Smartphone app or mobile website? This question comes up frequently and there are as many answers as there are situations in favor of either option.
First option: a mobile-friendly website
A mobile-friendly website is optimized for browsing on a Smartphone or a mobile device with usually a smaller screen compared to desktop or laptop computer and in the most case a touch-screen interface. This website can be a variation of an existing full website, or even a special version for mobile devices, such as a website with specific content.
So, how does it work?
In a nutshell, a mobile-friendly website can do the same thing a standard website. But for a better user experience this is going to be optimised: navigation will be simpler and the content design will take into account the reduced display size. For example, the content of the page will be resized often into one column to fit the width of the screen, while carefully to keeping characters readable. The page size should be monitored closely.
Also think about users who have only a sluggish mobile connection. They must be able to load the home page of your site in less than 8 seconds! For faster download heavy content is replaced by optimized content.
Multi-platform: it is aimed at a wide range of online users, provided that you take the extra mile for some standard screens such as Nokia or Samsung or some Blackberry devices).
Always up to date (with the latest version on server). No regular download is required.
The mobile website requires an Internet connection. Web page loading time will also be very dependent on the current connection and will tend to change every 10 meters the user moves. Some devices offer landscape and portrait mode, others do not. Sizes and screen resolutions vary significantly from one device to another. It will make an extra effort to create additional graphics templates for various mobile device models.
Second option: a mobile app
App or a Smartphone application is software that can work without an Internet connection and takes advantage of the terminal machine on which it is installed: features and capacity of the mobile device it is installed on (microphone, camera, touch-screen, storage, power, speed, etc…). This is ideal to provide your users with attractive, rich and relevant content as it will have access to terminal device?s features such as a camera, geo-locator (GPS, maps, whether forecast…). It is now a popular trend for a company or a group to have its own iPhone or Android app as it can offer a richer interface and better performance.
The possibility of the application “in your pocket”, without the need for internet connection (apart from updating the information): This is more ideal if the content changes not so often or if some of your target user are in low or poorly equipped 3G network areas. It will always be available on your laptop whether you are connected or not. The 3G network is becoming ubiquitous but not as efficient as a traditional WiFi network, although not always accessible.
Budget: The cost of development is a far more important compared to a mobile-friendly website application (depending on what you put into it …).
The visibility of your application from the hundreds of thousands of applications available in the market nowadays, it will not be easy to be found by users.
Lack of interoperability: you will need to develop a separate application for each the operating system. Apps are not multiplatform. With the war of formats today (although this has always been the case since day one of computer era) you will have to develop for several operating systems such as Android, iOS, Windows Mobile Phone 7, etc… Everything depends on your clients? preference (if you know it!) and their location (eg iOS is predominant in mainland of Europe thanks to the low prices of subscription in Euro, with the situation quite different in the United States where Android has surpassed iOS exponentially).
If you are looking at first to expand your presence by moving closer to your mobile users, a mobile website is a good approach. If you already have a mobile-optimised website, or if you are looking for advanced features, the app could be your next move. The spread of HTML 5, the democratisation of connection prices and increasing performance of 3G will greatly promote the mobile-friendly Website option. Contrary to players, musicians, photographers and readers who may prefer an application, online stores, catalogues, sports scores, directories, guides or restaurants are likely to opt for a mobile-friendly website.
Note, however, that the development of an app for your business cannot be improvised and will require more effort (human, financial, editorials). Just ensure that your users get greater benefit, whether they are on iPhone, Android or Windows Mobile 7.
So, the choice is not easy for the company but can be simplified if one knows its niche and its customers.