mobile app

App versus mobile website – the pros and cons

When a company is looking to update its UX, one issue which arises frequently is the question of ‘mobile website versus app’. The real question should be which of them will improve the user experience and improve client retention. Of course, there are all sorts of issues to consider, not the least cost, the nature and structure of your business, and whether you can get the functionality you want from existing software. But many clients insist on a definitive answer, so let’s try to supply one!

Let’s not even talk about the budget, as a good app can cost as much or possibly more than a good website. So unless you can tick a few of the boxes below and have the budget to burn, an app is probably not for you. I know I said it would take more time to reach my conclusion but in retrospect, we should just cut to the chase here.

If I examine what could be considered the top apps right now I would put together a list something like this:

  • Google Maps
  • Google Translate
  • Facebook — although this is not fair considering Facebook is also a website, it is technically a “web-app” as you can update the page, and is not static.
  • Minecraft – or insert your game here, everyone has one!
  • Itunes
  • Spotify
  • Netflix – I personally cannot stand watching movies on my phone but often browse for what I should be watching.

I know that these are all heavy hitters in their respective industry but there is a theme here and that is all (except some of your games) of these apps are subsidiaries of the core business, which have legs to stand on in their own right. These apps are all self-sufficient and will/would continue to generate business even if the parent went away. In my logic of thought this is the first question I put to a company or organisation – can the app subsist without the core, is it a branch that can be nurtured and developed? In most cases, the answer is “no – we just wanted something cool and modern and everyone is developing an app”.

Even if the clients feel they absolutely need an app I have to be the voice of reason. Almost all successful apps are device centric and capitalize on the functionality of the device. Here is an example: if I have a successful e-clothing shop and I want an app to sell my clothes. If you just want people to buy your clothes, then why would you not develop a great responsive site? It may not have the status the CEO is looking for, but you will not end up with a huge development cost for 100 downloads sitting on a negative ROI. Now if I want to let people try on the clothes “virtually” then the app is the way to go – I want potential customers to choose a shirt and stand in front of a mirror to take a picture of themselves so that my app will render the shirt on them. This way, they can see how the shirt looks on them without visiting a physical store. Yes, it has been done but all the ones I have seen are rubbish or use an avatar which is even worse as it defeats the purpose – I want to see myself in the shirt, not my Wii self!

If you are developing a game or a download site or an interactive portal, then skip the website and develop your app. You will need nothing more than a landing page website with download info and links to Google Play and iTunes. If you have an existing e-business and are simply looking to capture a larger audience and increase your mobile sales, then focus on the website and make sure that your mobile experience is the best it can be. Web developers can remove or add to the responsive code so make sure you test, retest and push your developer to gear your site spot-on for mobile traffic. Just remember that up to 52% of web traffic worldwide is on a mobile device.

So, even if they are not buying from the device they will have a good experience and return when they are ready to make the purchase. Also remember that good CMS systems have a plethora of 3rd party applications that also could fit the bill for the experience you are looking to project.

One2One Digital have a great deal of experience in creating both apps and responsive sites, so you can be sure that we have lots of real-world input to the discussion. At the end of the day the question must be whether an app will be marketable and whether it will add to your bottom line – and in the vast majority of cases we would say, no. In some cases it’s difficult to achieve any sort of ROI, never mind a continuous source of income. The argument in favour of a website, properly managed by a digital agency with plenty of UX experience, is going to be the winner in maybe 90 percent of cases.