There's good news these days for small business owners: More than a few avenues are open to those who are hoping to reach mobile device users. Because both mobile sites and mobile apps can offer seamless access to the internet from anywhere, businesses can optimize their web sites (very important to do) for mobile use, and they can also reach mobile users through the release of a mobile app.
While we certainly recommend making both a mobile site and a native app available to your customers, it's understood that this is not always possible. Small businesses often need to judiciously apply their time and money, and that’s when knowing the better option – site or app? -- is important. To make the right choice, a small business owner will need to review the following: - Is it better to focus on a native app, or maximize a mobile site? -Which of the two offers more opportunities? -What are the pros and cons of each? These are the questions we are going to explore further.
Apps vs. Mobile Sites: the Pros and Cons
Depending on your company's resources, you may have to choose one option or the other: build a responsive mobile website, or create a native app for the various mobile devices currently on the market. Of course, there are pros and cons for each platform, which should help you decide which option is best for your business, but we can highlight the main questions here:
Applications are programs – usually small in size - that can be downloaded and installed directly on a mobile device. Because they reside on the internal storage of that device, they can be used offline and do not require the internet to operate.
Mobile apps have the unique ability to take advantage of internal phone hardware, such as the camera, GPS data, microphone, and more. Through apps – in combination with the aforementioned hardware – businesses can enable support for features, such as QR code scanning, mobile payments and much more. This app talent is a distinct advantage over the more fixed abilities of a mobile site.
It is essential, therefore, when weighing whether to “app” or to use a mobile site, to understand that while many companies build their apps by creating a clone of their mobile website, this method defeats the purpose of an app by closing off the very abilities that make an app an app. An app interfaces naturally with the already existing abilities of today's mobile devices and enhances their power and flexibility to provide the user ever more additional abilities. As well, businesses have real freedom when it comes to the design, customization and features for a native app. Use that ability wisely!
Here are a couple of examples to show you how mobile devices features, such as GPS, microphone and even a “one touch call” option are fully integrated into a native app.
Apps do take much longer to develop than a site. They can also be costly because they require individual configuring for each of today's mobile operating systems. In addition, all application updates must be submitted through the respective channels each time a change or improvement is made. Depending on how many platforms on which you've launched your app, you may or may not have to deal with each one individually – sometimes, it can take weeks to get a new app update out to the masses. It is for these reasons that some businesses may put aside the option of developing a native app – creating a responsive mobile site can sometimes be easier and cheaper.
If the app is what you would like, or you’d like to try your hand at creating an app with a smaller budget, then try this: take a look at The Mines Press mobile app development program and see if it is the answer to your needs. You just might find yourself with a great app on your hands!
If you have a bigger budget look into Le VPN, developers of a VPN app for iOS, which has employed many of the elements discussed above to create a remarkably user-friendly app for their customers. If you’re looking for a proper example, be sure to investigate what Le VPN has created with its own native application.
A mobile website is only accessible for users who have internet access. This is, right off the bat, obviously a significant disadvantage. That being said, mobile sites are universal in that they can be accessed from any device with internet access, be it powered by iOS, Android, or another entirely. In other words, you don’t have to develop a different site for each type of device or operating system – provided you have opted for a responsive design that scales to the appropriate screen size.
In some cases, web design is a less-expensive option when compared to app development. However, it can still be costly depending on what type functionality you’re looking for and who creates the designing. The website will need to be maintained, and if you’re looking to rank high in search engines, you’ll also need to publish content regularly. This will increase the “discoverability” of your website, but, in turn, it means that your operating costs will increase as you will need to hire an additional employee (or contract out) to produce the necessary content. But, it is also worth noting that websites optimized for mobile have a good chance of showing up in local search results.
Hopefully, you’d know enough to adopt a responsive design instead of building a completely separate mobile version. Not only is using a separate mobile version and URL behind the times, maintaining multiple sites will open the door to mistakes and inconsistencies that could call your company's abilities into question. CJ Pony Parts is an example of a site that uses a responsive design. This company's site looks professional and state-of-the art, no matter whether it is on an iPhone screen or blown up on a 27-inch monitor.
This infographic shows a side-by-side comparison of the features, pros and cons that each provides.
Now That That’s Settled …
… which option is better? If you have the resources, the mobile app route is without a doubt the way to go. This approach gives dramatically more freedom in terms of what you can offer your customers. If you’re strapped for funds and time, then creating a responsive site is the way to go. Just understand that with a mobile site, you won’t be able to take advantage of the same features and hardware that are inherent to app usage, nor will it allow you to track location data or utilize internal hardware like the camera or accelerometer the way a mobile app is so adept at doing.