Before you can evaluate the benefits of a mobile website vs. an app it’s important to understand the key differences between the two. Both apps and mobile websites are accessed on a handheld devices such as smartphones (e.g. iPhone, Android and Blackberry) and tablets.
What is the difference between a Mobile Website and a Mobile App?
A mobile website is similar to any other website in that it consists of browser-based HTML pages that are linked together and accessed over the Internet (for mobile typically WiFi or 3G or 4G networks). The obvious characteristic that distinguishes a mobile website from a standard website is the fact that it is designed for the smaller handheld display and touch-screen interface.Like any website, mobile websites can display text content, data, images and video. They can also access mobile-specific features such as click-to-call (to dial a phone number) or location-based mapping.
Apps are actual applications that are downloaded and installed on your mobile device, rather than being rendered within a browser. Users visit device-specific portals such as Apple’s App Store, Android Market, or Blackberry App World in order to find and download apps for a given operating system. The app may pull content and data from the Internet, in similar fashion to a website, or it may download the content so that it can be accessed without an Internet connection.
Which one is better - an App or a Mobile Website?
There is an ongoing debate regarding apps vs mobile websites and which is better. While each serves a purpose, we believe that e-commerce enabled mobile websites can provide rich, dynamic user-experiences that exceed apps in many areas:
Cost and development
Building an app is not a one size fits all solution. With iOS, multiple versions of android, and Windows mobile operating systems, an app would have to be tailored to suit each different one. All this development takes time and time is money, not just the developers time but also time is lost when you could already have a mobile presence established.Unlike apps, mobile websites are platform independent, meaning that you only have to design it once, and it will work across all platforms.
Search engine visibility
Google is by far and away the most popular search engine worldwide. According to stat counter.com 97% of smartphone owners use Google as their search engine. If we look at the results that Google return in a search, do they list apps in their top ten search results? No, Google lists websites. Having a mobile site over an app greatly increases your reach and visibility to potential customers, the mobile website is about getting noticed and building your brand and engaging with customers. Once customers establish a relationship with your brand it is then that they might look for an app to regularly engage with the business.
Social Media and sharing
Mobile website URLs are easily shared between users via a simple link (e.g. within an email or text message, Facebook or Twitter post). Publishers can easily direct users to a mobile website from a blog or website, or even in print. An app simply cannot be shared in this fashion.
Effort and maintenance
Once the app is developed the cost and effort to maintain it across multiple different platforms is going to be much greater than the cost and effort required to maintain a single mobile site. As new devices and new operating systems are launched the app would have to be constantly developed and maintained to ensure it is fully accessible across multiple environments. A mobile website is not without maintenance and ongoing development costs, however, this is a fraction in comparison to multiple app versions. A mobile website can be updated and new content added at a fraction of the cost an effort compared to a mobile app.
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