Have you recently asked yourself the question, Which is better, a mobile-optimized site or a native app? As smartphone and tablet use continues to increase, you are certainly not the only one weighing the pros and cons of the two major mobile options.
Generally speaking, a mobile website is considered to be the first step when developing a mobile web presence, whereas an app is useful for developing a smartphone experience with a very specific purpose that cannot be effectively accomplished via browser. However, there are a variety of factors to consider when determining which best fits your business or brand.
Reach, discoverability and features
Start with the target audience and with how they will interact with your brand and its mobile content. Apps are fast, can access device-specific features like cameras and address books, and they don’t always need to be connected to the Internet.
On the other hand, a mobile-optimized site makes it easier to share content across social sites because mobile sites facilitate social logins. Content from a mobile site can also be found in search results, and for that reason, mobile-friendly content reaches a wider audience.
Cost and time to release
It’s important to remember that native apps typically cost more and take longer to release than mobile-optimized sites. For example, you must consider which and how many of the varying operating platforms (Android, iOS, BlackBerry, Windows Phone) you intend to support. Customized versions of each app need to be created for different operating systems. Beyond that, will the app be universal for a given OS or designed for a specific device type—e.g., tablet only? If you create a universal app, users won’t have to download the same app more than once for different devices that run the same operating system.
A mobile site, though, can be developed for multiple operating systems with essentially the same code. It should be noted that HTML5, the latest version of the core web language, can create an app-like experience in a mobile browser without the need for additional plug-ins and ensures accessibility across all web-enabled platforms. Also, a mobile site can be updated quickly, often and with little trouble, whereas apps and their updates will likely need to be approved by the online store you’re using for distribution.
Boiling it down
So which experience to choose? If your mobile goals are primarily content-marketing driven, or if your aim is to deliver content and establish a broad mobile presence that can be easily shared between users and found on search engines, then a mobile-optimized website is the logical choice. But if your goal is interactive engagement with users or to provide an experience more like a computer program than a website, then an app is probably your best bet.
What’s Your Pick—Mobile Site or Mobile App? Let us know in a comment.