Mobile App or Mobile Website: The Big Question answered for your Business

Mobile App or Mobile Website: The Big Question answered for your Business

As we inch closer to 2017 and the world becomes gets more inclined towards being mobile, many businesses are compelled to think about their presence on multiple screens.

With 80% of the internet users having smartphones (and this number showing signs to go northwards), as a CEO or Founder, you must have been contemplating, should I take my brand to the next level by becoming mobile-friendly? Well, the answer is YES.

While it is an absolute necessity to be present on a multitude of devices these days, the question does not end here and it does not have a straightforward answer.

The real dilemma arises in this —

Should I have a responsive website that runs seamlessly across different devices, irrespective of the screen size or build a mobile app to provide better experience to my audience? Mind you, this simple question has its own complexity.

Working over 300+ projects over a span of 7 years, we have been questioned about does my brand/company need a responsive website or a mobile app?

Many even come to us stating — there are billions of apps on the app stores and hundreds are being launched every single day, I also need my brand to present on all app stores. And, then we are like….duh…


And, there are even people who say, my competitor just launched a mobile app and it has crossed millions of downloads. I want its clone. And, then we are like…duh…

Mobile apps or mobile websites which path do you choose?But clients are clients, we need to educate, inform them to make better, smart choices. So, we decided to compile this post for any business, startup founder or any entrepreneur for that matter who is confused about how to take the right step in the mobile world.

Here’s what the post will cover –

  • Knowing when a mobile website better serves your purpose
  • Understanding when a mobile app is right for your business including what type of app you should build using specific technologies
  • A glimpse into progressive web app and its benefits
  • Should you adopt an app-only approach and discard all your websites (mobile & desktop)
A Mobile Website is the best route when….

people are hunting for only information and want to read. Take for example the blog of Oprah Winfrey. All she needs is a responsive website so that her audience can access content across screens. Similar is the case with ‘The Oprah Magazine.’

Although she has an app for OWN (Oprah Winfrey Network) — Watch OWN App. This is because people can easily stream and watch videos and interview on their devices no matter where they are.

Here it makes complete sense to have an app because people can download the app, sign in to watch episode using their TV provider details and access high quality content anywhere, anytime.

In nutshell, if you have an existing website that focuses on being information-rich, having a responsive website is, probably, a good way to start being mobile. It will also allow you to test waters and save time & money.

Paul Boag, a well-known name in the user experience circle, aptly sums it up like this in one of his videos 

“First, there was a pressure on us to have a website, then came flash, we were required to have flash because it was trending those days and now there is a pressure to have a native app.”

Analyze your business goals and see what your customers need, if a website suffices those needs, don’t invest in building an app, have a responsive site that delivers an optimal user experience.

So, the rule of thumb is — when you want to deliver just content — responsive websites do the job well.

Pro Tips

  • According to Google 61% of users will never return to a mobile website because they have trouble accessing it. They are more likely to gravitate to your competitors’ websites. So what do you do? Don’t make the experience stressful, keep it simple and accessible. Give them the information they are looking for within 3 clicks and your job is done.
  • Have clear call to action buttons to give users clear cues about what they need to do next.
  • Offer search options, use short forms, use less fonts, and a simple navigation.
  • Design for thumbs.

Essential Reading:

The Thumb Zone: Designing For Mobile Users By Samantha Ingram

How We Hold Our Gadgets by Josh Clark

Designing for Thumbs – The Thumb Zone

Mobile Apps are a great option if….

your focus is to let users accomplish specific tasks like book a ticket, holiday, buy products, search & review products/services, real-time information delivery, location-based components, requesting a service etc. Of course, there is more to it than just allowing users to do tasks.

Apps are the way to go when you your app to utilize a smartphone’s gyroscope, camera, GPS, Near Field Communications etc. to deliver what users are looking for.

For instance, location-based apps allow users to get instant notifications when they enter a specific geography. These notifications can be regarding new product arrivals, newly launched services, discounts/promotions going-on in nearby stores, and similar other messages.

Examples –

These brands are using push notifications to woo their customers.

  •  AirBnB
  •  Zomato 
  •  Dominos 
  •  Starbucks 
  •  H & M 
  •  Kayak 
  •  Uniqlo 
  •  The Bump 

However, this is just the tip of the iceberg. 

Now, once you have understood that a mobile app is the right choice for your business, what next?

You are faced with questions like –

  •  Do I build a native app or a hybrid app? 
  •  Which technologies should I use? 
  •  Should I use an app builder or hire an app design & development company? 
  •  I have an idea — I don’t want to invest thousands of dollars into development right now? What’s the best way to go ahead? 
    • When you just have an idea, it’s natural for us to get into the fifth gear and start investing time, money and energy into building an app. But hold on, apply the brakes.

      Do you really think your idea when translated into an app would solve a need or purpose? Under such scenarios, its best to go for a Proof-of-Concept or a Minimum Viable Product (MVP). Here’s a nice article explaining the difference between these.

      For instance, Buffer decide to go for a Proof-of-Concept first for the iOS devices because it wanted the app to use device features like the camera. And, the focus was on speed, meaning, users should be able to do the tasks at a very fast pace. That is why they decided to go native.

