Mobile: App or Website? Which one works?

Thursday, January 20th, 2011 | Business | by

Mobile web usage is growing.  I’d say 20-30% of my overall web surfing is mobile.

Quantcast’s January 5th 2010 (yes, it’s even a year behind) says that global and North American mobile usage is skyrocketing.  Between December ’08 and December ’09 mobile web share was up 110%.  At that growth we can expect that last year went from 1.26% on 1/1/2010, to somewhere around 2.5% in 1/2011 (this is just an estimate, I think it’s conservative).

My mobile web traffic (on this site) went from 0 in December 2008, to 4-5 a day in November 2009, to 180 mobile visitors in June 2010 (coinciding with iPhone 4 launch).  Mobile usage is spiking.

How does your website address mobile users?

Do you use an App?

Do you just make sure your website works with a mobile crowd?

We will discuss the options web site’s have in today’s world for engaging the mobile community with the following options:

  • Mobile Compatible Website
  • Mobile Targeted Website
  • Release an App

Mobile Compatible Website

This is the easiest solution technically, and least interesting.  Just tweak your site to still work on mobile devices:

  • Ensure you have a Flash alternative
  • Verify your “fixed” css elements don’t obscure your content
  • Check how your navigation works, is it mobile friendly? Remember users can’t “hover” on touch screen devices (like the Android or iPhone platforms).  Drop down menu’s don’t work, revealing content need’s an alternative.
  • Ensure the page weight isn’t horrible.  Many mobile devices only have “dialup” speeds still, and we need to be sensitive to those expensive data plans.  AT&T charges $10 per Gigabyte after you have hit your cap.  This mean’s every Megabyte your website requires, costs a user $0.01.  It’s not a lot, but it adds up.

This solution is really just adapting what you currently do, for the mobile environment.

Mobile Targeted Website

This solution mean’s you develop a site that specifically format’s itself for the mobile environment.  Usually this mean’s rethinking font sizes, menu options, and every other aspect of your website.  Mobile users want to browse less, and do more.

Before we get into this, please make sure your mobile website’s “takeover” of the end user’s experience doesn’t ruin any deep linking from other sites.  Don’t you hate following a link to a product you’re interested in, only to be redirected to the home page and not knowing where to find that original product?  I usually give up.

Things to think about in a Mobile Targeted Website:

  • Easier than deploying an App
  • This is a single solution for all mobile platforms
  • Cannot take advantage of all native device interactivity (although you can do some of it, with libraries such as jQTouch).  You can’t easily integrate a device’s phone, or other interfaces (video, sound, local resources, etc)
  • It’s not complete.  The end user will still see a browser interface.
  • As any website works, this depends on the browser user’s have (even on the iPhone people can still use Opera).  Be prepared for browser inconsistencies.
  • You’ll need to plan for every screen size.  Mobile devices have a wide variety of screen sizes.
  • You may want to target both Tablet and Mobile platforms separately.

If you’re serious about supporting your users, you should at least have some mobile support.  A mobile targeted website lets you tailor your experience to the mobile platform, while relying on already developed assets such as your current website backend infrastructure.  After all, this may just be an extensive re-skin.

Release an App

I’ve heard many retailers are having success with the popularity of “Apps”.

You are making a commitment to developing a piece of software, specifically with the target of addressing your user’s needs.  If that’s shopping, reading news, or just a better “browsing” experience.

Some notes about releasing an App:

  • Complete control over the user experience
  • You can use it without net connectivity (if built correctly)
  • You can leverage native device functionality such as the Camera, GPS, velocity sensors, speakers, microphone, etc.
  • You’ll have an icon installed on your client’s device.
  • An App will only be usable on the platform it is developed.  You may have to develop multiple apps
  • It is the most complex solution, requiring it’s own team to develop, test and deploy.
  • You must make sure that your App doesn’t have bugs, users tend to shy away from buggy apps
  • You have to worry about being deleted.  Once someone downloads an app and deletes it, they will not likely install it again (I never have).  Don’t lose relevance.
  • An app must be marketed.  It isn’t “just there”.  You have to convince users to install your app.

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3 Comments to Mobile: App or Website? Which one works?

January 21, 2011

I like your blog because is very help full for
and other peoples.thank you for provide the good sharing all the world peoples.

Gran Canaria
January 31, 2011

Man, I completely overlooked that a touchscreen can’t hover – yeah, they do not have a mouse… And I was happy that my site is 1024px compatible and ready to go.
On the other hand, the top level menu pages contain links to all the pages from the drop down menu, so I think it should be OK.
The only problem is the flash content. I have a widget from a 3rd party and I’m pretty much married to it. It’s a weather forecast widget, so I guess that one can live without it. It will work on an Android though.
You are right that the page needs to be HTML and CSS clean. I was checking out some sites, and some did not render at all. It turned out they had bad HMTL and/or CSS. Mobile devices are quite picky, not like the good old FireFox.

Indianapolis Web Design
February 22, 2011

Determining if your site should be mobile compatible, offer a separate site, or creating an app I think depends on the type of content you’re serving your visitors. News web sites can get away with stripped down text-based pages as people mainly want headlines. A site offering graphic design services obviously needs to take a different approach.

Your post was very informative and I’m going to follow your blog from now on. I’ve seen mobile traffic for clients spike recently and 2011 is sure to be a year where web site owners cannot afford to ignore the mobile crowd.

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