Mobile websites vs. apps – What fits when?

The advantages of mobile websites and why an app is not always the solution.

Probably everyone has been to a website via smartphone or tablet where he or she thought “This probably should look different”. And what did you do then? Tended not to spend much time on that site, as long as you could get the information you needed from another source. Sometimes it’s not only the content that matters, but also the form. And it must fit: On the desktop, on the tablet and on the smartphone. But do I really need to have my own app for the tablet and smartphone? The magic word: mobile websites.

Responsive Web Design and Apps – That’s the difference

Although mobile websites and apps often look similar at first glance, there are fundamental differences, especially in what we call “acquisition and maintenance”.

Mobile websites

Mobile websites are in theory just like all other websites. The only difference: The fact that they are specially designed for presentation on smaller handheld displays. A website that is only designed for viewing on a laptop, for example, and not for use on a smartphone, will lose its format on a smartphone. Buttons are no longer in the right place, text breaks up incorrectly, pictures slip, content is found in completely wrong places, and so on. No company wants that, but certainly no user. I leave a page that is obviously displayed incorrectly – users are lost.

One way to avoid this format chaos and not to create a separate page for each end device is to use a responsive web page (Responsive Web Design). This adapts itself to the size of the device display and gives the user the information to be displayed cleanly and in an orderly format. As with any other website, images, text, videos and data can be inserted. In addition, smartphone-specific content such as click-to-call actions (you click on the phone number and can trigger a phone call directly from it) can be integrated.

Apps

Compared to a mobile website, an app cannot be used via the browser. To use it, end users must first download it. Depending on the end device, this is done via the associated portal (e.g. Android Market or App Store). Apps often work both online and offline. It depends on whether all content is already available in the app or whether the app requires an Internet connection to update content. Let’s take a notes app: You don’t need an Internet connection to simply enter your points, because you don’t have to load any additional content into the app. However, if you use the app of an online store, it will only work to a limited extent without an Internet connection. Not all items in the store are stored in the app or on your device. So if you want to search for products within the online store, the app must be able to retrieve the relevant information from the Internet.

Advantages of mobile websites

No matter if you have your own app or not – in any case it makes sense to support your own online presence via responsive or mobile websites. In some cases, it may be sufficient to work exclusively with a corresponding website and do without an additional app.

Immediate availability

Once mobile websites are published, they are instantly accessible to users – no matter which smartphone or browser they use. An app only works if it is downloaded and installed.

Compatibility

With a single website you can also address countless users across all end devices. In some cases, apps have to be developed for the various smartphone types or operating systems and “maintained” accordingly.

In addition, a URL is much easier to embed and distribute in other channels than an app, for example via SMS or social media such as Twitter and Facebook.

Actuality

If you adjust content on the website or add new content, it will be found as soon as you have published the changes. Until changes take effect in an app, the corresponding update must be published, communicated to end users and downloaded by them.

Support and operation

When looking at ongoing operations, it is particularly important to keep an eye on the costs of downstream support and operation. Due to the larger “total package” (upgrades, tests, compatibility checks, ongoing further development, adaptations to operating systems), these costs are higher for apps in particular than for responsive or mobile websites.

Auffindbarkeit und Reichweite

Mobile websites are easier for users to find. No matter whether they use a normal computer or a mobile device: Users find their way to you via their search results, even if they haven’t actually searched for you. Because if your content matches the user’s search requirements, your (mobile) website is suggested. If the search query was made on a mobile device, the user is automatically redirected to the mobile version of your website. Content that is provided via an app is not included in search results. In addition: The content of a website or the website itself is much easier for users to share with others than the content of an app.

Sustainability

Our own experience shows: Many apps are installed, but then they are quickly forgotten or deleted. This actually affects around 63% of the apps installed on smartphones. High download rates are therefore only a limited indicator of the success of an app. And: once deleted, the probability that the app will be downloaded again and used again drops significantly. In contrast, a mobile website can be called up again by a user at any time, just as required.

Costs and time required

A mobile website is not only created faster than an app is developed, it is also usually cheaper. Especially if the app has to be developed for multiple platforms or devices (tablet / smartphone) and operating systems.

Conclusion

Whether your own app or a responsive website: It all depends. In the end, the decision whether to have an app or not depends on your customers or users and your use case. If you want to offer an interactive game, an app is most likely the more suitable solution. If you plan to share content on a regular basis and want to achieve the widest possible reach, a good mobile website will make you happier. In still other cases, it may make sense to offer users both the mobile website and an app. Keyword: online stores.

Which is the more suitable solution for your purposes depends on various factors. In the end, your target group should always be in focus. Just ask yourself the following questions: For whom and with what goal? Then you will find the solution by yourself.

Laura, M.Sc., lebt und arbeitet im schönen Hamburg. Nach acht Jahren Kommunikationsarbeit für die Erneuerbare-Energien-Branche ging es 2016 für die Kölnerin in den Norden zu LINK Mobility. Dort verantwortet die Kommunikations-Allrounderin die externe und interne Unternehmenskommunikation der deutschen Niederlassung und unterstützt u.a. in den Bereichen Sales und Business Development.

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