Mobile Website Or Mobile App – Which Must You Build First?


App Builder Appy Pie, March 12. 2018: This is a mobile first era where every business is looking ahead into the future with a fabulous mobile app for their business to fall back on. However, in some cases the developers have mentioned the merits of the mobile websites and have advocated building one before going on to build a full fledged mobile app. This doesn’t mean that it is a thumb rule, as there are circumstances that warrant building a mobile app before building a mobile website.

At the first glance, the mobile websites and apps might appear to be very similar, and to come up with the decision and choose one over the another can prove to be quite a tough one. Let’s try and understand what a mobile website is, in simple terms and how is it different from a mobile app.

What is a mobile website?

There was a time not so far back in the future when smartphone, tablets, or any other mobile devices of any kind were not really a ‘thing’. In those times the websites were developed only to be displayed on laptops or desktop computers. At this stage the design was not built to be responsive, which essentially means that it lacked the natural capacity to scale itself according to the screen size that it was being viewed on, hence viewing them on smaller screens was not so easy. This was not really an issue at the initial stage, but as the mobile devices became more and more popular, and slowly began assuming the position of the preferred medium of accessing content on the web. This brought the challenges of using a website to light. This is when mobile websites emerged as a solution to this discomfort of the people who were mostly on the go and depended on their mobile devices when it came to accessing content. This led to quite a few small and medium business owners to create a mobile version for their existing websites so that their users could easily view the website and their content even when they were on the move and use them without a mouse, instead with taps.

What is the difference between a mobile site and a mobile app?

The mobile apps and the mobile website are both meant to be accessed through hand held devices like smartphones or tablets. Like any other website, a mobile website too consists of browser based HTML pages linked together and accessed over internet (WiFi, 3G, or 4G networks for mobile).

Mobile apps, however are actual applications that may be downloaded and then installed on your mobile device (smartphone or tab, or any other), instead of being rendered within a browser. In order to look for, and download apps, the users visit specific app stores according to their devices’ operating systems like Google Play Store, Apple App Store, Blackberry World and more. Unlike mobile websites, mobile apps can also pull content or data, even when they are not connected to the internet.

Factors That Would Help You Make A Choice

Making the choice between a mobile website and a mobile app can turn into quite a conundrum, but the fact of the matter is that the choice is dependent on the end goals that you are looking to achieve. For example, if the intent of your project is to develop an interactive game app, a mobile app makes more sense than developing a mobile website. However, if your goal lies in offering your content to the largest possible audience, then a mobile website would serve the purpose a lot better than building a mobile app. There may be some instances that warrant the need to develop both, an app and a mobile website simultaneously, but choosing one of the two, depends entirely on the following factors.

1) Speed & Accessibility

Does it need to be said? A mobile app is definitely a lot faster than a website, and many times more interactive making it an engaging experience for the users. Another fun thing that you can do with mobile apps is let them access phone features including the phone contacts, or GPS for navigation, or the phone camera, an ability that a website lacks totally. However, one important thing to remember is that the app first needs to be installed on the device before it can be used in any way and a mobile website that is built well can simply be accessed by navigating from a mobile web browser.

So, though the mobile app is a lot faster and easier to use, the app has accessibility issues as it needs to be installed first on the device. Apart from this, the app that you design would have to be developed separately for all the platforms including Google Play Store, Apple App Store, Microsoft Store, and more! This is so because, developing the app for just one platform is going to limit your audience for sure. However, one major benefit of developing an app is that it can actually make your content available to the users even when there is no internet connectivity.

2) Cost Effectiveness

There is a price tag attached to building an app from scratch and if you are planning to do so, consider keeping aside a minimum of $10k for it alone. However, if you plan to simply build or upgrade to a mobile site or responsive website it is going to be a lot lighter on your pocket than building a native mobile app. Also, like we discussed, a native app is platform specific, which means that you would have to first, take the decision about which platform you are going to choose from among iOS apps, Android apps, Windows mobile app, Blackberry app, or a Symbian app. In order to cater to the maximum audiences, you would have to have an appropriately deep pocket so that you can develop an app for all the aforementioned platforms.

