Approximately half of web traffic worldwide comes from a mobile device. In the first quarter of 2020, mobile devices (excluding tablets) generated 51.92 percent of global website traffic. Since 2017 this number has remained stable around 50 percent; however, with many organizations currently accelerating digital initiatives, moving to digital models of business exclusively, the rollout of 5G, and increasing IoT devices, it’s safe to assume that number will grow exponentially in coming years.
It no longer is a question of whether your company needs a mobile app development strategy – because you undoubtedly do – but whether a mobile app or a responsive mobile website will serve your business better.
At face value, mobile websites and apps can look very similar; however, they are two very different mobile mediums. Deciding which medium serves your needs best depends on several factors, including target audiences, budget, and intent. To make it easier for you to determine where you need to focus your efforts, we’ve broken down how each option impacts the user experience.
Native mobile apps are for specific platforms, like iOS or Android. A user downloads and installs mobile apps on their device, and generally, native apps offer a faster and more responsive experience than mobile websites.
A mobile app allows you to offer your current clients/users value through a new channel for engagement. Rather than looking at the same text and images as a website, apps can integrate features that allow users to interact with the app’s specific components. For example, Instagram users can view images on the website, but can’t upload them without the app.
Mobile apps allow users to set up their preferences as soon as they are downloaded and customize it to suit their needs. Apps can also track user engagement, and use it to offer custom recommendations and updates, making the app more useful to the user. Apps also allow businesses to send tailored communication to users based on their interests, location, usage behavior, and more. According to Business of Apps, sending customized or “dynamic” notifications to users had a positive impact on engagement, open-rate, and conversion rates. Customization allows the user to get the most out of the app. If you are interested in learning how to create an effective user-centric notification strategy, click here.
Mobile apps can run without an internet connection. Although many apps require internet connectivity to perform most of their tasks, they can still offer content and functionality to users while in offline mode. With this advantage, users can access information anytime, anywhere.
Mobile apps generally offer users a more intuitive user interface, making it easy to complete tasks. This unique interface environment enables users to become more immersed in the mobile experience. Users of specific operating systems have also become accustomed to certain functionalities and characteristics, developing an app for particular platforms offers users the functionality they expect. Responsive websites can’t always guarantee a standard of functionality users prefer.
Mobile apps can access and use built-in device features such as the camera, GPS, and location. Leveraging device capabilities leads to an enhanced, more convenient user experience. For example, the ability to automatically use GPS and location data allows retail apps to send users flyers with specials specific to their area.
Responsive mobile websites are websites that can accommodate different screen sizes. Essentially, a responsive website is a customized version of a regular website that is used correctly for mobile.
Unlike mobile apps which only function on specific platforms (iOS or Android), a responsive website can be accessed from any mobile device regardless of the operating system, as long as an internet connection is available. However, it is essential to remember that network access, quality, and speed are all factors that will impact the mobile web experience. Responsive websites also don’t need to be downloaded or installed and are entirely free, unlike some apps available in app stores.
Again, unlike mobile apps, users won’t have to spend time installing new versions and updates of your product to experience improvements on the website. Because websites are easy to update, fix bugs, and support, users most likely won’t notice the update process and will be able to jump right into enjoying an enhanced experience.
Cost-effectiveness is more of a benefit for business rather than an impact on user experience; however, depending on complexity, a responsive mobile site can be more cost-effective than mobile app development. Cost is an essential factor to consider, especially if you want your app to have a presence on more than one platform.
Statistically speaking, the numbers do favor mobile apps. A recent report from Sensor Tower revealed that consumer spending on mobile apps and app installs grew significantly during the first half of 2020, reaching $50.1 billion worldwide across the App Store and Google Play. While this growth was driven by COVID-19 and its impact on user behavior, this figure is up 23.4 percent from the first half of 2019 and set to continue to rise.
The same report also estimated there were 71.5 billion first-time app installs during the first half of 2020. That is an increase of 26.1 percent year-over-year, giving even more incentive for businesses to develop an app service.
However, the right choice depends on your business objectives. If your goal is to offer mobile-friendly content to a wide range of people, then a mobile website is probably the way to go. However, if you want to engage better, interact with, and communicate with your customers to drive customer loyalty, a mobile app presents itself as a better option.
In many cases, you may decide you need both a mobile website and a mobile app. If done correctly, both can be a strategic and valuable choice. So when it comes to your brand’s mobile strategy, it’s not a question of a mobile website or an app, but perhaps a two-pronged approach.