Last year, there were 3 billion active smartphone users across the globe. According to Newzoo, by 2021 that number is projected to go up to 3.8 billion. And in 2018, 58% of all web visits in the US came from mobile devices. That same year, mobile retail sales accounted for 63.5% of all retail e-commerce sales worldwide.
We’re living in the age of mobile. This means that for your business, your users and customers expect to engage with you on their mobile devices.
There are two ways to achieve that: mobile applications, and websites optimized for mobile use. So, which option works best for your company? Let us help you answer this…
A native mobile app is an application that is downloaded and installed on a mobile device like a smartphone or a tablet. Mobile apps are developed for specific platforms like Android, Windows or iOS, and offered in portals like Google Play Store or the Apple App Store. They run on the device and may capture data from the web, but they can also download all their contents and function without an internet connection.
A mobile optimized website is rendered within a mobile browser and accessed over the internet. It is a reduced version of a standard website, designed for the requirements of mobile use: a small display and touchscreen interface.
There’s a difference between mobile and responsive websites. A mobile website is specifically developed for mobile devices, while a responsive website adapts to whatever screen it is displayed on—from large desktop monitors to tablets and smartphone screens. Since responsive design is where it’s at in 2019, we’ll speak of responsive websites for the purpose of this article.
The pros and cons of mobile apps
Native apps are designed to work well on specific mobile devices and operating systems. Their structure, user interface, and functionalities are optimized to deliver the best user experience. Accordingly, a convenient user experience is one of the biggest advantages mobile apps offer. They load faster, and are easier to use than websites. They are also able to efficiently leverage smartphone features like GPS, cameras, phone dialling and the like.
What’s more, users can customize the app: they can change settings, and save personal data like payment details, making online shopping easy. Apps also possess push notifications, a valuable tool to engage with users. You can inform them about special offers, new features and updates, and improve audience targeting. Customization is another big advantage apps hold over websites.
Also, keep in mind that an app can operate without access to the internet. Data can be stored on the device and uploaded later. This is particularly useful for fitness trackers, or navigation apps.
Now, to the downsides. Compatibility issues can affect audience reach and cost. Each operating system has its own requirements, so you need different app versions to reach different user groups. And, each version needs continuous maintenance and upgrades. Users have to be informed about new versions, and incentivized to download and install them. This means that mobile apps require a solid development budget.
The pros and cons of responsive websites
If you’re tight on budget, or would like to reach a broader audience, you may want to opt for a responsive website instead. For one, you’ll only need to build one product. Your responsive website will work on all operating systems and devices, which means that you only have to maintain one product. What’s more, you don’t have to rely on users to upgrade anything.
A responsive website is compatible, which allows you to reach a lot of users. Moreover, websites are indexed on search engines that can deliver organic traffic. And the link to your website can easily be shared via email, chat, or social media. Plus, users don’t have to do the extra effort of going to an app store, find your product, download and install it.
Depending on the complexity of your website, it is often more cost-effective to develop and maintain a responsive website than multiple versions of a mobile app.
But responsive websites also come with disadvantages. For one, they aren’t as convenient. Because user experience is meant to accommodate all types of devices, this also means that it won’t work perfectly for every device. . In other words, interacting with your content might not be as enjoyable as with a native mobile app. Also, it’s not as easy to integrate functions like GPS and cameras in a responsive website.
Last but not least, even a simple website needs internet access to fully operate.
Comparing mobile apps and responsive websites
Generally speaking, if you’re looking to offer a flawless user experience and more complex user interactions, a mobile app is the way to go. Most mobile games work way better as fully built applications rather than as content displayed in a browser. The same goes for any product that requires more complex manipulation and visualization of data (i.e. scientific and financial tools) or is used regularly and for personal goals (i.e. self-organization tools and social media). If you want to reach specific target audiences and engage with users at a deeper level, you should consider building a mobile app.
On the other hand, if your main objective is to reach as many people as possible—such as in PR and marketing campaigns—and your content does not require a lot of interaction, a responsive website will be your best option. Because they are more budget-friendly, responsive websites are ideal for businesses that are starting out in mobile commerce.
On the other hand, both options don’t have to be mutually exclusive. For instance, Facebook’s responsive website allows users to comfortably navigate the site on any device, but they also offer a mobile app with reduced functions, and a UX that is perfectly adaptable for every specific device.
So how do I decide?
As always, the best solution for your business depends on your goals. The better you define the kind of product you want to offer to your audience, the easier it will be to make a decision.
And if you need more help with that, you can always ask us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’ll be happy to hear from you :)