Right now there is a conundrum facing many companies that are trying to reach customers on mobile devices. Do I develop a native application for the device –which really means developing several native applications in order to connect with users of iPhones, Andriods, and Blackberries? Or, do I develop a mobile Web site accessible through various mobile browsers? Perhaps you should do both. Yet if you have limited resources, like most of us, you’ll need to make some choices. What is the best investment? That all depends on your business goals, who you need to reach, and ultimately who you believe will control the world mobile devices.
- Easier to monetize (this is the most important reason):
- People are more willing to pay for something tangible, such as a new app, than they are to access a Web site.
- Apple iTunes, Google Andriod Market, Amazon Andriod App Store have created a market for buying and selling apps.
- Apps can garner additional revenue from advertising placements within the app.
- In app purchases offer new ways to generate revenue by allowing users to buy added features, upgrades, virtual products from within the app.
- Better UX: With a few exceptions, the user-experience for native apps is better than most mobile webs; Many mobile sites are mostly crap.
- Better integration with device capabilities: If you are creating features that are tightly integrated with the device (i.e., GPS, accelerometer, compass, camera, address book, calendar), then an app may be a better choice. Though, I should note that Safari already has integrated support for their accelerometer and gyroscope.
- Better performance: Native apps run faster -usually. This is especially true for highly complex and interactive applications.
- Some apps need to be native: Apps which are extremely complex and highly interactive, e.g. games like Super Monkey Ball, are best developed for native platforms (see #4 above).
Why I believe the mobile Web should win:
- Access to 100% of smartphone users: With a mobile Web site, you have the potential to reach 100% of smartphone users, on every platform. Your iPhone app will only reach about 7% of the total mobile market.
- Standards-driven platform: It’s easier and more efficient to build for a single, standards-based platform (such as HTML5); sure, you’ll still need some code to translate the experience across multiple devices, but writing that code will be easier than developing multiple native apps. For more on mobile Web standards see WC3 and WURFL.
- Easier to maintain, support and upgrade: A mobile web site will be easier to maintain, support and upgrade compared with separate apps for several platforms; again, you can use one set of rules to adapt code so it works across all devices. Plus, you can release updates as often as you want.
- Improved results for mobile advertising: For any online ad campaign to work, you need to have a great “post-click” experience. It’s no different for mobile. Where will your mobile ad take you? A well-designed mobile landing page will likely be your best bet.
- Better UX is within our grasp: Some mobile web sites already offer an excellent user experience. As companies direct more resources, innovation, and focus on mobile customers, mobile UX will improve greatly. Here are a few great examples of mobile Web sites: m.google.com, m.facebook.com, m.mailchimp.com, Amazon. For additional mobile design inspiration, check out these well-design pages courtesy of Designmodo.
- No gatekeeper: Anyone can get to your mobile site; unlike creating app, you are not at the mercy of someone else (e.g., Apple, Google) who controls entry into the app store.
- No revenue-sharing is required: App stores demand some pretty significant revenue-sharing agreements, before they’ll agree to accept your app. Not so with a mobile Web site –you keep control over your entire revenue stream.
- Better for search and SEO: Unlike an app, mobile Web pages can be crawled and indexed by search engines. This is important so users can discover your content through searches on relevant keywords. In addition, other sites can link to your mobile Web site content, which will improve your search rankings (as long as your mobile site and main Web site are hosted at the same domain).
- You just don’t need an app: Assuming you’re not creating a graphics-intensive game or building features around tightly integrated capabilities of the device, a mobile site is going to be just fine.
In the end, you need to be clear on what audience you want to reach and how quickly.
If you already have a large number of customers who expect to access your services from their mobile device, you may opt to develop apps for multiple platforms and a mobile site. Otherwise, set your priorities, consider the issues noted above, and think about where we are headed. I believe mobile Web sites and hybrid apps (skinned browsers) will beat out the App universe –except in the case of games and certain business apps. Why? For the reasons I mention above, plus just take a look at how SaaS products continue to erode the sales of many desktop applications.