeding up things.
A mobile website and a native app are not necessarily mutually exclusive. What works best for any enterprise depends on several factors, such as the preference of target audiences, whether there is a critical mass of subscribers, budget on hand, intended purpose and required features. Many functions, especially marketing related, require both a mobile website and a mobile app. Generally, the mobile website is the first step in developing a web presence, and apps follow.
Ultimately, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Mobile users spend 86% of their time on mobile apps and just 14% of the time on mobile websites. However, while an app offers several big advantages, the advantages realize only when the mobile app development is done the right way. Do not take chances with your app development process, and fritter away both your competitive advantage and investment. Get in touch with us to leverage our highly talented, resourceful, and experienced teams, who are adept in delivering cutting-edge mobile solutions.