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Native App vs Mobile Website

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You probably know if your business needs a mobile-compatible component to offer your users.  Chances are, you’re wondering what shape the mobile component should take- a website or an app?  The content below is intended to serve as a cursory guideline to help you assess which option may be best for you.

Mobile websites have all the capabilities of a desktop website but are appropriately scaled to fit a smaller screen for better mobile usability.  Mobile websites also offer a few mobile-specific features like click-to-call phone numbers and location based mapping.

Advantages:

  • Quicker– don’t have to download software from an app store to use
  • Cross-device compatibility—no need to design & develop multiple versions of it for different devices as you would with a native app.  A mobile website will reach a much larger audience than a native app would, since it only requires a browser to access.
  • More dynamic, so easier to update– native apps require users to download updates, whereas with a mobile website you can push updates live immediately.  Also, native apps must be developed separately for various devices (one app for iPhone,one for blackberry, one for droid) which means you have to make the update on each platform.
  • Search engine friendly– mobile websites are easier to find; they’re indexed by search engines just like any other website.  That means a mobile site may make you more readily visible to those searching via a keyword phrase. Native apps are not index-able by search engines.
  • Cost effective– mobile websites are quicker and easier to design & build. Chances are that a mobile site will remain “relevant” for a longer time than a native app, which often experience short shelf-lives– this means a mobile site could mean a smarter investment on your part.
  • Less potential for error– mobile websites are coded out relatively simply, which reduces the potential for error and malfunction when compared to the robust development often involved on the back end of a native app.

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Native Apps must be downloaded from the App Store the corresponds with your particular mobile device- the Apple App Store, the Blackberry Marketplace, or the Droid Market.  They generally offer some more complex functionality like the kind a web application might need.

Advantages:
A native app offers the following capabilities that a mobile website does not: camera integration, push notification integration, SMS integration.

So when is it a good idea to create a native app?

  • Games- when your primary goal or function is highly interactive, as with a game, a native app is a better solution.  The popular Words With Friends app is a quintessential example of a game that functions infinitely better as a native app, in my opinion.
  • Commerce– more and more e-commerce companies are opting for native apps because they are making use of SMS integration to encourage social sharing.  The Rue La La app comes to mind as an example of a commerce-based native app that utilizes SMS messaging- click the share button on an item detail page, and choose to share via email, facebook, or SMS. Messages that appear directly on users’ device dashboard utilize push notifications, a native app capability  (location-based reminders, time-based reminders, or interactive pop-ups that often serve as CTA’s.)   Facebook has also been testing the integration of SMS messaging into their native app.
  • Advanced Data Tracking/Analysis– if you need to collect and manipulate data in a complex manner, or use it to create charts and graphs, a native app makes more sense for you. Our client, My Rewards Tree, is an example of a data-packed native app; the Mint.com native app features complex data graphs.
  • Camera– if you plan to incorporate a camera as part of your functionality, this is a feature provided only via a native app. Many AR (Augmented Reality) apps rely on cameras for their functionality; for example, the RayBans Never Hide App uses device camera to let users virtually try on sunglasses.  Another example is the new 3M Post-it PopNotes app that allows users to create and post virtual sticky notes in various locations that others with the app can access.

Author Alex Stetson

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