Mobile Responsive vs Mobile App
In today’s internet usage landscape, about forty eight percent of internet users access the internet using their mobile devices, such as smartphones (e.g. iPhone, Android and Blackberry) and tablets.
Therefore, it is of upmost importance when creating a website to ensure that the website can be viewed on a normal desktop screen and also on smaller mobile displays which has touch sensitive functionalities.
Two very common ways of achieving that is to either have a mobile responsive website or to create an App.
So, what is the difference between a mobile responsive website and a mobile app?
A mobile responsive website is the same as any website, meaning they contain browser-based HTML pages which are linked together and viewed over WIFI or over a mobile network, be it 3G or 4G.
The main feature that makes mobile website different from a standard website is that it is designed to display the web pages on a smaller mobile display using a touch sensitive interface.
A Mobile responsive site has a special design based on CSS media queries. CSS is a programming language that describes the style of an HTML document. It allows a website’s content to fit into the various types of mobile screens, both 17-inch laptop or 6-inch phone display. Those queries though have few imperfections, not only do they need more developer’s work and attention but such website would most probably also download slower.
By the way, you shouldn’t mix-up up responsive and adaptive websites. Adaptive websites work well on smaller screens but they are not versatile. Actually, they work with certain screen parameters. As it is not easy to predict all the possible combinations of screen parameters, so a mobile responsive website can be a better decision.
In recent times, it has become a standard to create web sites that are mobile responsive and can be scaled to any display size, from the large desktop screens all the way down to tablets and onto smartphone screens.
Just like any websites, mobile responsive websites will be able to display text contents, images, data and videos. These websites will also be able to enable features made specifically for mobile devices, like click to call for dialling a phone number or location-based mapping.
Another very popular question: why do you need a responsive website? Well, the number of mobile phone users worldwide is going to from about 4.01 million in 2013 to about 5.07 billion in 2019! (see picture below). In 2016 almost 63% of our world’s population already owned a mobile phone. And this amount will grow more in particular in countries like China and India.
Most companies’ websites today are mobile responsive so as to make information, goods or services available on various platforms and devices.
When individuals look for information, they don’t go first go to the app stores. They are more likely to start searching with web browsers. The search results will probably contain mostly web pages and maybe a few apps. And if someone is surfing in an app store itself, you can imagine how difficult it is to break scan through those thousands of apps.
From the above segment, you would think that mobile responsive websites are the best solution to all problems. No, it is not. For one, especially for the business community, they should always look forward to the future, and the future is in mobile technologies and their development.
So, what is a mobile app? Mobile apps are actual applications that are created and made available from app stores like Google Play for Android Devices, Apple App Store for Apple mobile devices and Blackberry App World for Blackberry devices. They are downloaded and installed on the mobile devices, unlike mobile responsive websites which are accessed through a browser.
Mobile apps may also download content and data from the internet, similarly like a website, or they may also download the content for access when an internet connection is not available.
Mobile apps work differently from mobile responsive websites. One single app doesn’t run on all devices and need to be installed on individual devices but they each user a unique user experience. While mobile responsive websites are good for attracting new or occasional clients, mobile app works better with regular clients.
A mobile app is particularly good when someone needs to complete a particular goal. A well-designed app will give your client all the opportunities to perform what they want in just in few taps or scrolls.
Please don’t make the common mistake and turn your app into a replica of your website. Instead, you select features and functions that reflect the main idea of your business, develop them, and make these features and functions as simple and straight forward as possible for your customers.
So which do you use? Mobile Responsive Websites or Apps?
If your main focus is marketing or public communications, using a mobile responsive website will be a more viable first approach in your mobile outreach strategy. The reason is because a mobile responsive website will give a number of unique advantages over Apps, among them are broader accessibility, compatibility and cost-effectiveness.
Instant Access – Mobile Websites are immediately available
A Mobile responsive website is immediately available for viewing via a browser on almost any platform, from a desktop, a smart TV, tablets and smartphones. Whereas Apps will require users to first download the apps and install the apps from a App Store before the contents can be viewed, which is a significant roadblock between initial engagement, action and conversion.
Compatibility – Websites are available on all devices.
A website will be able to reach out to users on many different platforms where a browser is available as a standard. Apps will require a different version to be develop for each type of of devices like Android, Apple and Blackberry operating systems. Another advantage of websites is that a website URL can very easily be integrated into mobile technologies like SMS, QR Codes and Near Field Communication (NFC).
Upgrade Path – Mobile Responsive websites cab be instantly upgraded.
Compared to an app, a mobile responsive website is a lot more dynamic, letting it be very flexible in terms of content updates. When you need to change the contents or look of a mobile responsive website, you need only to publish the changes once and the changes made are instantly visible. On the other hand, updating an app will entail the updates to be pushed to the users, and then the users must download and install the updates before the app is updated on each unique device.
Discoverability – Mobile Responsive websites can be easily found
Mobile responsive websites are easily found because their webpages can be displayed in web search results or listed in directories where qualified visitors can easily find them. What is also important is your regular visitors to your website can be automatically redirected to your website when they are using a mobile device to access your website (using device-detection). Whereas the visibility of apps are mostly restricted to Manufacturers’ app stores.
