Mobile web-site vs Apps – which is best

The battle rages on as Apple seek to dominate the mobile space via the ubiquitous Apple App Store – this is forcing companies to ask huge questions about development platforms.

Should we develop an App or build a mobile web-site?

The process to decide which route you go down is clouded with the terribly subjective measures of coolness and, also, suffers from too many HiPPOs telling everyone “it’s what I do so everyone must be the same”. The trick, as ever, is to distill it down to the very basics; keep it simple and ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Are you going to generate direct revenue from the app, either via selling it or via subscription/usage fees?
  2. Will your audience use your offering frequently and over an extended period of time?
  3. Does your offering require particularly tight integration with other mobile functions?
  4. Do you expect your offering to be used when no Internet is available?
  5. Do your target market use one particular type of device (i.e. iPhone)?

If the answer to all of the questions is yes then an app is for you. If you answered no to just one then maybe an app is for you. However, if you answer no to 2 or more of them then you need to think a little deeper. Building Apps is always much more expensive to do than building a mobile optimised web-site, even more so if you plan to support multiple mobile platforms.

Going a little deeper…

No direct revenue plans. if you are simply looking for sales leads or providing an information portal then mobile web-site will work just fine and have all the benefits of a conventional web-site (content updates, low cost of deployment, low cost of change, instant deployment, tracking … the list goes on).

Occasional use profile. If your offering is going to be used infrequently then mobile web-site is better, there are no download times and no using up expensive phone capacity. What defines infrequent? Difficult to say but a handful of times over a year is definitely infrequent, daily use is frequent.

Phone integration. Apps have easier and better access to phone functions such as the camera, phone, address book and GPS but this is not exclusive – the web browser on all Apple devices can access the GPS system for example. And correctly formatted mobile web pages can fire the phone, email and calendar.

Offline access. The internet is quite pervasive now so it’s pretty rare to be anywhere there is no Internet but there are some scenarios where its use is sub-optimal; underground, over the sea, in aircraft, hyper-remote locations, some work places (due to rules or physical RF shielding). You might also want to consider how much data will be required to move across the link, if the data requirement is very high (10s and 100s of megabytes) then it will be expensive as a mobile web-site.

Target device. Developing Apps for all mobile platforms is an expensive job, not just in development but in approval, updates and changes. Additionally, the platform standards change every time a new operating system comes out so major re-developments are typically required every 6 to 9 month so you need to consider a continual development programme if you are to stay in step. Mobile web-sites are simpler to develop, it’s a single platform (the browser) and whilst this does get updated in the same timeframe it does so by enhancing it’s features, not making wholesale changes. Therefore it is far easier to stay in step with browser technology and this works across multiple platforms, too, which is a bonus. On the other hand, if your offering is aimed at a segment that uses one device it become more viable to support just that device for a single segment.

Even if you build an App, consider building a mobile web site as well. Why? If you use the Facebook App on your phone … go and try out the mobile web-site version, you are in for a surprise, I think.

Finally, below is a breakdown of mobile activity mapped against how the activity was carried out (app or mobile web-site). Be a little careful with the connect and navigate sections as both of these are rather heavily dominated by Facebook and SatNavs such as TomTom.