Should I develop a Mobile App or a Responsive Website? Which is better?

When considering a digital platform for your business, a common decision is made between developing a mobile app users can download or a mobile website. Or perhaps you’ve thought about building both? On the surface they look very similar; however fundamentally they are very different platforms to incorporate into your business. When deciding between building either an app or a mobile site, it will largely depend on the objectives you hope to achieve. Your objectives should typically indicate how you intend to satisfy your ideal user and/or enhance your business from its design. If you require a highly customised solution that rewards, prompts or enhances users experience, a mobile app may be your best choice. If you intend to reach a wider audience with a greater degree of accessibility, then you may lean towards a website. Deciding which solution best serves your business, requires careful consideration of your budget, target audience, required features and purpose.

This article will give a brief overview of the features and characteristics you can expect from developing a mobile app or website for your business. In addition the development costs, technology and impact on user experience will be compared to highlight the strengths and weaknesses of implementing each option.

Mobile App​

An app is typically downloaded and installed onto a mobile device. A user downloads and installs the mobile app onto their device from online stores such as Google’s Play Store, or Apple’s App Store. App’s can function by pushing or pulling information from the internet, or they can be accessible offline, requiring no internet connection at all.

Developing a mobile app has many benefits arising from the ability to use a mobile devices in-built technology and additional processing power. Many tools can be called upon to enhance the experience of your app, examples are the user’s camera, location tracking, built-in payment processing program, or integrations with other mobile apps.

Other characteristics of a mobile app include:

  • Interactive user-friendly design
  • Integration with other mobile apps
  • Targeting and sending customised push notifications
  • Automation of key processes
  • Can perform more complex tasks
  • Harder to maintain and update

Native vs Hybrid Mobile Apps

If you’ve considered developing a mobile app for your business, chances are you’ve come across the terms Native apps, and Hybrid apps. If these terms are completely new to you, here is a quick overview to freshen up. Native mobile apps are written in a particular programming language which allows for the deployment on specific platforms such as Apple iOS and Android.  Comparatively, a hybrid mobile app means there is a combination of elements that define the app. Essentially a hybrid app can incorporate a web application that operates inside of a Native app. Meaning if you require a website that includes similar functionality to that of your mobile app, integrating a web application into both a website and app can achieve this. Think of facebook messenger, you can either chat on Facebook through a web browser, or you can download a specific application called “Messenger” onto your mobile device to use the same chat feature.

If you’d like to understand more about the difference between Native and Hybrid apps, see this article, comparing “Hybrid vs. Native Mobile App Development”.

Mobile (Responsive) Website

A mobile website functions in the same manner as viewing a website on your desktop / laptop. Mobile websites are pages linked together and require an internet connection to function. They can contain many elements, including text content, images and video. These websites can use basic mobile specific tools such as click-to-call buttons or location based services (Google Maps). In order to display content properly on the smaller screen size of a mobile phone, your website must be designed using a ‘Responsive Web Design ” approach. If you haven't established an online presence for your business, I recommend you check out this article on reasons why you should. Websites are typically the first step in developing an online presence since they are easy to develop and maintain.

Some other characteristics of mobile websites include:

  • Wider accessibility for users
  • Web applications and integrations on browsers
  • Limited features
  • Mostly static user interface
  • Findability
  • Easier to maintain and update

Web Applications

If you decide to develop a web (cloud-based) application to integrate with your website, a more customised solution can be designed for your business’s exact requirements. Tasks and activities that are regularly performed can be automated and built into your website, performing functions that assist your business with its daily operations. Depending on the web applications design, it can function with different types of users such as employees, students and customers. Some features clients regularly require are automated payments, booking software, user logins/information or data collection for reports. As stated previously, a website and mobile app can communicate with each other and perform similar tasks using web applications. Typically, if your business currently does not have an online digital presence, you start with building a website. Without an online presence, your business is missing out on creating awareness organically through search engines or with paid online advertisements.

Responsive Web Design

In 2018, 52.2 percent of all of website traffic worldwide was generated from mobile phones [1] surpassing the use of laptops/desktops. Thus, it’s imperative to have a website design that is responsive to a mobile phones smaller screen size. Responsive web design is an approach whereby a designer creates a web page that “responds” or resizes depending on the screen size of the device, examples are computers, laptops, tablets and smartphones. Achieving this requires a dynamic design, with elements on a webpage that respond differently when viewed on devices of different sizes.

