Should Business Embrace Apps Or Settle For The Mobile Web?


App Icons Downloading into Smart Phone

Often the first and biggest question that confronts any company developing a new mobile presence (or revamping an existing one) is whether to focus on developing a native app or a mobile web site. While each approach has its pros and cons, one way to decide may be to look at how users are accessing content on their mobile devices like the iPhone and iPad.

Unfortunately, the latest news from comScore is that users are evenly split between using a dedicated native app or using a mobile web browser to access content – making that criteria alone useless when it comes to developing a mobile strategy.

comScore’s data, recorded during a three month window last fall, shows 47.6% of users choose to use dedicated apps while the use of Safari and other mobile browsers ranked so closely at 47.5% as to be a statistically the same.

So where does this leave companies when it comes to initial mobile strategy? Obviously, the answer to that will be very company and industry-specific.

A content provider like newspaper may be able to offer everything easily in a well designed mobile site. The key phrase being well designed. As many newspapers need to learn, a stripped down version of the main site won’t cut it. Use HTML5 to trigger on-device services like multitouch gestures and iOS location services, and the ability to pin your site as an icon on the iPhone or iPad’s homescreen. If your audience uses multiple platforms consider making device and platform-specific versions – iPhone, iPad, Android, Windows Phone and so forth.

Even for other companies that aren’t content providers but whose goal is to simply communicate company information or to interact with company data can get away with a well designed mobile site.

For companies that sell goods and services, a mobile site can be good if you’re just providing information but the capabilities in a native app offer tons more features that you can implement to retain customer interest. A big feature that native apps can excel at is mobile sales, which are a big focus in business today (and will only get bigger). If you go the native app route, also be sure to think about what you can do with available systems like push notifications. Add as much interactive functionality (reservations if you’re a restaurant as a simple example) as possible to as this will make your app something that users will want to keep using on a regular basis.

Also keep in mind your target market or audience. If they’re likely to be split between two or three mobile platforms like iOS, Android, and BlackBerry, you may find developing native apps for all those platforms a big challenge. A mobile site may be worth considering as a stopgap or as a solution for platforms you expect to be used less frequently – create a native iOS app first then possibly an Android app later but leaving BlackBerry and Windows Phone users with a mobile site due to smaller marketshare.

In all honesty, biggest goal is get started – in 2012 businesses that don’t address mobile customers in some fashion are likely to miss out on signifcant opportunities. Like any other strategy, however, it’s important regularly revisit and evaluate the effectiveness of your mobile efforts.



  • FriarNurgle

    A good app or mobile site can have a large impact on if I’ll do business with them. 

  • Sean Robertson

    I honestly think that the answer is a bit of both.  You always need a well designed mobile site regardless of whether you have a native app or not.  The native app should provide a more robust version of the functionality on the mobile site, maybe with some extras, but you at least want to provide the basics on the mobile site regardless because that is how many people will find you and they may not always want or even be able to download the full app right then.  I’ve come across many mobile sites that provide you with somewhat limited functionality along with a notice to get the app for the full experience.  I personally think that’s the best way to go.

  • oifbtdt

    From the iOS Human Interface Guildlines:

    “Web apps. Webpages that provide a focused solution to a
    task and conform to certain display guidelines are known as web apps
    because they behave similarly to iOS apps.”

    Most businesses go this route in getting uses to access their web content on a mobile device.

  • joewaylo

    So 4.9% is undecided?

    I’m sure many prefer the mobile application the most as Apple doesn’t like them very much with TOS stating you can’t do this and that. Google Voice had a throwback the first few attempts before they were allowed in 3.0/4.0’s revised TOS.

  • Anya Shapina

    For companies that sell goods and services a mobile site might be a better solution that allows to avoid Apple’s hefty platform fee, n’est-ce pas?

  • E. McEntire Cowan

    I agree with this. I am very frustrated if/when I find what I need through my mobile browser only to be told to download an app… Yes, maybe later, but for now, can I please transact what I need to do? ;) This article is also completely missing the power of “offline” apps as a result of mobile web sites that allow for caching of content. There is certainly much to consider as far as strategy goes, but rushing down the native app path is definitely not the way to go without first considering the bigger picture and, as Sean says, the fact that lots of traffic will first seek you through mobile browsers before considering an app download.