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Mobile Websites vs. Mobile Apps

With the proliferation of smartphones and tablet devices in recent years, businesses are having to reimagine the way their content is viewed. There’s no doubt that in order to stay relevant, establishing and sustaining a presence on the mobile web is essential – but which is the best way to achieve this? A mobile website or an app?

So what’s the difference between a mobile site and an app?

Apps and websites can both be viewed on a handheld device such as an iPhone, Android, BlackBerry or iPad, with the obvious distinction being that while many websites may be optimised for mobile browsing, they are primarily designed to be accessed via computer. Apps, on the other hand, are designed specifically for mobile and tablet access.

What are the pros and cons of each?

One advantage of websites over apps is convenience and immediacy; a pre-existing website can be accessed instantly on a mobile device, with updates in content appearing as and when they occur. Apps require a download and installation, with subsequent notifications popping up each time the app has a new feature or function – this eats up precious time between initial engagement and conversion. Additionally, websites can be viewed across most devices, whereas native apps often require multiple versions to be accessed across iPhone, BlackBerry and Android devices.

On the other hand, apps are more fully integrated into your device and can make use of its features, such as camera and location services. Apps can also be accessed while offline, whereas a website requires Wi-Fi or 3G connection. As a rule, apps run quicker than websites for this reason.

What about cost?

Broadly speaking, mobile website development is quicker and more cost effective than app development. As stated above, different platforms have different technological requirements, drawing out the development process. It is also less of an issue to resolve bugs on websites than it is with apps, where users need to actively update to receive the new-and-improved version, as opposed to simply hitting “refresh”.

However, investing in an app can be the right decision as long as it will be of benefit to your target audience. If you are developing an app for personalised or consistent use, people might prefer it to a site – one prime example is Facebook, the app version of which is easier to use on a regular basis than the mobile site version.

Which is more suitable for businesses?

This really does depend on the nature of your business. If you want to offer your end users immersive, interactive functionality, then a mobile app may be the right path for you. If your web presence is more about providing engaging and useful content, then a mobile optimised website may be more suitable.

However, website vs. app isn’t strictly an “either/or” dilemma: many businesses are investing in a website as a first step, with app development in their long term mobile web strategy.

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