Apps vs Mobile Websites – Which Should You Build?

Scott Morris

Scott Morris

Head of Team Augmentation

With smartphones & tablets being such an integral part of our digital lifestyle, establishing a mobile presence is more important now than ever and has provided an opportunity for businesses to create more meaningful interactions with their users.

Smartphone apps are the most important digital touchpoint, with 80% of people using smartphones to search the internet, and spending 85% of their time on mobiles in apps. With mobile traffic now exceeding that of desktop, there is a whole new field of marketing available for businesses to branch into.

It is said that more than 50% of small business’s will look to create a mobile app in 2017, however, the majority of mobile app usage comes down to a small handful of popular apps that favour the biggest internet players like Facebook and Google, making it difficult for new apps to break through.

So if you, too, are looking to expand to a mobile presence, how do you know whether developing an app, or building a mobile website is the best option?

What is the difference between an App and a Mobile Website?

Before you can evaluate the benefits of a mobile website vs an app, it is important to understand the key differences.

Technology-wise, a mobile website is more or less the same as a desktop website, but is optimised for mobile. It is designed for a small, handheld display and touch-friendly interface.

Unlike mobile sites, apps are downloaded and installed onto your device, and can be designed to be useable when offline.

Responsive web design has become the new standard for websites. Responsive websites can be scaled to any device size, and have all the same features no matter the device size.

However, a mobile experience cannot be treated the same as a desktop. Smaller screens mean you must focus on what is important and include a touch-friendly interface.

Here’s a quick feature comparison:


Instantly available

Requires downloading
Compatible across devicesRequires separate version for each operating system
Can be updated instantlyUpdates must be pushed to the users
Can be found easily in search results & directoriesVisibility restricted to manufacturer’s app stores as well as location
Can be shared easily via URLApps cannot be shared this same way
Always available and doesn’t take up space on deviceApps are easily deleted from phone – 80-90% of apps are used once then eventually deleted
Generally cheaper to developMany hidden costs when developing an app
Easy to set up – only require domain and hostingHave to be submitted to App stores, may still require hosting
Has no push notificationsCan send messages to subscribers

No offline access

Many apps can be accessed offline

Can be slower to load

Native apps are faster than mobile sites

Choosing the right tool for the job all depends on your goals and your target market.

What are your goals?

Websites are a lot more dynamic than apps, and if your goal is to offer broad, mobile friendly content to the widest possible audience, which can be found on search engines, easily maintained and shared between users, then a website is best.

However, if your goal is to provide a user experience that brings value to day to day life or you need access to a user’s phone storage and native functions, then an app will be required.

Apps require a detailed marketing plan before you build them. Ask questions such as:

  • Is mobile your core differentiation from your competition?
  • Do you need to deliver information in real time?
  • Do you need access to features native to your phone like notifications, camera or sensor info?
  • Do you need location-based or navigational elements?

Apps become reflections of our lifestyles and have to provide ongoing value for users. Assuming that, just because people buy it doesn’t mean they will come back to use it.

Only 16% of users will try an app more than twice and around 80-90% of apps are used once and then eventually deleted by users. Additionally, not everyone downloads apps, and user acquisition is harder than ever in a crowded ecosystem.

A mobile website can be an easy first step to consider when establishing a mobile presence, whereas an app is useful for developing an application for a very specific purpose that cannot be effectively accomplished by a mobile website.

Contact us now to discuss your mobile strategy.

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