Going mobile: mobile website or app?
In the last five years, the capability and number of mobile devices has increased phenomenally. Smartphones, including Apple iPhones, Android phones by Motorola, Samsung and HTC, Windows Mobile phones and Nokia handsets, have transformed mobile computing into a platform comparable to desktop computing. With this new platform comes a new type of communication between consumers and the brands they use.
In meeting your customers in the mobile space, there are two main options available:
- develop a mobile version of your website that can be accessed through the smartphone's web browser
- develop a custom mobile application that customers can download and install on the smartphone.
Each of these offers advantages and drawbacks.
Building a mobile app
Offering a mobile app gives you much greater control over the interface you provide to your customers, so for things like games, apps are an easy choice. Building an app also makes it possible for your app (and therefore your brand) to be listed in the platform's app store (Apple or Android, for example).
The development of a mobile app is typically several times more expensive than a mobile website, as the programming skills required are more specialised and rarer. Furthermore, each mobile app needs to be developed separately for each platform, whether you are targeting Apple, Android, Blackberry, Windows Mobile or Nokia devices.
If building an app for an Apple device (such as an iPad or iPhone), your app does need to be approved by Apple before it can be allowed. There are several examples where seemingly innocuous apps have been rejected by Apple with little reason given, and of previously approved apps being barred after they've already been available for several months. This is the sovereign risk that has to be taken into account when building for those devices.
For consumers, there can often be a certain cachet attached to the apps they download and keep on their phones, and this can be an important thing for consumer-focused organisations to tap into.
Offering a mobile website
Building a version of your website that is optimised for mobile devices, or a completely separate mobile website, is usually a very effective way of bringing your brand to a new audience, or to the same audience in a new, mobile way. When optimising an existing website for a mobile audience, the cost can be very low.
Building a mobile website offers the advantage that it will work on a whole variety of devices, not restricted to a specific brand. For example, a mobile website will be equally accessible to people using iPhones, Android phones or Nokia phones.
Mobile websites are restricted by what you can achieve in a web browser, however most devices support increasingly complex scenarios that challenge what can be done in a mobile app.
Which is best?
As with everything in digital marketing, the question is in what your organisation wants to achieve. The costs of developing the app or website need to be measured against the expected return, with different outcomes for different companies.
Whichever way your organisation chooses to go, we can be certain that mobile computing will continue to grow throughout the coming decade.