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Which is Better Mobile Apps or Mobile Sites?




app development snipThe first month I owned an iPhone, I discovered that not all websites are created equal. Many of my favorite sites were hard to read or totally inaccessible through the browser on my phone. Apps, however, were a joy to behold and I couldn’t get enough of them.

Now that I’m more of an iPad user, the browser is less of a problem. I still run into sites that don’t function properly but it’s not as big of an issue. (At the moment, I’m unhappy with CBS.com because I can’t watch full episodes of their shows via my iPad.)

I don’t know if it’s the iPad that is making the difference, but I suspect that more websites have taken the time to optimize for mobile. Going forward, we should see even more sites coming around thanks to HTML5, a collection of coding options that makes websites more responsive, more interactive, more impressive.

If websites can respond properly when called by a mobile device, do we need apps?

bMobilized makes a good case for web over app. Granted, mobile web design is their business, but their points are still valid.

  • It is cheaper to make HTML5 apps than native apps. Although it seems that native apps are better than HTML5 at a lot of things right now, HTML5 is improving. Over time, the newer, more cost-effective HTML5 technology will capture a bigger chunk of the market.
  • It is also significantly quicker to create a mobile HTML5-enabled site than a native app. In fact, it takes developers a whole 18 weeks to build an iOS or Android app, according to a study by Kinvey and AYTM. Building a mobile site, on the other hand, takes only a few weeks.
  • Monetization. Existing Web-based ads—whether interactive or static—are already supported by HTML5-based mobile websites. This means there is a much larger pool of advertisers trying to pay for ad space. For example, bMobilized allows users to integrate their existing Web-based ad accounts, such as Google AdSense into their HTML5 sites, while ad systems for native apps are still struggling with getting enough advertisers.

Note, I’m not endorsing the use of this company. They’re probably good at what they do, but I’ve never used their services. I’m giving them props today because they got me thinking about this whole apps vs site issue.

Here’s a graphic from the Kinvey and AYTM study they mentioned:

How long does it take to make a mobile app?

It doesn’t help that the mobile nation is split between iOS and Android apps. Am I correct in assuming that a mobile site works equally well on either?

The biggest issue in my mind is app overload. Last year, I was downloading new apps every day but I’ve slowed with every passing month. My screens are already overcrowded with apps I don’t have time to use. I’ve deleted dozens and many new ones get a test drive then the heave-ho because they don’t offer anything new.

The apps I go back to again and again are second-screen apps like Viggle, writing apps like MyWritingSpot, shopping apps for my local grocery store and eBay. At Christmas I use a gift tracker, it’s hockey season so I have NHL Game Center. Add in a few games such as Where’s My Perry and I’m good.

There are two apps, Amazon and IMDB that I’ve jettisoned in favor of visiting the full site via my mobile browser. That tells me that there’s a revolution for sure. The decline of the app is good news for small businesses who can’t afford to create an app specific to their brand. It’s also good news for app developers because it means the cream is going to rise to the top. If the app market falls off, developers who have no business creating apps won’t be stocking the virtual shelves with garbage. That’s good news for anyone in the mobile biz.

Your turn. Is a mobile website as valuable or more valuable than a dedicated app? Or is the app going to rule mobile forever?

  • Thenet Ireland

    great post.. thank you very much for posting i will place it on my facebook page and share.

  • http://www.orbitalalliance.com/ Orbital Alliance

    I think it is wrong to phrase it as “mobile website”. I would refer to it as “responsive website”. Having a responsive website allows the site to display optimal no matter what device, and is based off the screen settings, so it can vary if you are looking at it on a 27” desktop, 13” laptop, tablet, or smartphone.

    I do believe the future is responsive websites, but at the same time, there are numerous companies/brands that provide specific/services and features that an app can be a much better user experience than just visiting the site.

    • http://twitter.com/Cynthialil Cynthialil

      Good point. This will certainly be true as we move forward and stop thinking about devices as individual platforms, but I don’t think we’re there yet.

      • http://www.orbitalalliance.com/ Orbital Alliance

        It’s already occurring… I know internally, we are making an effort to stay current with responsive design. For all of our clients, we make the push to support mobile mandatory, and focus on responsive design. In fact, we hope to be launching our responsive design for our site in late February (you always leave your stuff for last).

  • http://twitter.com/WompMobile WompMobile

    With respect to “going mobile” and responsive design, here’s a good article that breaks down the options: http://www.business2community.com/mobile-apps/choosing-the-right-option-to-go-mobile-0395206

  • https://twitter.com/sanketpatel Sanket Patel

    It depends on your end goals that whether you build a native app or
    mobile website. If you want to developing a an interactive game then
    build app is the best option , But if you want to build mobile friendly
    content to the widest possible audiences then build mobile website is
    the right option. But it is pretty safe if you build an app without
    already having a mobile website in place.

  • Mickey Mixon

    It really depend on the user which is his or her preference to use.