About a half of all the web traffic worldwide comes from mobile devices. In Q1 of 2020, mobile devices (excluding tablets) consumed about 52% of traffic globally. Since 2017, this remains stable, at around 50%; however, with many organizations now accelerating digitalization, switching to digital-only business models, deploying 5G, and increasing the number of IoT devices, it is safe to say that in the nearest future, the percentage of mobile users will only grow.
So, the question is not whether your company needs a mobile strategy — because it certainly needs one — but which one to develop: a mobile app or an adaptive mobile website?
At a first glance, mobile websites and apps can look very similar; nevertheless, these are two completely different mobile environments. To determine which one better suits your needs, there are several factors to consider, including the target audience and the budget. To help you decide what to focus your efforts on, we have analyzed the pros and cons of both options.
Native mobile apps are platform-specific, i.e. they are developed specifically for iOS or Android, for example. Users download and install mobile apps on their devices using the respective app store, and, as a rule, native apps offer a faster and more natural response than mobile sites.
A mobile app is a new kind of channel to interact with your current client/user base. Mobile apps offer a richer functionality and can integrate certain functions not available on websites. For example, Instagram users can view images on the site as well, but they cannot download pictures without the app.
Mobile apps allow users to set their preferences right after downloading and configure them in accordance with their needs. Apps can also track the interactions with users and provide personal recommendations and updates, which makes apps more useful. Apps also allow companies to send tailored messages depending on their customers' needs, location, behavior, etc. Such an adaptivity allows users to take advantage of everything that an app has to offer.
Mobile apps can work without an internet connection. Even though many apps need Internet access for most tasks, they can still offer users some of the content and functionality offline. This way, users can benefit from using the apps accessing the information they need anytime anywhere.
Mobile apps usually offer an intuitive interface that users are long familiar with, which makes performing tasks easier. A clear design allows consumers to dive into an app and start using it right away. Lots of people have used the operating system of their choice long enough to get accustomed to certain elements and patterns, so there is a range of expected functions that you can offer your customers from the start. Adaptive websites, on the other hand, cannot guarantee that the look and functionality will be considered 'standard' by most users in 100% of the cases.
Mobile apps can access and make use of the device's features, such as the camera, GPS, geolocation, or communication with other IoT devices and smart appliances. Using the device's capabilities makes the interaction richer and more convenient. For instance, by using GPS and geolocation, retail apps can send users special offers depending on the city, borough, or even street they live in.
Apps take a lot of time to develop, and the developers are in short supply, which means that the development prices are constantly growing. If you can't yet allocate a large amount of resources, take a look at some template projects or mobile app builders, which might also do the trick — at least at the beginning of your mobile expansion.
A developer account, which you will need to publish apps on Google Play or the App Store, costs money (in the latter case, you will even have to pay annually). Moreover, stores take a certain fee off everything you sell within your apps, which is usually 15–30%. And, even though there is a court hearing going on now aimed at changing the situation, stores are unlikely to abolish the 'tax'. For example, Spotify does not sell their subscription in the iOS app: they only sell it on the site, so the company needs to maintain both the app and the site and ensure that they work seamlessly together.
Adaptive mobile websites are websites that can adjust to work on different screen sizes. In essence, a mobile site is a regular site, with the key difference being its ability to "understand" what it needs to do to present itself effectively on a smartphone screen, for example.
Unlike mobile apps, which are created to work on a specific platform (mostly iOS or Android), a site can be accessed from any mobile device regardless of the OS it is running. The only requirement is being connected to the Internet. It is important to keep in mind, however, that connection quality and speed — as well as the ability to access your site at all — will affect both the effectiveness and efficiency of your site. Naturally, adaptive websites also do not need to be downloaded or installed.
Again, unlike with mobile apps, your website users will not need to spend time installing new versions and updates of your product to take advantage of the latest improvements. Since websites are easy to update, bug-fix and maintain, users are likely to never even notice that an update process took place: they will simply start using new features as if nothing happened. Of course, introducing changes to your apps in the App Store or Google Play has become significantly faster over the last few years and now takes developers hours instead of weeks, but still, rolling out updates for apps is obviously lengthier and costlier than for websites.
The cost is an important factor that you certainly should take into account, especially if you want your app to be presented on several platforms. Basically, instead of a single app, you could develop several, if not a dozen, websites, for the same amount of money. On top of that, when selling from your site, there are obviously no store fees.
Mobile sites are noticeably slower than native apps. In case of relatively simple projects, this can easily be ignored; however, for complex products, with lots of animations and high-quality images, this lagging will surely become an eyesore. Yes, in recent years, mobile devices' performance has increased, but when it comes to website speeds, there is still a great deal to be desired.
Apps account for 90% of the total time spent on mobile devices. We can all agree that it's difficult to make it on the home screen — and it's even more difficult to stay there, especially with the new technologies, like PWA, which makes it possible to even put a website there. Still, apps are more widely accepted, it's a more native mobile environment for most users.
As you can see, the pros of apps make up the cons of websites, and vice versa. To be fair, we should point out that many of the pros and cons of these two options can be solved one way or another. For example, you can make your site use a UI familiar to mobile users; you can also make your app cross-platform, i.e. cover several platforms at once, even including the Web.
However, overall, the stats are in favor of apps. A recent Sensor Tower report showed that consumer spendings on mobile apps and app installs in the App Store and Google Play grew significantly in 2020, reaching 111 billion dollars, or 85 billion pounds, worldwide. Though the increase is mostly due to the COVID-19 pandemic and its effect on users' behavior, the growth is dramatic by itself: 30.2% compared to 2019.
The choice — whether to build a website or an app — depends on your business goals. If you aim to provide content convenient to consume on mobile devices to a wide audience, a website would probably be better. However, if you prioritize client interaction and would like to improve it, to communicate with your customers to boost their loyalty, then perhaps, a mobile app is the choice for you.
Then again, in many cases, you might decide that you need both a mobile website AND a mobile app. If you do it right, any of these approaches can become a strategically important, valuable decision. So, when talking about your brand's mobile strategy, we might be talking not just about a mobile site or an app — but about both.
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