Mobile Optimization: Websites vs. Apps

Close up of a man using mobile smart phone
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These days everybody has a smartphone. Smartphones enable us to make phone calls, take pictures, surf the web, or make purchases. If you need to establish a mobile space for your business, you have a decision to make. You need to decide between a website or an app. So what’s the difference?

Mobile websites and apps are accessed by users on a handheld device such as a tablet or a smartphone. Websites are made of HTML pages that are linked and accessed over the internet.  Mobile devices require WiFi, 3G or 4G networks to access the web.

The difference between mobile and standard websites is that mobile websites feature a smaller, more simplified display and have a touch-screen interface. Mobile websites can display video, text, data, and images.  They also have the added ability to perform such tasks as touch call for phone numbers and mapping features using current location.

An app is a software program that is downloaded to the mobile device. Apps must be downloaded from a device specific site like the AppStore or the Android Market. Apps may access data from the internet when it is available, or display content on their own without an internet connection. Remember, all apps are device specific.

Deciding on whether to build an app or a mobile website usually depends on what your goals are. Apps are used for specific actions or purposes. Games and tools are best served in an app form since an internet connection would slow their function. If you simply want to reach a wide audience for your product or service, you probably want to develop a mobile website.

Here are some of the advantages of a mobile website over using an app:

Instant Access – Mobile websites can be accessed instantly by all mobile devices via a web browser as long as they are connected to a network. To access an app, the user needs to find it in the appropriate app marketplace and download it to their device. This creates an extra step between action (the click) and conversion (the sale).

Compatible – All devices are compatible with mobile websites. Whether you have an iPhone, Android, or a Blackberry, you can access the mobile page. Separate apps must be developed that are compatible with each type of device, which can make developing an app more expensive.

Easy Upgrades – If you need to update content or change the design on your mobile website, you can do the edit and the changes are instantly visible. Updates for apps require acceptance by the users and must be downloaded to each device.

Easily Found – Your mobile website can be found easily by being displayed in search results.  Additionally, mobile users can be directed from your regular site to your mobile one instantly by using device detection. Apps are more difficult to find. Users usually find them by browsing or searching their app store, or hear of them by word of mouth.

Sharing – It is much easier for people to spread the word about a mobile website than an app.  Users can just insert a link to your site into a social media post, an email, or a text message.  Sharing can easily and quickly drive traffic to your website. To share an app with a friend, you must convince them to download it for themselves.

Reach – Accessibility, searchability, and easy sharing allow mobile websites to reach many more potential customers than an app.

Shelf-life – Mobile websites are always available to be viewed. Your website will stay open for business indefinitely, or until you shut it down. On the other hand, average app life on devices is around thirty days. Apps can be easily deleted from a device and removed from a potential customer’s mind.

Acting – With the right programming, you can make your mobile website act exactly like an app.

Cost – Developing a mobile website is more cost-effective than developing an app. It’s simply cheaper in both time and money to build one website versus multiple apps to support different platforms. If cost is an issue, then a mobile site is your best bet.

Support – The cost of supporting an app is much higher than that of a mobile site. Apps require ongoing development, upgrades, compatibility issues, and testing support. These ongoing functions cost money. Once your mobile website is up and functioning properly, you can let it run until you need to change something.

As you can see, there are many advantages to going with a mobile website instead of an app.

However, there are many instances where an app is better suited to get the job done. Here are a few of them:

Games – Apps are always the better choice when you develop a game. It allows for faster, glitch-free gameplay. Think Clash of Clans, Bubble Witch, etc.

Frequent and personal use – If users are going to access your program often, and make it their own personal style, then an app lets them make it their own. Think social media.

Processor power – If your program involves creating reports, charts, using the camera or GPS functions, or making calculations, it needs the processing power of the device to accomplish these tasks. An app is better suited to handle the job.

No Internet required – If your software can perform its functions without being connected to the internet, then an app makes the most sense.

When making the decision between a mobile site or an app, always keep your goals in mind.  Mobile sites are cheaper and function with all platforms while apps can tap into the processing power of users mobile devices. Remember that apps have a short lifespan when compared to websites. Both have positives and negatives, but ultimately the choice is up to you.

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Rafi Cohen, a graduate of Baruch College & Brooklyn native is the Co-Founder @ Orders2me, an online ordering platform that gives restaurant owners all the features they need to grow their business in the digital age.

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