Mobile apps vs. mobile websites

Brainstorm shown on a piece of paper showing ideas about mobile apps and mobile websites

How does your company website look when people access it on their smartphones? Now that mobile web browsing has overtaken desktop, it’s vital you think about how easy your website is to use on a smaller screens 

Mobile website or mobile app?

There are two main ways to get your business seen on the mobile web:

  • Create a mobile app, which can be downloaded by users and run on their mobile phones.
  • Create a mobile website, a version of your company website designed to look and function as well on a mobile phone as your normal website does on a computer.

Having a mobile-ready website is a must, but the decision whether or not to build a mobile app will depend on the needs of your audience and those of your company.

Mobile websites: the lower cost option

Have you ever tried viewing your company website on a smartphone? If not, you should. Sometimes, websites that are designed to look great on laptops and desktop computers look lousy on a phones. Often, key functions like drop-down navigational elements don't work and text is far too small to be legible.

The reason for this? Smartphones are not the same as laptops. They don’t display web pages like a computer monitor, because the dimensions don’t match those of a normal computer screen.

Smartphones have achieved such widespread usage because they rely on approachable touch screen technology and pinch-and-zoom interaction. This means the standard version of your website may not even work properly. For instance, on a phone there’s no concept of moving the mouse over an element – because there’s no mouse and no cursor on the screen.

The most common way to get around this is to create a mobile responsive version of your current website which automatically adjusts the layout and user interface depending on the screen size in use. If you’ve worked with a web design agency to create your site, they should be able to take care of this reasonably easily.

They’ll probably need to edit your website’s style sheets, which control how the site is displayed. They might need to make some changes to the navigation too, so it’s easier to use on a smaller screen.

Consider reducing the amount of content and providing clear calls to action (CTAs). Focus on streamlining the mobile experience and helping people find what they need, quickly.

Mobile apps: a more personalised experience?

But, wait! Is a mobile website the best way to engage your target audience, or should you consider creating a mobile app?

Apps are downloaded onto your smartphone rather than viewed online (like a website) which means access is generally faster and compatibility with your chosen smartphone guaranteed.

Apps are now a part of everyday life; people understand what they are and are comfortable using them. They tend to be fast and easy to use, making an app a good way to get your business seen by the masses.

Apps can also provide a personalised experience, allowing more customisation than a website and giving you the freedom to build something specific for your audience. You can create an app to perform useful tasks in order to encourage downloads and shares.

The downside to mobile apps

It takes time and significant investment to create an app that works well. Even coming up with an initial idea will require user research to ensure you’re making something people actually want.

Additionally, the architecture and design of the app can’t just come from your website. Your app has got to be tailored to the mobile platform because the way people use apps differs depending on their purpose.

Finally, one app will not work on all mobile platforms without additional development; you need to build different versions for different operating systems (e.g. iOS and Android). Maintaining these different versions can be tricky.

Mobile website or mobile app?

There’s no right or wrong answer to the question of whether you should build a mobile app. The choice really does depend on who your audience is and what value your content provides them – plus, of course, what your business requires and how big your budget is.

However, remember that people will visit your website on their smartphones, therefore it’s ability to work correctly on small screens is vital.

If your website isn’t optimised for mobile devices, you could be frustrating visitors and losing potential customers.

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