When trying to decide if your business needs a mobile app or a mobile website there are a lot of different aspects of each that you need to think about before you invest. From cost, to speed, to accessibility, mobile apps and mobile websites are extremely different and provide advantages depending on what your business needs from its presence on mobile devices.
When it comes to the decision between a responsive website or a mobile app, the first and most obvious question to ask is whether or not you want your content to be accessible through mobile browsers. If the answer is "yes", then you need to be considering a responsive website first - if "no" then a mobile app might make more sense.
Responsive websites require an internet connection and a static, navigational user interface that reflects your overall website design. A mobile app, on the other hand, can be accessed after installation without using an internet connection. Furthermore, apps tend to have an interactive user interface that allows them to integrate with phones and do mobile-only things like push navigations.
Apps can also leverage phone features that responsive websites cannot, such as location services, the phone's camera, and phone vibrations. Using these features allows an app to be more connected to a user's everyday experience with their phone in ways that a responsive website cannot.
Examining the Specifics
While they may not be as intertwined with a user's experience on their phone, responsive websites have advantages over mobile apps in a couple of areas. The first and most obvious is speed. Even though responsive websites require users to go to their browser, they load much quicker than their app counterparts, which allows for faster access to content than mobile apps can provide.
Adding to this speed of access is that the app store is not necessary in order to view a responsive website. More importantly for small business owners who might not have the same large budgets as big businesses, the cost of a responsive website is much more reasonable on average than developing an app.
Responsive website design also means that you don't have to go through an approval process to have your content available to the public. While it is obviously important to do a thorough QA process of a website before it is released, a responsive website is not subject to review by others in order to get approval. This outside review process is required for anyone who is trying to get their app into the app store and can sometimes pose serious issues for mobile app design.
While mobile apps are generally more expensive, the money does buy certain advantages for companies over responsive sites. The biggest is that mobile apps allow business to be connected directly into user's mobile phones at all times. This means access to users for businesses that a responsive website is simply unable to provide - particularly when there is no internet or network connection available.
What Users Prefer From Each Medium
Understanding what your customers are looking for from your mobile platform is a great way to help decide whether a mobile app or a mobile website is better for your business. If you have an audience that is simply trying to connect with your business and get themselves informed with what you have to say, a mobile website makes more sense. If your audience is trying to search for your products or services and shop or entertain themselves, a mobile app is almost certainly the way to go.
Reach versus Engagement
If your business is trying to build a mobile campaign that has to weigh the advantages and disadvantages of reach versus engagement, it is important to know that there are differences between mobile apps and responsive websites. Out of a sample of 56 million people, 65% of impressions with a business on mobile devices came from a mobile browser while only 35% came from mobile apps.
However, app users consume 2.4 times more impressions with a single brand on average. This means that while a mobile browser might be better for total impressions, mobile apps will make individual users more engaged with your business and what you have to say.
The Deciding Factor
Ultimately, choosing between a mobile app and a mobile website comes down to what goals your business is trying to achieve from your mobile presence. Understanding the strengths of both mobile websites and mobile apps in terms of how they relate to your business' online goals is going to be the best way to pick between the two.
For more information about the advantages of mobile apps and responsive design for mobile devices, check out the work we've done for our clients on our mobile app design and responsive website development pages.