The Future is Mobile
There is no longer any question that mobile platforms are the future. Research shows that in 2020 68.1% of all website visits came from mobile devices, and this number is rising. As of July 2021, there are more than 5.25 billion mobile users, accounting for a whopping 67% of the global human population.
Any business or organization that hopes to establish a mobile presence is going to have to grapple with deciding whether to deploy a mobile website or a mobile app or both.
These are the only two options currently in the game, and although they may seem very similar at first glance, there are some significant differences. For the less tech-savvy among us, let’s take a quick look at what mobile websites and apps are:
● Mobile websites are like any other website that would be accessed on a desktop computer, but they’re designed “responsively”, meaning that they’re able to scale and “respond” to whatever sized device they’re being accessed on.
● Mobile apps, or applications, on the other hand, are programs that are downloaded and installed directly on your mobile device, rather than being displayed in a web browser.
Deciding which option is best for your company will depend on a variety of factors, such as target audience, available budget, intended purpose, and required features. Before rushing into a decision about which direction to go, it is important that we understand the key differences between websites and apps.
One figure that pops out when looking at mobile device usage is that 92% of the time users spend on their devices is within an app, compared to only 8% using a browser. 85% of consumers report that they favor apps over mobile websites, but why are mobile apps so dominant?
Leveraging Device Hardware
Because mobile apps are installed directly on the user’s device, they have some inherent advantages over mobile websites. One advantage is that they’re able to leverage the device’s hardware (GPS location, digital camera, fingerprint reader, etc.) to improve the user experience and product performance.
eCommerce or travel apps can use the device’s location to tailor suggestions to the user’s vicinity. Banking apps can utilize the built-in camera for such things as photographing and digitally depositing checks. The list goes on and on, and app developers are constantly working to find new ways to utilize mobile device hardware to make their apps more seamless and powerful.
Mobile apps are designed specifically for the operating system of the device they’re being used on, meaning that users will be familiar with the layout and gestures available to them, presenting a more tailored user experience than websites offer.
Mobile websites are only available when the device has an internet connection. Mobile apps are often limited when offline, but they can still offer content and some functionality. For some users, it is important that they still have access to their information regardless of where they are.
Customer Loyalty and Retention
Perhaps the most important advantage that mobile apps have over websites is regarding customer communication and loyalty. Taking the time and drive space to install an app is a commitment from the customer, but once they’re over that hurdle a business can offer them loyalty programs such as discounts, coupons, special offers, etc. Users can customize their experience, allowing businesses to tailor content to their interests and location. Push notifications and in-app messaging allow organizations to communicate directly with their customers in a personalized way. Nobody likes having to enter credit card information, but apps can save this information securely, allowing purchases to be made with a single screen tap. Taking all of this together, it should come as no surprise that mobile apps boast a conversion rate that is 3 times higher than mobile websites.
What makes mobile websites fundamentally different from mobile apps, that they don’t have to be installed on the user’s device, is also what gives them their own distinct advantages.
Whereas a mobile app must be found in and downloaded from an app store, a mobile website is instantly available to anyone who discovers it. Web traffic can be directed to your site through external links, and users can find it through a search engine. Because it lives on the web, your users don’t have to worry about installing periodic updates, and you don’t have to worry about them deleting it off their phones.
Any device that has a web browser will be able to reach your site, and it can be designed responsively to automatically fit any screen size. A mobile app would have to be designed once for iOS and then again for Android devices, but a mobile website is compatible with any operating system. This universality and ease of maintenance usually also has the added benefit of websites being faster and cheaper to develop and launch than a mobile app.
Which is Right for You?
If your goals are primarily marketing-driven, or you’re just aiming to provide content or information and don’t need all the bells and whistles that apps provide, then building a mobile website might be sufficient. Other organizations that want to lean into customer loyalty and increase conversions might stand the most to gain by developing a mobile app, but apps are also highly flexible and can provide incredible benefits to almost any organization.
Keep in mind that the choice between apps and websites is not mutually exclusive. There are many companies that successfully utilize both options simultaneously. Every organization is unique, so it is important to take the time to weigh the pros and cons of each option and analyze which is the best fit for your situation and business objectives.