You can customize a mobile experience for a user two ways: Serve up a separate web experience via an app or develop a separate website detecting mobile devices. The main difference between the two is the platforms.
A mobile app is a piece of software developed separately from your website that’s programmed and coded to work on a specific mobile device, such as an Apple iPhone, Android device, BlackBerry, or Windows Phone.
If your company develops a custom app, you need to decide if you’ll develop five different versions, so the app can fit on all major platforms, or one to two platforms.
Mobile apps are downloaded on phones providing users direct access. Depending on the features, you could make the app available offline, which was a big deal three years ago when data plans weren’t as popular. But nowadays, people with phones that run apps have a connected data plan allowing them online access.
You may have a website that’s looks different for desktop user versus someone viewing the site on his phone or tablet. A mobile website is usually a slimmed down version of your website with different or less content. It’s a different platform that still lives on the domain. It can accessed by opening a web browser on the phone or tablet, typing in the URL, and visiting the site.
Responsive design is another option that’s popular for websites, which is designing your site with mobile devices in mind. Then, you provide the same optimized experience to a mobile user as a desktop user.
Before proceeding, you should first have a content plan. Then, decide how you want the content to appear on mobile devices. During the development phase, content is coded so it responds no matter the size of the mobile device.
Deciding which is best
Which is best? Look at your business and your users.
If you have a restaurant with a couple websites with menu items but most of your contact is face-to-face, a mobile app may not be the best choice. Why? You can still provide a good user experience with a responsively built or mobile website.
But, if you’re a phone company allowing users access to to log into their account, check their statements, and pay bills online, it makes sense to develop an app. An app would provide them quicker access to logging in. And, if you build the app on a mobile app platform, you have more control over the environment so you can streamline the process and make it more user-friendly.
Don’t forget to look at cost, when considering these two mobile options.
A mobile app will cost you more in the long run, because an app doesn’t eliminate the need a website. So, you are looking at the cost of a website and the cost to have a custom app developed. You may need to develop two to three different apps for different mobile platforms.
If you go the mobile website route, the costs are minimal to add to your website design or do a redesign.
If you have users that you believe would benefit from an app, do your homework. Take a look at your current users and conduct surveys. Look at the data to show how current users access your current site, and then decide. You may waste money if you develop an app for BlackBerry or for Windows Phones if your primary users are iPhone and Android users. So, do your research.
Lastly, treat this like any other web marketing decision. Collect as much data as you can and use that data to make an informed decision on what direction to go.