Apps Vs Mobile Websites

January 18, 2013 by Eamonn Healy

During the Christmas holidays I got to spend some quality time with my friends and family, and while I do enjoy spending time with my folks there always seems to be at least one relative that wants to talk business. It is one of the perils of working in the technology sector, people seem to think you know everything about computers, websites and the internet. On one particular occasion I was being asked about mobile websites versus apps.

My brother who runs a small restaurant was asking me about upgrading his website and the conversation quickly turned to mobile presence to which he said

‘Can you make me an app for that?’

I began to try and talk to him about developing a mobile site as he began fishing in his pocket for his smartphone, ready to show me some of the apps that he loved so much. This got me thinking, what is the best way to explain to someone in business who is not perhaps savvy with the subtle differences between mobile website and app, just how to choose between them.

In my brothers case I decided firmly that he needed a mobile website over an app, but why? Well let me try to explain my point of view.

Cost and development:

Building an app is not a one size fits all solution. With iOS, multiple versions of android, and Windows mobile operating systems, an app would have to be tailored to suit each different one. All this development takes time and time is money, not just the developers time but also time is lost when you could already have a mobile presence established.

Search engine visibility:

Google is by far and away the most popular search engine worldwide. According to statcounter.com 97% of smartphone owners use Google as their search engine. If we look at the results that Google return in a search, do they list apps in their top ten search results? No, Google lists websites. Having a mobile site over an app greatly increases your reach and visibility to potential customers, the mobile website is about getting noticed and building your brand and engaging with customers. Once customers establish a relationship with your brand it is then that they might look for an app to regularly engage with the business.

Effort and maintenance:

Once the app is developed the cost and effort to maintain it across multiple different platforms is going to be much greater than the cost and effort required to maintain a single mobile site. As new devices and new operating systems are launched the app would have to be constantly developed and maintained to ensure it is fully accessible across multiple environments. A mobile website is not without maintenance and ongoing development costs, however, this is a fraction in comparison to multiple app versions. A mobile website can be updated and new content added at a fraction of the cost an effort compared to an app.

So in conclusion, I managed to talk my brother out of going down the route of developing an app and now he has a fully functioning mobile website. I’m guessing if he had gone down the app route, that he would still be in development at this stage, and have already spent considerably more money too. Apps do have a place but business needs to understand where and when, the starting point should always be a mobile website.

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