      Build your app with a few features and launch native app for one operating system. This will allow you to judge the reaction and accordingly improvise based on the feedback and reviews you get.

      Also, today, there are plenty of app builders out there that help you engineer amazing apps without any professional expertise. While there is nothing wrong with using these, infact, these are the best choices for one-person army who just wants to get his/her foot in the app market.

      Hiring experienced mobile app developers is always a wise choice when you have budget and need plenty of customizations. Depending on your need, you can go for either of these options.


      The Case for going Native

      When you are going native, you build apps specifically for iOS, Android and Windows separately. This means you use Objective C or Swift Language for iOS and Java for Android.

      Alternatively, for hybrid app development you go for frameworks like Appcelerator, PhoneGap, Rubymotion or AdobeAir. It’s biggest advantage is to help you launch quickly across app stores with reduced cost, thereby, shrinking the time-to-market.

      However, the hybrid approach takes a back seat when it comes to deliver a phenomenal user experience. App performance might take a hit which ultimately has an impact on your user base.

      That’s why Native.

      Building native apps has its cons too. It costs more time and money to build such apps. For example, it took two years for Instagram to have its own native android app.

      Here’s a nice read on why building native apps is a long-term strategy.

      Essential Reading:

      Going From web To Mobile App Design? Here’s What You Need To Know

      Mobile App or Mobile Web? What You Should Know

      Giving Our Clients The Best Deal In Mobile

      The Triggerfish and Your Mobile App

      Progressive Apps are taking the lead

      Progressive Mobile Web is not new. The Financial Times has been using this strategy since 2012 to deliver content and yet offer a native app like experience to its users.

      What progressive apps usually do is extend the responsiveness of a website and combine it with native app features like push notifications and app-like payment systems. Using a single codebase, progressive apps deliver iOS and Android native experience without letting the users know the difference.

      So, why are these becoming popular.

      Native apps have their own problems. Half of the US population downloads, zero apps per month. It is estimated that 13% of the smartphone users account for 50% of all app downloads. Source: Recode

      Plus, app retention rates are dismally low. 80% of users who have download apps will never use them again. Source: 

      And, who knows, how many people will download your native app once it goes live. App installation is a friction. Mostly people download the featured apps. Many even search for apps. But, this still never guarantees people will search, find, download, install, use and engage with your app. This entire process makes you lose 20% of users. 

      Therefore, going native might be like firing in the dark. (Note: We are not against building native apps. These are still a smart move for many brands which want people to come back and use products or services.)

      Instead, you can follow the progressive web apps (PWA) way.

      Who uses PWA?

      •  Air Berlin allows its customers for online check-ins and access their tickets without an internet connection. 
      • in India saw 38% more conversions after adopting PWA strategy. Their users also benefited from faster loading times, thereby improving overall experience.
      •  Alibaba witnessed four times higher interaction rates with its progressive web app. They also achieved 76% increase in conversions.
      •  The Weather Channel saw 80% improvement in page load time and more than a million people opted for its push notifications.
      •  Flipkart achieved 70% increase in conversion rates and tripled time-on-site.

      How do you decide to choose between Native and PWA strategy and what are its benefits….

       The best starting point is to analyze who your users are going to be and what kind of actions/tasks they need to perform. The biggest benefit of using PWA approach is that you never compromise on the user experience.

      When you have a PWA, your users get an app-like experience after visiting your URL. When users want to download the app, they can do so with one click. No friction whatsoever. From there, the users get a native like experience.

      Moreover, acquiring mobile users is expensive. And, when you factor in the cost and revenue, going native might not look that lucrative option. With PWA, you need not worry about the maths.

      Essential Reading:

       Your First Progressive Web App | Web | Google Developer 

      Why Google Thinks You Should Start Building Progressive Web Apps

      Lastly, when you have decided to have a native/hybrid app, is it the time to say good-bye to your websites

      In recent times, many brands have started relying on ‘App-only’ approach. This is specifically true for e-commerce players.

      In India, a lot of brands adopted ‘App Only’ way and they had their own specific reasons for it right from cutting costs to focusing just on mobile users. However, this strategy can back-fire.

      Myntra lost 10% of its sales within first week of going app only. Flipkart also had to re-think its strategy of forcing users into downloading an app. It, later, launched Flipkart Lite.

      Indians, as such, like to compare prices before buying stuff. Going app-only in such a market is going to do more harm than good.

      Without properly analyzing your desktop and mobile users, you cannot risk taking such decisions. Plus, think beyond numbers. It’s the behavior that matters. You might think of ignoring 10% of your desktop users but it can cost you significant sales and revenues.

      Essential Reading:

      App only strategy will fail to deliver advertising success

      From Flipkart To Myntra – Why Ecommerce Giants Are Making A U-Turn On Their App-Only Strategy

      Ending notes

      Choosing between a mobile website and an app can be confusing. However, thinking about your goals, audience needs, options available for app development together with budget, you can tread on the right path and ensure success for your brand in the mobile world.

      Need more advice on what’s right for your brand? Well, schedule a free consultation with our mobile app experts to see what fits you right.