Apps or HTML5 Mobile Websites

Apps or HTML5 Mobile Websites

What’s better? An App or a kicked-up mobile website?
The answer depends on your goals, customer base and many other factors. Many web designers will tell you a good mobile website is all you need. We’ve found web designers usually don’t know how to build apps, so their recommendation is based on their capabilities, not necessarily the most appropriate solution. In this article we’ll give you an extremely brief overview to help you begin to make an informed choice.

The Universal Availability Argument

The strongest argument for the “mobile website only” approach is it works on just about any web-enabled device, so there’s no need to develop for multiple platforms. This is definitely a great strength that is budget-friendly and saves many hours of work, but it is only a small part of the discussion.

The biggest weakness in this approach is your mobile presence will be limited to the behaviors and capabilities of a mobile web browser; that is HTML5, JavaScript and CSS. These technologies can do quite a bit but they definitely do not take full advantage of the devices’ capabilities and potential for an excellent user experience.

There are other pros and cons like app store presence, distribution options, etc., but they are relatively minor.

Functionality and User Experience

A native app (or app built on the device’s operating system rather than its web browser) offers a much better user experience (UX) which is one of its biggest advantages. The interface is smoother and fully integrated with the phone, so apps are much more fulfilling to use than a mobile website.

Apps can work well offline, a huge consideration that is often overlooked. For example, shopping via mobile website where a user adds items to a cart would be a frustrating experience in an area with less than superb coverage. The likely result is abandonment and brand damage. A native app can store an entire product catalog, only requiring an Internet connection for the final confirmation and purchase.

Another advantage is that apps generally have better access to more of the hardware specific features - GPS, camera, storage etc. This advantage is likely to erode as browsers improve (mobile Safari already includes a GPS call), but at this point integrated features don’t offer a very user friendly experience.

Thanks to the iTunes App Store and Android Market, apps are easier to distribute. When downloaded, they automatically get a place on the home screen and tend to promote quick bursts of daily brand interaction for short periods of time. A mobile website can be added to the home screen but the process must be initiated by the user from the browser.

How to Decide

The decision process is pretty easy. If both methods can accomplish your goals, what is the revenue potential? What do your analytics show you? If most of your mobile users are iPhone users, it stands to reason to offer them and app for the best possible outcome. Which option offers you the most revenue potential? What is best for your brand?

Still not sure what to do? Give us a shout, we’ll be glad to talk with you and provide expert advice, options to review and a recommendation for moving forward.

Posted by Matt Ervin at 8:00 AM