These days more and more users are using smart phones and tablet like devices to access the internet. So while most businesses already have websites to promote themselves, they now have to make a decision on whether to create a mobile app or a mobile site for their business. What is the difference between a mobile app and a mobile site? Does your business need either one?
First, we have to define what a mobile site and mobile app are: A mobile site is a version of an existing website that is formatted to fit the smaller screens of smart phones and tablets. Some of the proper formatting elements could include:
- Adjusting the width of the site, so the user just needs to scroll down. So a multi-column site could turn into a single column, so that the user doesn’t have to scroll left or right.
- Adjusting the size of the text. Since users will be viewing your site from a smaller screen, the size of the text font you use may need to be a bit larger, so they can read your content, without having to zoom in further.
- Removing banner ads and other distracting elements from the sidebar that may get in the way of the user being able to view your content.
- Making use of mobile specific features like user location (for maps) or Call buttons that automatically dial phone numbers.
- Updating elements that require a mouse (eg. popups or dropdown menus that only show when you hover over a section) to ones that respond to touch.
A mobile app is a piece of software that your user would need to download onto their smart phone first, before they can use it. Usually, it is downloaded from an app store – Apple and Google have the largest app stores. In addition to the defining features of a mobile website, a mobile app provides the following additional benefits:
- After it is downloaded, an icon for the app is created and placed on the user’s smart phone, making it easy to return to it later. (Users can also manually add icons for mobile websites, but this is not an automatic step, like it is for apps).
- Mobile apps can do a better job of accessing additional features from the user’s mobile device, like the user’s photo library, camera, sensors (GPS, NFC etc.), contact list, SMS function etc.
- Mobile apps can also send notifications to the user’s device, informing them of new features or offers you may have for them.
- It is easier for users to make purchases from you from within your app – using Google or Apple’s built in payment system.
- Many mobile apps are self contained, with all the information and data stored on the user’s device. This way information can be loaded quickly, without having to access the internet. Examples include games and utilities whose entire functionality is stored within the app.
|Mobile Site||Mobile App|
|Discoverability||Google / Search Engine||App Store|
|Usage||Type URL||Download app, then click on app icon to launch|
|Interface||Standard website interface||Can have custom, more unique and more interactive interface|
|Feature set||Standard website features||Can make use of phone’s custom features (eg. Camera, GPS, address book, sensors etc.)|
|Speed||Limited by internet connection||Usually faster, since most elements are stored locally on device|
|Approval process||Not required||May be required, to be listed on an app store|
|Compatibility||All internet capable devices (if designed with mobile in mind)||Requires separate design for each mobile type (eg. iOS, Android etc.)|
|Development Cost||Low – many free resources and cheap hosting plans are available||Higher – requires specialty development for each platform|
So now that you know what the difference between a mobile website and a mobile app are, which should you get for your business? Here are some points to consider:
- If you currently have a website, then it’s always a good thing to make sure it adapts properly to mobile devices.
- Apps usually have some type of unique functionality that you cannot find in a website. Apple for example specifically rejects apps that just repackage content that can be found on a website.
- If your website is primarily for marketing your company or services, then an app should not be used, as it doesn’t provide any long term, functional utility to the end user.
- If you have some type of utility or functionality that could be accessed directly from a user’s phone, without needing to access your website, then you could consider developing a mobile app. For example, if you run a finance site, you could create a financial calculator or currency converter type app. This way you are providing utility to your user, while advertising your website in the process.
- Is there content on your website that you could package and sell separately as a mobile app? I did this by taking content from my CLO site and releasing it as an app that users could purchase. The content is the same as on the website, but is packaged in an easy to consume mobile app.