You have your website all ready to go, but you wonder if perhaps you should build an App. Or wait … is it a mobile version you should build? Or both??
The answer can only come from an understanding of your particular business needs, budget, and goals. Take those things into consideration, then ask yourself the following questions to help you decide what route is best for your business:
1. What is my timeframe? Am I looking to have something launched this year, or a few years down?
HTML 5 is great for a developing a robust, mobile browser experience, but it doesn’t work for everyone all the time. There are still issues that will take time to sort out with HTML5. Building a mobile App could take some time, too. You will need to develop, test, and market for iPhone, Android, and Blackberry – all use different development bases.
2. What experience are you trying to provide for your audience?
It is OK if some business websites provide different layouts and visuals on difference devices. But some businesses require that their users have a seamless experience between all devices, not to mention the additional requirement of social engagement through the site. Be aware of the limitations of App development and mobile web development with regards to their ability to mirror the form and function of the website on traditional monitors and newer tablet devices. This may or may not matter to your list of requirements, but be aware if the fact that it is a factor for consideration.
3. Do you want to monetize your App? Can you live without the marketing power of the App marketplaces?
Apps are a huge industry, and it isn’t because developers are altruistic. It is because developers make money selling Apps. You will not be able to “sell” your mobile website. Does this matter to your business’ bottom line? Maybe not, especially if your website is simply a portal to sell other services rather than a service itself (ie:I’d pay for an App that taught me French or taught me names of constellations, but not one that was simply a portal to buy socks or car parts on Amazon).
But even if you offer a free App, your App still benefits from being in the App marketplace (Google’s Play or the Apple’s App Store). It can get voted up by users, rated, benefit from kind comments, or even featured by the marketplace editors. A mobile site will never enjoy that kind of extra marketing push.
4. Is social sharing important to you?
Mobile websites are simply easier to integrate with social media. Apps can include a button to “share”, but my opinion is that website-to-website sharing is still the best integrated experience for the customer. And think not only about users sharing your business’ content out to others, but think also about users receiving shared content. If someone shares a link or post or tweet with you about a website (mobile or otherwise), you can easily access it as long as you have a browser and are online, right? But if someone shares App content with you, you probably have to download that same App to participate in the content’s experience (note: sharing App content is different than sharing web content through an App).
5. Do you anticipate frequent updates?
A mobile website, if well-designed, is simple to make structural updates to. On the other hand, an App requires development for each platform (and developing individual Apps for Android, iPhone, and Blackberry is much more complex and cost- & time-intensive than developing for cross-browser deployment). So if you anticipate a lot of changes in the future, it might be wise to hold off on deploying an App until you hit a solid, stable version of your product. In the meantime, deploy with a mobile web version only.
Also, when considering the future, remember that well-designed mobile websites are made to be “future-proof”, or to be read and used by multiple assorted devices that we do not even see on the market yet. App, though, are only made to be used by existing devices we know about and that are out on the mass market. If you are planning long-term (by that, I mean more than 5 years), then give more weight to spending your time and resources on a mobile site as far as this question is concerned.
I know that I sound biased towards mobile development over Apps; that’s because I am! But I will remind you that Apps exist in such high numbers for a reason – people love them! They are easy to use, they (typically) work for the specific job they are built for, and they are not going away anytime soon.
So whatever decision you make for your business, remember that you are making the right decision for you. Plan, be brave, and be persistent in making sure your marketing and communications plan is the right fit for your future goals and aspirations.