Mobile Websites vs. Mobile Applications

At the time of this posting smartphones make up almost a quarter of the total mobile marketshare, and growth is accelerating blindingly.  As smartphones continue to increase in popularity we increasingly receive questions about mobile applications–you’ve probably heard Apple’s trademarked tagline, “There’s an app for that.”  With the popularity of smartphones, the popularity of applications has risen dramatically.  So does your business need a mobile website, or a mobile application?

My initial response is:  if you don’t have a mobile website, you have no business even thinking about a mobile application yet.  Have you ever tried to load a website on your phone that is not optimized for a mobile web browser?  The website may take forever to load (or not at all), and the formatting or navigation may be completely broken.  As a business owner you should always be looking for ways to make it easy to do business with your company.  A mobile website is a pretty inexpensive way to improve accessability for your company.

Remember, your mobile website typically doesn’t have to be a complete translation of your entire website.  For most companies your mobile website can consist of just a few pages of information geared toward an audience on-the-go.  Be sure to provide them with an easy way to find your phone #, directions, and enough information about your company to entice them to contact you immediately or go to your main website to learn more about you when they are at a desktop computer.

If you already have that squared away then you may be considering a mobile application.  In that case my first question to you will be:  how will you monetize it?  Unless you’re a global brand, or you think you may have the next great idea, chances are you don’t need a mobile app.  But perhaps you have an idea for an application you think people will pay for.  The most popular applications tend to be games, social media apps, news and sports apps and location-based apps.  Banking apps are becoming more popular as more people get comfortable with the notion of doing their banking on their cell phones.

If you determine this avenue makes sense you should consider that in order to reach the widest audience you will need to have your application developed for multiple platforms.  Android, iPhone and Blackberry are probably your biggest considerations.  Be aware that when the next cool phone operating system is released, you will need to have it developed for that platform as well, so be sure to also factor those costs into your long-term budget.

In the short-term you will need to budget for enhancements and bug fixing depending on the feedback and reviews you receive once the public starts downloading and using your application.  Even with intensive Beta testing and focus group testing, when you release it to the masses it is highly likely you will come across issues you didn’t anticipate.  Finally, be sure you have the resources ready at launch to quickly respond to issues that will inevitably arise or your customer ratings will suffer and we fickle smart phone users will delete your app and move on!

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