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Responsive Design vs Mobile Websites vs Mobile Apps

March 7th, 2013 by Troy Newport


My goodness technology moves fast!  Only 2 years ago I was blogging about the difference between mobile websites and mobile apps.  Today responsive design is adding a whole new consideration for your website project.   Many aren’t sure of the differences between these mobile approaches to marketing.  Before you can choose the type of mobile experience you want to build, you need to consider your audience.  If they are viewing your website on a mobile phone, do they want the same experience and information you offer on your main website?  Chances are they are accessing your mobile website for a completely different reason than they would your main website. 

For example, your website may contain a lot of content  the average visitor wouldn’t want to try to consume on a mobile device.  In that case you may want to consider having a small mobile website that provides the most pertinent information about your business, the easiest ways to reach you, and then provide a link to your main website.  Or your typical visitor may want to be able to interact with your company and save account information on their mobile device.  In that case you may want to think about a mobile app. 

Once you have assessed how mobile visitors will want to interact with you, here are a few things to keep in mind:

Responsive Design
This is a newer approach to web design where your website will sort of “morph” to fit the devices accessing it.  In other words, your main website (and all its content) will be optimized for viewing on desktops, tablets and mobile phones.  Depending on the nature of your website it can be tricky to make it responsive and may add a lot of additional development time.  This option may not be viable for websites using some ecommerce or content management frameworks.  But when responsive design is indicated and it’s pulled off correctly, it can be a great asset to your users.

An example of responsive design: www.bostonglobe.com
(view on your desktop, tablet and mobile phone to see how the website re-sizes itself)


Mobile Website
This approach works well when your audience needs an abbreviated version of your website, and is most likely accessing it on-the-go.  When your website detects someone is accessing it with a mobile phone, it automatically serves the visitor with a separate mobile website.  The website is usually found on a sub-domain (e.g., m.webaddress.com), in a folder of the main website (e.g., webaddress.com/mobile) or on a separate URL (e.g., webaddress.mobi).  You typically want to give visitors the option to view your main website if they choose.

An example of a mobile website: http://m.cnn.com


Mobile App

A mobile app is developed for mobile phone platforms like iPhone and Android, and must be downloaded onto the phone from an app store.  Mobile apps have capabilities that mobile websites don’t, so there can be advantages to using a mobile app if you need to interact with your visitors in a unique way that can’t be accomplished easily (or at all) with a mobile site.  Because there are many different mobile phones with various operating systems, mobile apps can be very expensive to develop and maintain.  Every time a new operating system is released (which happens often–this is technology we’re talking about here!) you will need to update your app.  An ongoing budget will also be required for bug fixing.

An example of an app: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.cnn.mobile.android.phone

 

So remember:  consider your audience and how they are interacting with you; consider the technologies you need; and then choose the right strategy for your mobile properties.  Your visitors will love you for it!

 

 

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