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Mobile App or Mobile Website? Which One is for You?

A mobile app and a mobile website can help you establish a strong online identity.

As the proliferation of mobile devices continues to grow, so does the number of mobile apps (applications) available. Have you browsed an app store lately? The quantity of choices is mind-blowing, whether you use an Android, Windows, or iPhone/iPad device.

Mobile websites can be accessed and viewed on any mobile device over the internet. Mobile apps are software applications that work on specific types of devices or operating systems, and perform specific functions.

For small and medium sized businesses the decision is often whether to create a mobile-friendly website or a mobile app. Sometimes it’s an either/or decision and sometimes the answer is to do both. It depends on a combination of your business goals, your budget, features, purpose, and your users’ needs.

In general, businesses should start with a mobile website and then develop an app for a specific purpose or market. Here are some key differences between a mobile app and a mobile website.

Budget

Small businesses will find it more cost-effective to design a mobile website. It is typically less expensive to develop a mobile website (or convert an existing website to a mobile-friendly version) than it is to develop a specific mobile app for various devices or operating systems and requires more resources to do so.

Connectivity

Most applications are downloaded on demand from mobile app stores or the internet to install on the smartphone or tablet. Once it’s there, the user just taps on the icon to open it and start using it. Mobile sites are accessed any time over a network or internet connection.

Content

An app might pull its content and data from the internet in real time as a website might do (which requires an online connection), or download its content to the device to be accessed anytime, anywhere without the need for a connection. It depends on the mobile app but the ability to do this is a big distinction.

If you want to provide offline access to your content, or the ability to use your mobile service without a network or wireless connection, develop a mobile app. Users won’t need to go to a website; whatever they need is in their hands already.

Audience

Consumers are searching on mobile devices for all sorts of things including information about products, services, and companies so make sure you are there with a mobile-optimized site.

Mobile websites are meant to provide a lot more information about a business. Anyone can do a quick web search for just about anything they want to know so if you want your company to show up in the search, develop a mobile website.

When it comes to mobile apps, consumers’ decisions are usually based on which will be the most fun, add value to their lives, give them what they need often, or make their lives easier. They download apps for products or services they want frequent access to for various reasons or that fit particular needs.

In some cases, you might want to develop both a mobile app and a mobile site to support each other. The app may serve as the adjunct to the website with a specific purpose. For example, a restaurant chain has a mobile website where all users can go to find locations or browse the menu (wide) and a mobile app for its frequent diner program (narrow). Coca-Cola’s mobile website contains all its corporate information, history, and news about its brands (wide) but this major corporation offers dozens of mobile apps that invite users to interact in some distinct way (lots of narrow choices—download sounds or wallpaper, listen to music, and much more).

Functionality

A lot of apps are very interactive such as games while others are very purpose-specific and personalized such as loyalty programs. Some are geared to business people with all sorts of office-related capabilities and others are educational tools for kids. They typically provide a high level of convenience, entertainment, or productivity depending on the user.

Mobile websites incorporate a lot of “rich media” such as images and video, and marketing tools such as click-to-call, location-based mapping, links to social network pages, and more. They may also have a link to download the company’s app (read general information about the company, product, or service on the site; then download the app from an embedded link on your device).

There are many other considerations regarding mobile sites and mobile apps—rapid changes in mobile technology, publishing issues, SEO, free or paid, updates, installation, and more. We can help you hash out your mobile game plan and come up with a solution that makes sense for you.