Comparison of Mobile Apps and Websites

Now that we have differentiated mobile apps and websites from each other, we can compare the strengths and weaknesses.

Responsive Website       Mobile App
Accessed through mobile browser Access after being downloaded and installed
Relatively static user interface Interactive user interface
Requires internet connection Can be available offline or online
Limited functionality and features Functional benefits, using mobile phones features (location, camera, etc.)
Limitations to customisation Difficult to maintain / upgrade
Easier to maintain/ upgrade  
Easier to share  
Cost effective  

 

Accessibility & Usage

A website is more available and accessible for users, however mobile apps are way more popular for repeated use. The bulk of app usage on a mobile phone for most people is among their top 10 favourite apps. On average 97% of mobile app usage is spent on a their 10 favourite apps, and a staggering 77% of app time is spent on just 3 of their favourite apps [2]. Therefore if you require a more friendly user experience that entices repeated use, an app is more beneficial. On the other hand, if you need a solution that’s accessible and drives awareness a response website is more suitable. As discussed earlier, it is possible to develop an app and website that work together, to take advantage of both platforms characteristics, but it generally costs more depending on your requirements.

Effort & Cost

With a recent movement among digital agencies providing responsive website design, it’s becoming much easier to build a website that functions on both desktops, laptops, tablets and mobile phones. Establishing a presence through a mobile site is very cost effective and requires less time than a mobile app to build. App’s take a lot more time and effort to develop, Requiring several weeks or months to build depending on the complexity and type of design. Websites are a cost-effective alternative compared to mobile apps, requiring less maintenance and a lower cost of implementation. Choosing a mobile app over a website depends on how much your business will benefit from the additional cost and features available from native applications.

Design & Functionality

Mobile apps are usually 1.5 times faster than mobile websites, performing actions faster and storing data locally on your device. An app’s content can be highly tailored to a businesses exact requirements, by creating a user-centric personalization that caters towards the ideal user’s interests, behaviours, and culture. Another distinct advantage of mobile apps is the capability to send out push notifications. These instant messages can be sent out to your user base, and it will be immediately visible on their phones. This greatly increases the likelihood of users reading a notification and acting upon it. Unlike emails, where users have to take an action to clear the message, and can easily avoid reading the contents of your email. Moreover, mobile apps have an added advantage of using various features of a native device, such as the camera, GPS, accelerometer, fingerprint scanner ect. Conclusively, a mobile apps interface can be designed for an immersive, interactive experience for the end-user. In contrast, a website has better compatibility and is accessible for different types of devices on any web browser.

Conclusion

Given the complexity of a mobile app, it takes more time and a higher budget to develop and deploy. Typically mobile apps are built after a business has established an online digital presence, through the safer and cheaper option of building a mobile responsive website. If you are primarily marketing-driven and rely on delivering content to a broad audience that is easily accessible through search engines; a mobile-friendly, responsive website design is the logical choice.  On the other hand, if you feel an intimate user experience and the ability to use a mobile device’s capabilities, such as GPS, cameras, phone storage, integrated payments etc, an app may be more suitable.

As with any investment, you want to ensure that you are achieving an optimal return on your expenditure. Encyte offers a free initial consultation for your business to brainstorm about creating a digital presence, by carefully considering your purpose, budget, features and target audience. Feel free to drop us your requirement and we will get in touch with you to discuss your requirements in detail. If you’d like to do some brainstorming on your own, feel free to check out our portfolio of work we’ve completed for organization of varying sizes. This can give you an idea of the type of solutions developed for many types of businesses’ we’ve worked with personally in the past.

References:

[1] Percentage of all global web pages served to mobile phones from 2009 to 2018: Click here

[2] Mobile Time Spent 2018 Click here


About the author

Paul Dykman

Business Development Director at Encyte

Recently, i’ve started creating articles on apps, the web and technology in general. I don’t claim to be an expert but i’m always learning! I reflect upon information and discussions i’ve had talking with businesses closely. Writing these blog posts is a great way for me to articulate what i’ve learned and highlight key questions and concerns I discuss commonly with clients personally.

If you happen to read the article, i’d love to know your feedback.

Technology when done right, is simply an extenstion of one’s self. Together we hold the key to unlocking limtless possibilities.