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Native application, or mobile web?

Mobile applications are trends. Thanks to them, dealing with our daily activities is much easier and therefore we love them. Because of them, we buy and spend more and more often. We are more faithful to those traders who use them to make an access to their goods or services easier for us. However, the use of mobile applications does not make sense in all situations.

In the previous article, I described five cases where it makes sense to have a mobile application. In the today article, you will learn that its creation does not always pay off and what are the determining factors that help you in deciding whether or not to have a mobile application.

Why should I have a mobile app?

Every trader cares about customer retention in order to excel above the competition and offer better services. For that reason, building mobile applications makes sense. It is a convenient tool for retaining customers, satisfying their needs faster and easier and it is always at hand. However, its development is neither cheap nor quick and so many owners of successful businesses and services would welcome a cheaper and faster option. Such an alternative to the mobile application can be found in a mobile website, respectively mobile web  application.

Many traders have no idea about the differences between mobile application and mobile website. In their view, both terms refer to the same thing it's a program that I run on my mobile device and enables me to solve my needs faster and more easily. No wonder, since even a mobile website can have its own icon on the screen of a mobile device and act as an application. The differences, however, are in mobile device functions, which a mobile application can use a larger amount than a mobile website. Functions are therefore the first and essential factor influencing your decision whether to have a mobile application or not.

At this moment, it is time for experts on creating websites and applications. Leaving a decision to a high-quality supplier can save a lot of trouble, including unnecessary and mostly ineffective self-study. Within a short time of a few weeks, a man is simply unable to comprehend the knowledge that is necessary for the correct decision. But in order to achieve at least a basic orientation in the issues and terms your supplier will certainly deluge you with, here are some basic information about the functions of mobile devices. To make it easier, I will focus only on iOS platform. On other devices from other manufacturers, respectively in other systems (Android, Windows), the differences between the mobile application and mobile website are mostly the same and differ only in details.

Differences between mobile app and mobile website

Source: Kevin Nakao and Ryan Kazda from WhitePages

As seen from the table above, a mobile website is an adequate alternative to a mobile application in many situations. Nevertheless, a considerable number of clients come to us with a clear requirement: "We need to develop a mobile application." Their most common reason is that they need to use location data from GPS or play a video, even though both these functions are available in exactly the same functional range also for mobile websites!

So the only clear reason for a mobile application is using of camera, push notifications and fully functioning gyroscope with accelerometer or full offline operation. In these cases, the mobile application is a must and nothing can replace it. An example might include a game that is controlled by moving a mobile device in your hand or an application for easy photo documentation of building a house.

And there is one situation where it is preferable to have a mobile application - and that is power. The mobile website is written in a combination of HTML and JavaScript and a browser must be opened to access it, which creates additional restrictions. Firstly speed - the JavaScript interpreter is not as fast as the OS itself, and secondly the memory size. When processing large amounts of data it can easily come across the border and make the mobile web not react as swiftly (or, in the worst case scenario, not at all) as a native mobile application would.

The situation is a bit more complicated with payments, because it is easier to pay in a mobile application via payments through iTunes than by credit card, and even though Apple charges a fat commission for each payment, it is a known fact that some traders earn more money thanks to applications than they could earn with just a mobile website, sometimes even tens of percent more. Here it is appropriate to mention another factor that will influence your final decision, i.e. financial costs.

How much will a mobile app cost?

When you create a mobile website, you make it only once and for all devices, for all systems it is simply universal. But you make a mobile application in two or three versions and no, the application for iOS cannot be "somehow easily copied" and "kind of adjust to make it work well also on Android." Basically, it has to be started right from the design of structure and gradually integrate the individual specifics of the systems. Taking control of the market with a mobile application is therefore more costly and time consuming than with a mobile website.

As a result, you can lose an important advantage in terms of time to market. Although you may not earn so much in one particular platform with a rapidly built mobile website, you get customers for yourself and your revenues will be greater due to multiple platforms. Or you can also use the principle of so-called hybrid application and wrap finished mobile web, written in HTML5 and JavaScript, using one of the freely available tools (eg. PhoneGap) so that it looks and behaves like an independent mobile application. At present, this process is not yet entirely flawless, but in certain situations it is at least a competitive alternative.

If a majority part of your customers uses one particular mobile platform, e.g. iOS, then it might be interesting to compare the time and financial difficulty of making of a native app and making of a mobile website. From the experience, the mobile website wins in 95% of cases financially because the developers can use ready-made sets of functions and features, and in terms of time thanks to no difficulty to meet all the conditions required in the App Store (each application must go through the approval process before it is placed to the app store). You can run a website whenever you want and you do not have to wait days (and sometimes even weeks) as in the case of mobile apps until an operator of a selected application catalogue assesses them as safe and satisfying all requirements and place them in their offer.

Will my app actually find any users?

This is often a stumbling block for many projects not just mobile applications. It is always necessary to have a balance sheet and preferably a survey whether customers actually want to have your services or goods still available at arm's reach.

Ask an expert on mobile applications how people use them and what decides about whether to install them or not. The answer will probably sound like this: "If a specific application is not used more than three times a week, it moves from the first screen to the second one and possibly to the next ones. In an extreme situation, it may well happen that a user forgets the application and search for the services or products on the Internet again." If you do not have a good plan how to make an application more attractive and get it among the most frequently used ones or the ones that users will remember under all circumstances, then it could be a real problem.

The exact opposite happens if you get your mobile application among the applications recommended by App Store or to the "top ten" list. Then the number of downloads of such application will shoot up by not thousands, but tens or hundreds of thousands. It is also an acknowledgment of its quality and desirability.

What am I supposed to want? Website or app?

The decision always depends on the specific set of functions that your application or website will use on a mobile device. If the possibilities of a mobile website are enough for you, do not take chances with a mobile application at once and first check what interest will be there in your products or services, in a simulation. As your first step, create a mobile website and try various approaches in its control, measure its attendance, focus on what needs your customers deal with and in what way. Then you will have plenty of information that makes your decisions easier.

It may seem that this is money thrown out of the window, because we said that mobile applications have a higher conversion rate, so why to make a mobile website and earn less? But include all the positives, not just the obvious ones, such as lower costs and faster development.

  • A multi-platform mobile website can be run on any mobile device, it does not matter whether the iOS, Android or Windows Phone. This way you hit a considerably larger target group than with one mobile application for a specific platform.
  • You gain experience in creation for mobile devices that can be also used for mobile applications.
  • Design of the structure, control, UX and graphics thanks to a mobile website, you can "lick these parameters into shape" to perfection and it will cost you much less time and money than in an application. And they can be perfectly reused.
  • Collected data about users' behaviour can help you come up with a new simpler and faster ways of solving their needs.
  • A Community, which will be formed of web users, will then not only return the investment, but also gladly and quickly adopt any future mobile application, which will provide sufficient support in the beginning of the life cycle.

Finally, you may find that the mobile website is absolutely sufficient for your customers' needs and that an investment in a mobile application will simply not pay. Do you already know what your decision will be like? Write me about it in the discussion under this article ;). 

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