By Sean Breen, CEO
There are two basic choices when it comes to delivery of mobile content and services – a mobile application (or app) or a mobile website. How do you know which is right for you? What are the benefits of each strategy?
By way of quick review, a mobile application is a program that is created to run directly on the mobile device without a web browser. It is downloaded (from Apple’s App Store or the Android Marketplace, for example) and installed directly onto your mobile device. A mobile website is a website that is highly optimized to work on a mobile platform and uses the web browser on the mobile device to deliver content. A mobile website typically uses HTML5 to provide a rich user experience.
Why you might need a mobile application:
- Direct access to the mobile platform’s features. Not all features of a mobile platform can be utilized via a mobile website. An example is placing notification alerts in the Android. If you need to use all of the mobile platform’s features (or one that you “must have”), an app is your best bet.
- Performing background tasks, which need to be running even while the browser is closed. This would be useful, for example, if you wanted to “push” information out to the mobile platform to alert the user of information or events.
- Interact directly with other applications or data on your device. Once an application is granted permission by the user, an app can access almost anything on the mobile device, such as address book information, SMS messages and calendar information. If you need to use information stored on the mobile device or interact with other applications on the device, building an app would be a better choice.
- Experiential priority. While user experience is important for both apps and mobile websites, if there is special emphasis on having an immersive user experience, an app may be a better choice. Apps have direct access to all the gestures and other human interface channels that a mobile platform can provide, such as flip, rotate and shake.
- Computationally intensive. In most cases, if you need to do computationally intensive work, such editing pictures, video or other multi-media for example, it might make sense to do this via an app, which can directly use the mobile device’s CPU.
- Access while not connected to the web. If need to provide services while the mobile device is not connected to the web, a self-contained app might be a better choice. For example, a children’s book, once downloaded to an app (i.e., Amazon Kindle), can be read without the access to the web.
Reasons to consider a mobile website:
- (Relative) Ease of Development. When compared to development of a mobile app, development of a mobile website can be considerably easier. You are developing a website that is “tuned” for delivery on a mobile device, so many of the systems that you might already have in place, such as Content Management System (CMS) can be leveraged. While there are certainly idiosyncrasies on how you plan for the mobile user experience, typically, once the mobile website works well on one mobile platform, it will work well on most of them.
- Ease of Distribution. There is no need to distribute a mobile website via an app store, or to deal with the headaches associated with submitting an app for approval. The current URL for your website will work just fine or you can have a URL dedicated to mobile. This is attractive because there is no “middle-man” (an app store) – you can promote your mobile website in any way you see fit.
- Easy Updates. If you need to make changes to your mobile website, you only need to make the change in one place – on the website. When someone visits your website, they will see the latest and greatest version. With an app, the user has to download and install the updated application to get new features and bug fixes. So if you plan on making a lot of changes to features and functionality, you should consider a mobile website.
Control of Content Licensing. When you are delivering your content via a mobile web browser, you control how the content is licensed. This might not be case with a mobile app. Apple has placed restrictions on how you can license your content via apps distributed though its app store. Case in point, the Financial Times recently moved to a mobile website to replace its mobile applications specifically because of this content licensing issue.
So which do you need?
As they say, the devil is in the details. Typically, if you don’t need to push information to mobile devices or need to access very specific features/functionality on the mobile device, I would recommend sticking with a mobile website. It’s faster and less expensive to develop. But if you need to access and use data stored on the device (an address book, for example) or need to push data to the user (alerts, for example) then the app is the way to go.
Image credit: laihiu via Flickr Creative Commons
This entry was posted
on Wednesday, June 29th, 2011 at 12:39 pm and is filed under Digital Strategy, Mobile.
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