Entrepreneurs and marketers often wonder whether they should depend on mobile websites or develop native apps for lending their businesses the requisite amount of exposure. We have here compared these two tools on the basis of several important criteria.
Targeting prospective clients who access the web on the go has emerged as a key element of the overall marketing strategies of most companies. In the United States, the use of mobile devices is increasing by the day (a rise of nearly 5% was reported last year), and the trends are pretty much the same in most other developed/developing nations across the world. There are two major channels to gain business exposure on mobile devices – mobile (responsive) websites and native mobile apps. Contrary to popular belief, the latter concept is the earlier one, with its origins being traced back to 1998 – when Nokia pre-installed the blockbuster Snake game in its handsets. In the following discourse, we will compare the merits and demerits of native apps and mobile websites:
- Creation – Responsive websites take this round easily. To create a successful, engaging mobile application, a fairly large amount of time, money and professional UI/UX designing expertise is required. Making a mobile version of an already existing website is way simpler – all that’s required is to create and test fluid designs and select the sections/text/graphics that would be present in it.
- Speed – Mobile app developers treat app-speed as a virtue. They know full well that if an application takes minutes to load, no one would bother taking a second look at it. The same is broadly true for mobile websites too – but they generally take significantly longer to load completely than a seamless, user-friendly app.
- Marketing & Promotion – This one is a stalemate. Mobile websites, like their original computer versions, require continuous search engine optimization (SEO) to gradually gain traction on the World Wide Web. Similarly, for ensuring a high download count for apps, strategic marketing campaigns need to be conducted. Broadly speaking though, since iPhone and Android apps are present in the stores of their respective platforms, additional marketing requirements are just a tad less.
- Approvals – A good mobile website will have a steady, high number of regular visitors, while a slow, cluttered one will flop – but there is no way it can be banned by any authority (except, of course, if a website promotes drugs, gambling, and the like). On the other hand, a mobile apps company has to constantly keep the factor of app-approvals at iTunes and the Play Store under consideration. Particularly at the former, the approval regulations are rather stringent.
- Offline performance – Websites, by definition, are not supposed to work offline. That, in turn, means that if a potential buyer does not temporarily have online connectivity on his/her phone, (s)he cannot check out the portal, for that specific span of time. Native apps clearly hold the aces on this count – since most of them function perfectly well in the offline mode.
- Usage of phone resources – Leading mobile app development companies make it a point to come up with such applications that utilize all the available resources of a smartphone optimally. GPS features, camera, video-recording and social media connections would be some of the most common examples in this regard. A responsive website is, however, more of a standalone feature. Users can read the content and browse the pages – but they can’t expect it to integrate with other mobile resources.
- Role in building brand-value – Both mobile websites and apps deliver in this regard – but the latter has just a little edge. Once a user closes a website on his/her device, (s)he has to relaunch it – to be exposed to the visual branding elements present on it once again. An Android or iPhone application would, however, remain present on the home screen of the device. Provided the icon of the app is smartly designed, it would serve as a source of continuous brand-recall.
Note: A word of caution here though. Lousy apps are deleted pretty quickly by users from their phones, which erases this advantage – and in fact, generates a negative buzz about the concerned company.
8. Flexibility – There are companies that offer cross-platform app development services – but in general, an iPhone app won’t work on an Android device, and vice versa. Mobile websites, on the other hand, might have browser-compatibility-related issues. The codes used to make a mobile app are not portable from one handset to another either. Both app and website developers strive to offer customized services, and they need to keep in mind the above factors.
9. Maintenance – A responsive website requires maintenance, but not to the extent needed for mobile apps. Developers typically have to release upgrades/updated versions of apps at regular intervals – and proper app testing procedures have to be carried out for each of them. A mobile website, on the other token, generally has a single version – making the task of bug-testers just a bit easier.
11. Level of competition – The demand is more for native apps – and hence, it is understandable that the worldwide app markets are way more competitive too. Right from business-related applications, to mobile apps for kids – every category of app has many entries (and new ones coming along every quarter). On average, an app lasts for around 35-40 days (except for the ones that really gain users’ favor) on a mobile device. Now compare that with a mobile website, which cannot be removed unless the parent company decides to do so. An app-maker has to compete with a lot more rivals – a website designer can focus only on making the web pages user-friendly and optimized.
12. Visibility – A featured app at iTunes and/or Google Play Store would always have high download potentials. People can find them easily, read up reviews, and get them on their phones. Mobile websites are not similarly listed anywhere – and unless the SEO job on them is done well, they won’t rank high on the search engines. That, in turn, makes discoverability an issue.
13. System requirements – Slow websites are irritating. A mobile web portal would have high footfall and low bounce rates only when the devices used to view them have strong and fast internet features. There are select smartphone models (iPhones, for instance) which do not support any Flash content on websites. Apps, in most cases, do not come with such constraints. Flash is not (mostly) used in them anyway, and experts from mobile application development agencies keep the size and bandwidth requirements of apps low. A website CAN be fast, a native app is ALMOST ALWAYS faster!
There is, however, no reason to consider native apps and mobile websites to be perfect substitutes. Ideally, a company should create a well-working, responsive website (without any multiple URL-concerns), and then develop personalized mobile applications. A website can be formed in the form of a web app too. To capture the eyeballs of mobile users, both the channels have important roles to play – it would be a mistake to neglect any one of them completely!