Developing an app has the possibility to make a dent in your pocket and set you up for an investment of anywhere between $10k to $100,000k depending upon the complexity and time taken in building your app, and let us remind you that this cost is per operating system. Also, if you do decide to reach higher and build an app each for all the platforms, you are going to have to go for account for bug fixes for all the platforms, as many different teams of developers working on it as the number of platforms you are catering to, and also, every time you introduce a new feature, you definitely have your work cut out for you as you would need to do all that work for each of the platform.

Hence, if you have stringent budget, going the mobile website way might seem to be your only option here! Or is it? You can go for Appy Pie’s DIY app building platform and create an app in shoestring budget with all the ease and benefits of a native app and resolving the issues of a mobile website.

3) User Friendliness

Mobile websites offer static, navigational user interface, whereas a mobile app has great potential to create an interactive user interface. Quite a few of the issues encountered with mobile websites have been taken care of by the responsive web design solutions, especially when it comes to the usability issues, but when it comes to user-friendliness, the experience offered by the mobile app is unparalleled. It is probably for this reason that some of the best interactive games are being developed in the mobile app format, and not in the web app format. Hence pay attention to the desired interactive quotient that you desire with the users before deciding in favor of building a mobile website over building a mobile app.

4) Marketing Perspective

If yours is a startup and you have put in place a systematic investment plan, then you have probably taken a long hard look at the fundamental marketing channels prevalent and relevant today. Spare it another thought and analyze whether these plans make better sense in the context of a mobile app or a mobile website.

  • Search Engine Optimization or SEO – this marketing channel works beautifully well for a mobile website, but doesn’t have context or significance when it comes to a mobile app. When you have a mobile website, you have, at your disposal the biggest free platform of search engine traffic. Even when it comes to the paid SEO, it hardly makes any sense to market a mobile app on Google AdWords.
  • Affiliate & Referral Marketing – This is one of the more effective media of marketing, but yet again works a lot better in context of a mobile website when compared to a mobile app.
  • App Store Marketing – Many consumers go to the app stores in search of what they might be looking for and they tend to conduct these searches on their mobile devices. In this context having a dedicated mobile app gives you a much better chance at being ‘discovered’. However, the chances of you being ranked high in the search results depends on your ASO game and keyword listings.
  • Traditional Mass Media – This includes print, television, radio and other traditional media, but requires you to have deep pockets! This medium works equally well for the website and the mobile app.

Considering all these factors, it is only obvious that from the perspective of marketing, having a mobile website is way better than having a mobile app, unless of course you have a sizeable marketing and advertising budget.

5) Need For Integrating Device Features

Before taking any key decisions it is imperative that you understand the project in its entirety and have a clear grasp on the target market and a defined user persona. When we talk about various immensely successful mobile only startups like WhatsApp, WeChat etc. it made sense to go only with a mobile app for all the different app platforms. What do you think was the reason? The reason was simple, the app or the project that they had in front of them would have to interact with, and utilize other mobile features including the phone contacts, dialers, location, camera, microphone, and other such features. The websites, even those that are mobile-friendly would have been incapable of accomplishing this or interacting with any of the native features within the mobile.

However, if we were to consider various corporate websites like those of IBM, Dell, Intel etc. it would definitely be a better deal to go ahead and build a mobile website instead of an app. This is simply because, no one would want to download an app for something that they do not see themselves use on an everyday basis.

The basic intent of developing a mobile app is offering enhanced user interaction while making best possible use of the in-built phone features. Hence one good way to help you take the decision is to only think about getting an app, if you need to leverage any of the phone features as a project necessity. Otherwise, it might simple end up being a waste of time and resources which could have been utilized in a more constructive manner.

6) Frequency Of Improvements & Updates

If you feel that you would need to keep making your app better at frequent intervals, it is advisable to go for a mobile website first. It essentially means that all the improvements and the changes would happen on the website and the customers would not have to keep updating the whole application, every time you make some changes. This also means that you would have to make these frequent changes on only one platform, instead of making each change separately on all the platforms that you have built your app for. Also, you would not have to wait for a long time to actually be able to see that change that you made which might take anywhere between one to five days, as you get the result immediately after you upload it on the server.

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