For a business, if you wish to establish a communication and transaction portal with your customers or vendors, there are multiple methodologies present. The most common structures used in present-day are a website or a mobile app with customized features. If you’re planning to establish a mobile presence for your business or organization 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 perhaps 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 Between a Mobile Website and an App (Application)? Before you can evaluate the benefits of a website vs. an app it’s important to understand the key differences between the two. Both apps and websites are accessed on a handheld device such as smartphones (e.g. iPhone, Android and Blackberry) and tablets. However, a website can also be accessed on laptops and PCs. 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 WiFi or 3G or 4G networks). The obvious characteristic that distinguishes a mobile website from a standard website is the fact that it is optimized for the smaller handheld display and touch-screen interface. Increasingly, responsive web design is becoming the new standard for websites that are not only mobile-friendly, but that can scale to any sized device – from desktop down to tablet and handheld smartphones. Websites can display text content, data, images and video. 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, rather than being rendered within a browser. Users visit device-specific portals such as Apple’s App Store, Android Market, or Blackberry App World in order to find and download apps for a given operating system. The app may pull content and data from the Internet, in a similar fashion to a website, or it may download (but not everything) the content so that it can be accessed without an Internet connection.
Which is Better – an App or a Website? When it comes to deciding whether to build a native app or a website, 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. But if your goal is to offer content and shopping experience to the widest possible audience then a website is probably the way to go. In some cases, you may decide you need both a mobile website and a mobile app, but it’s pretty safe to say that it rarely makes sense to build an app without already having a website in place. You can know what are smart websites from our team of experts.
A 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.
Advantages of a Website vs. Native Apps If your goals are primarily related to marketing or public communications, a mobile/responsive 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.
Immediacy –Websites Are Instantly Available A mobile website is instantly accessible to users via a browser across a range of devices (iPhone, Android, BlackBerry, etc). Apps on the other hand require the user to first download and install the app from an app marketplace before the content or application can be viewed – a significant barrier between initial engagement and action/conversion.
Compatibility – Mobile Websites are Compatible Across Devices A single mobile website can reach users across many different types of mobile devices, whereas native apps require a separate version to be developed for each type of device. Furthermore, mobile website URLs are easily integrated within other mobile technologies such as SMS, QR Codes and near field communication (NFC). Upgradability –Websites Can Be Updated Instantly A mobile website is much more dynamic than an app in terms of pure flexibility to update content. If you want to change the design or content of a mobile website you simply publish the edit once and the changes are immediately visible; updating an app on the other hand requires the updates to be pushed to users, which then must be downloaded in order to update the app on each type of device.
Findability –Websites Can be Found Easily Mobile websites are much easier for users to find because their pages can be displayed in search results and listed in industry-specific directories, making it easy for qualified visitors to find you. Most importantly, visitors to your regular website can be automatically sent to your mobile site when they are on a handheld (using device detection). In contrast, the visibility of apps is largely restricted to manufacturer app stores.
Shareability –Websites Can be Shared Easily by Publishers, and Between Users Mobile website URLs are easily shared between users via a simple link (e.g. within an email or text message, Facebook or Twitter post). Publishers can easily direct users to a mobile website from a blog or website, or even in print. An app simply cannot be shared in this fashion.
Reach –Websites Have Broader Reach Because a website is accessible across platforms and can be easily shared among users, as well as search engines, it has far greater reach capability than a native app.
LifeCycle –Websites Can’t be Deleted The average shelf-life of an app is pretty short, less than 30 days according to some research, so unless your app is something truly unique and/or useful (ideally, both), it’s questionable how long it will last on a user’s device. Mobile websites on the other hand are always available for users to return to them.
A Mobile Website Can be an App! Just like a standard website, mobile websites can be developed as database-driven web applications that act very much like native apps. A mobile web application can be a practical alternative to native app development.
Time and Cost – Websites are Easier and Less Expensive Last but certainly not least, mobile website development is considerably more time and cost-effective than development of a native app, especially if you need to have a presence on different platforms (requiring development of multiple apps).
Support and Maintenance The investment considerations of app vs website don’t end with the initial launch; properly supporting and maintaining an app (upgrades, testing, compatibility issues and ongoing development) is more much more expensive and involved than supporting a website over time.
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:
Regular Usage/Personalization – If your target users are going to be using your app in a personalized fashion on a regular basis (think EverNote, Facebook, online Banking) then a native app provides a great way to do that that is easily accessible in almost all scenarios.
Complex Calculations or Reporting with Visualization – If you need something that will take data and allow you to manipulate it with complex calculations, charts or reports (think financial or scientific tools) 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, device libraries and GPS functions. However, if you need to access a user’s camera or processing power an app will still do that much more effectively.
Push Notifications – An inherent capability of apps is the ability to send push notifications to users who have the app installed on their device, giving app publishers the ability to send messaging to users directly. The of course assumes the user has allowed the app to send push notifications in their settings (not everyone does). Also interesting to note is that many browsers now allow web-based push notifications, allowing website owners to similarly send notifications to visitors who opt-in on both desktop and compatible mobile devices.
No Connection Required – If you need to provide offline access to content or perform functions without a network/wireless connection then an app makes sense, as you can store the data locally and then have it upload once a connection is established.
As with any project, when developing an app you want to ensure that your 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.
In Conclusion As mobile use continues to grow worldwide, the “app vs web” question will remain a very real consideration for organizations seeking to establish a mobile presence. If your mobile goals are primarily marketing-driven, or if your aim is to deliver content and establish a broad mobile presence that can be easily maintained, shared between users, and found on search engines, then the a mobile-friendly responsive website is the logical choice. On the other hand, if your goal is to provide a user experience that feels more like a gaming interface or a computer program than a website, or if you need access to a user’s phone storage and native functions, then an app is probably going to be required. It’s also important to remember that a mobile/responsive website and a native app are not necessarily mutually exclusive. Plenty of organizations have both a mobile-friendly public website for their general web presence, as well as a downloadable native app to accommodate more specific requirements. In the end, it’s all about choosing the right tool for the job.
Scenario with marketplace When you plan to launch your market place the factors considered are:
Payment Gateways – with third-party API options being available the payment gateways have become versatile across any kind of platform. Thus, there is no difference left in a website, a mobile website or an app.
Multiple Languages – website is the easiest bet here. Language packs on mobile apps can be space-consuming for users and frequent updates become a challenge.
Inventory management & reporting – For a marketplace, a backend website is always preferred to ease the management and reporting of inventory. Plus searchability online is much more widespread for a website as compared to an app. But yes, to promote the app, if you have one, you can allow app-only discount coupons.
Data Security – security patches are customized as per the operating system in case of an app and thus become a really costly affair. On the other hand for a website the security features are universal.
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