mobile website

By Garry Hornbuckle

Having a mobile presence for your business isn’t an option—it’s a necessity. When the topic of mobile marketing arises, many business owners think, “I need a mobile app.” But do you really? Maybe you simply need a mobile website. How do you know which is better for your business?

To help you decide, I’ve put together a list of key pros and cons for mobile apps and mobile websites:

Mobile App Advantages

  • Hardware: Mobile apps are able to take full advantage of mobile devices’ hardware, such as GPS or a camera. As device capabilities continue to expand, this could be the deciding factor for some applications.
  • Internet Access: An Internet connection isn’t always necessary to use mobile apps. For example, if your application is a single-player game, users will be able to play regardless of Internet connectivity. Of course, if your app depends on remote data, such as an inventory system, users will still need Internet access.
  • Pre-existing Distribution System: If creating an app for iOS (iPad or iPhone), you’re able to take advantage of the iTunes Store marketplace, analytics and resources you would otherwise have to build yourself.

Mobile App Disadvantages

  • Multiple Devices: It’s extremely difficult to develop an app that will run well—and as expected—on the various mobile devices (Windows, Blackberry, IOS and Android). There are different market expectations for different platforms, making it difficult to design multi-platform apps, without negatively impacting user experience.
  • User Expectations: Apple and Google have made it so easy for users to update their apps that user expectations have heightened. This can become costly and time consuming for you, as you’re expected to frequently add new features to your application.
  • Hidden Work for Developer: Although access to the iTunes marketplace makes it very easy for the end user to download and receive updates, there is a significant amount of work required to get app approval each time you want to release to the market. Although the long-term benefit is security, the testing and approval process weighs on the developer as well as the finances of the business.

Mobile Website Advantages

  • Devices: It is much easier to develop a mobile site that works the same on all mobile devices. Web browsers don’t vary as much as devices do.
  • Ease for Developers: It’s easier and faster to change a mobile website than to re-release a mobile app.
  • Cost: The cost to maintain a mobile site can be less than a mobile app because of the often shorter testing and release cycle.

Mobile Website Disadvantages

  • Hardware: Mobile sites have some access to the gadgets inside a device, but not complete access to all underlying hardware features.
  • Internet Access: Mobile sites require Internet connection to function.
  • Distribution: You must promote your mobile site within the context of the entire Internet, not just in the app store. This gives you both the ability to and requirement of working with more expansive marketing options.
  • User Experience: A good developer can give a mobile site the interactive fluidity of a mobile app, but it takes extra attention to detail. This is especially true when your users need access to remote data.

Deciding between a mobile app and a mobile website isn’t always clear-cut, so it’s important not to get bogged down in what you think is cool or what you heard everyone else is doing. Keep your end goal in mind and the decision should be much easier.

Garry Hornbuckle (‪@garryhornbuckle) has 35 years of experience in nearly every aspect of designing, developing, marketing and managing technology products and services. He serves as director of web and software development at Nashville’s leading IT firm bytes of knowledge.