Ease of Sharing
Users can easily share a mobile Responsive website via a simple link through emails or text/chat messages, Facebook or a Twitter post. And users can easily be directed by Publishers to a mobile website from within a blog or website, and even in print. Publishers and users won’t be able to share an App in such similar ways.
Reach out to a bigger audience
As a Mobile responsive website is easily available on a wide range of platforms and also easily shared among users, and also on search engines, it has a much more capable reach then a native app.
The average lifespan of an app is very short, in the region of 30 days according to some research, so unless your app is very useful and/or unique, it might not last very long on a user’s mobile device. On the other hand, Mobile responsive websites are always available for the users to go back to.
Time and Cost – It is much cheaper to develop websites
And one of the most important consideration, time and cost. It is much faster and cheaper to develop a mobile Responsive website compared to developing a native app, especially when you need to reach out to users on across platforms.
The reason is because rather than have one responsive website, you will need to develop at least two apps from scratch, one for Android and one for Apple iOS, and that also means hiring a development team for each version. This, in turn, involves two times more work and resources while bug fixing and adding new features.
On Going Maintenance and Support
After launch, a website requires fewer efforts and costs for its maintaining compared to mobile apps. As an example, you will only have to edit your website once and the upgrades will be immediately published across all the different types of platforms and devices.
Whereas, editing a native mobile app is a trickier procedure. After an upgraded version for each Operating System type is prepared, it must be approved by the various marketplaces before they can be made available for your users.
Just so you know, it takes about 24 hours for 50% of apps to 48 hours for more than 90% of apps to be reviewed on Apple’s App Store. As for Google Play store, Google suggests waiting for a minimum of 24 hours for an update to appear on their store before trying to contact its support team.
In addition, an end-user will have to set automatic updates on their devices or upgrade an app manually after each update is made available to get the changes.
So when do you choose to develop an App?
Though Mobile Responsive websites have many benefits, apps are also very prevalently used as there are various situations where using an app makes more sense. By and large, if you need to achieve any of the following, using an app is a better option.
Mobile application doesn’t have to have all the features of the mobile responsive website. Some app functions are not always applicable on the website and vice versa. A good example is Instagram, Instagram users can view their photos on the Instagram website, but, they can’t upload their photos without the Instagram app.
Customised Regular Use
If your users use your apps regularly and require the app to be customised to their usage manner, like in banking, note taking apps, shopping etc, a native app will provide the users a better way to do that easily in all the different situations.
Flexibility in Designing
Websites depend a lot on browsers to perform most of it’s functions, browser features like “address bar”, “refresh button”, “back button” are some of the key features of browsers that websites require to perform its functions.
An App doesn’t have any of these limitations.
An App can be designed many different features, using mobile device gestures like “tap”, “drag”, “hold”, “swipe” and many more.
Local Functions Access or Processing Needed
Today’s mobile devices are growing in popularity not just because they fit in the pocket, but also because they come built in with such features as Bluetooth, camera, GPS, contact list, speech recognition and many more.
Since native mobile apps are designed specifically for each unique hardware platform, they can immediately access all device-specific features and functions.
Therefore, if you need to access device specific functions like locations, cameras, GPS, Accelerometers, Lighting, SMS, phone calls, battery information, Bluetooth, Touch ID, Face ID etc and/or require processing power, an app will do a much better job in achieving your needs.
Apps can be designed to adapt to the specific device platform and Operating System environment, this make navigating the app easier, which translates to user friendliness made easy thru gestures and native User Interface elements.
Responsive websites need to have a constant Internet connection. Though you can save a certain webpage for offline reading on both iOS and Android devices, you will need to be online for anything else.
One of the main advantages of using an app is the ability for it to function offline. Dependent on the app’s functions, you can download information or content and use it even without Internet access. Therefore, when your product concept requires offline access in some of it’s features, you should consider creating an App as this doesn’t work in mobile websites.
Though it may not be a major issue for the “first world” countries, it makes a huge difference for developing states.
So when it is important that your user to have access to an app’s data at anytime and anywhere, it would be better to go with an app.
Apps provides businesses the opportunity to promote company brands on the App. It is one of the popular approaches in which many companies from various industries use to promote their brands.
And with the ability to send out notifications, Apps can easily remind users of your company, products and promotions.
Time Spent on Apps by Users
Research have shown mobile users spend 86% of their time on Apps and only 14% of their time on mobile websites. And this trend has been increasing, rising 21% in 2015 from 2014.
One point to take note here is that users spend most of them on gaming and social media apps.
Summary of Differences between Responsive Mobile Website and Mobile App
Both mobile responsive websites and mobile apps have their advantages and disadvantages. A mobile app might not be better than the mobile version of the website and vice versa. The decision to choose one of them, you must understand the purpose of your product: who is your target audience and how often will they use it.
And you should also know, which is more important: your product having higher performance and functionality or the product development price. From the angle of saving cost, web development is a better option. In this case, the content is more important than the visual expression of the app. The mobile app will more likely be preferred to a responsive mobile website if your plans require high performance.
On top of all these, the offline and online availability is also an important issue. Mobile applications do not depend on the Internet access compared to mobile responsive websites so many operations can be performed in the offline mode.
Undeniably, there is no clear winner to what a business needs: a mobile responsive website or a mobile application. The most important factor is to understand your clients and decide which is a better obtain to address their needs.
And who say you have to choose only one option? There are many businesses who decided not to limit their business to only one form of representation! You can become one of them.