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Mobile Apps vs. Mobile Websites

October 1, 2010

Mobile Application Development - Web or Native?

Do you remember the last time you read a review of a mobile website? Lately it’s the mobile applications that gather all of the public attention, generating an enormous number of retail downloads. Most statistics show that mobile websites are visited almost the same number of times as mobile apps are used even though the number of mobile websites is twice as big as the number of mobile apps. Why is that?

Well, it’s mainly because mobile apps are more focused and purposeful, their interface is highly optimized for specific tasks. And also because with mobile apps people have fun.

Differences and Similarities

The main difference between a mobile website and a mobile app is the need for download and installation. Mobile website is a website designed and developed especially for mobile devices, accessible through mobile browser, but without the need of any download and installation. Mobile application means a software application, designed and developed to work on a particular mobile device – and it has to be downloaded and installed.

There are many similarities: most mobile apps communicate with web in one way or another, mainly to receive and publish user information. Most mobile apps include a web browser component and visualize web content. There are some apps, based on web technologies through SDKs of the mobile phone operation systems, through development platforms and web widget engines. These “web apps” are not just re-sized and optimized websites for mobile, but rich-flavored mobile applications.

Pros and Cons of Mobile Apps and Mobile Webs

Trying to list the pros and cons of mobile apps and websites is not easy, but there are a few general nuances that come to mind:

Compatibility, easy updates, independence – these are the main advantages of choosing a mobile website for your business. It’s also cheaper for development and easier to be discovered by consumers. The main downside of mobile websites is their limited functionality and usability. They are accessed through a web browser only and the business model for monetizing services is very difficult.

Mobile apps, on the other hand, provide richer functionality, integrated user experience, full interface control and higher performance. Mobile apps can provide access to many device features: notifications, accelerometer, camera, GPS, video, audio, etc. Mobile apps can initiate and accept calls and SMS with full address book and calendar integration. Of course this comes with higher user expectations too. Mobile app development projects are generally more expensive too: they need to support many platforms, installation and deployment is controlled. Development time and effort are almost the same as for a website, but development specialists are generally a more expensive resource. Other disadvantages of mobile apps are the complex updates, which need additional installation and the difficult distribution, due to poor discoverability.

A Few Words on Monetization

When it comes to monetization, in general it is easier to sell access to a service through an app than through a website. Mobile apps provide easier billing of end-users, although revenue-sharing with a reseller/distributor is often required. The modern online application stores are similar to the first web directories, product descriptions and keywords are very important. If you sell apps online, it is important to work with categories, search filters and advertising opportunities. The search engines of application stores are evolving and some of them are now even location-based.

App or site — regardless of choice it is very important to utilize mobile web to its full potential as an additional business channel with added value – to offer something more to existing users and attract new ones. The market of mobile websites theoretically is bigger, but in the distribution of applications, the resellers are actively involved in their marketing and sales and you should use that to your advantage. Working with mobile network operators and mobile app stores brings additional channels to generate traffic and attract new customers.

Some Recommendations

We recommend using mobile websites to “mobilize” existing services that are rich in informational content – but limit them to their most important features, especially the ones that are important to use on the run. Use mobile applications for specific marketing goals: promotional campaigns, prize games, using of special features of the phone. Don’t forget that the attractiveness of mobile apps brings added value to the end-user. We advise our clients to start with mobile websites as a first step of their mobile strategy and when they have enough users, learn from them, optimize the offering and then add value with a mobile app. Mobile apps sometimes also can be a recommended first choice, if for example you operate an established brand name with large existing customer base in web, or if you are looking to offer special functionality, which cannot be provided by a website.

Easy, quick and convenient way of access to information: that’s the reason people use mobile websites. Special functionality and fun: these are the additional reasons that motivate people to download, install and use mobile applications.

About the guest author

Spartak Kabakchiev, VP Business Development at Partners 1993, Inc. and co-founder of Mobile Monday Sofia.

Spartak is a seasoned entrepreneur and business development executive in the mobile software industry, who is currently responsible for developing new products and services in Partners 1993, Inc., a Californian software development boutique.


Author: Spartak Kabakchiev

5 comments

  • October 1, 2010 1:12 pm | miro

    Gartner predicts that the mobile websites will become more popular than mobile applications by 2013. But it will happen early

  • October 3, 2010 8:33 pm | Widgets

    Many mobile phone users prefer insuring their mobile phones from their service providers as they get the entire gamut of services under one roof. Widgets

  • November 5, 2010 1:04 pm | Aplicaciones Móviles o Web Móviles « Java Mania

    [...] este artículo se incluye una pequeña (y discutible) reflexión sobre cuándo desarrollar aplicaciones móviles o [...]

  • December 5, 2010 3:46 pm | Sean Brady

    You make very valid points about mobile users. I’m still a webmaster without a smart phone though. I suppose I could always borrow one from a friend, though to test on! Seems feasible to cater to both markets.

  • March 1, 2011 9:03 am | Edmilson

    Here on Brazil, many mobile users get downloads on the mobile sites, we have more mobile phone per user then personal computers. Then on the future more and more mobile users get direct access to mobile site.

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