The showdown between supporters of mobile apps and proponents of the mobile web is heating up—particularly when it comes to discussion of which is the better approach for an early-stage brand trying to establish itself and garner more name recognition.
The fact is that there likely is no flat-out “winner” in this race. The popularity and applicability for mobile apps is undeniable, particularly given the explosive growth in mobile appliances like smartphones and tablets. That growth, along with ever-increasing mobile network access speeds, also fuels usage of the mobile web, making the two trends complementary. Still, everyone loves an argument.
In a recent post on Mashable, Aaron Maxwell, founder of mobile web design firm Mobile Web Up, argues that a well-made app still provides a better user experience than a mobile website, but also points out that the cost of making an app available to a broad number of users on multiple platforms can add up quickly—making a mobile website a quicker and less expensive way to reach more potential users.
“Does this mean you shouldn’t do an app? Of course not. There are many other factors involved. If an app user converts 10 times more frequently, for example, the difference is more than justified. But that’s a big hurdle to clear. And if you want to reach users across more than one mobile platform, you have to consider the extra capital investment as well. Whether you go with a mobile website, a native mobile app, or both, you'll probably benefit. The continued mobile explosion will make sure of that. Just take care that you get the most bang for your buck by doing what's best for your business.”
Another pundit isn’t quite so rosy on app development. The blog SparkMinute points out 11 questions companies, brands and developers should consider before they churn out an app. The questions range from how users will enjoy a service or experience differently to how many people actually will download the app to how to gauge mobile developer talent—even addressing whether a less-than-top-notch app could actually damage a brand rather than enhance it. The author’s point is strictly caution—though the advice does tend to prod leaders toward more mobile-optimized web presence over the expense of an app.
Entrepreneur magazine also weighed in on the discussion recently with an article on the mobile web. (Full disclosure: I am the executive editor of Entrepreneur) The piece focuses on mobile-optimized extensions to existing websites like .mobi, along with how HTML5 changes the equation.
“The nascent mobile website movement could be the next step for mobile-savvy businesses that have joined the mobile app explosion, or even for those who have missed out on apps. However, in the long run mobile websites could prove to have broader implications and greater business benefits. It can be expensive and labor intensive to develop a mobile app to represent your business.”
Clearly the lesson here for developers is to focus on a broader strategy for the companies they work with—one that not only encompasses an effective (and cost-effective) mobile app, but a logical and complementary presence on the mobile web as well.