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Is a mobile app better than a mobile website?

Mobile website vs. mobile app can be a heated debate.

Many people feel that you don’t need a mobile app, you just need a website that looks good on mobile devices. Others say that mobile apps have benefits that a website cannot provide. Who is right?

Everyone needs a responsive website that looks great on mobile. It’s not really that hard to get a responsive website, and there are no downsides.

People are going to view your website on their devices, and you need to support that. It’s obvious that you need a responsive website, but do you also need a mobile app? Is a mobile app better than your mobile website?

Let’s look at whether a mobile app or a mobile website is better for your business.

Mobile website pros and cons

A mobile website is usually not a separate website, it’s a responsive design that works for all screen sizes. Mobile visitors should be able to access most of the content you have on your full website, but in a way that is optimized for smaller screens.

I believe everyone should have a mobile website, so these pros/cons are really just for comparison to a mobile app.

Pros

  • Inexpensive – usually included in the price of designing your website
  • Works on all devices – you don’t need a separate site for iOS/Android
  • Easy to setup – no submitting to app stores, you just need a domain and hosting

Cons

  • No push notifications
  • No offline access
  • No app store presence
  • Poor design can cause problems like:
    • Performance issues
    • Cluttered design
    • Poor usability

Well designed mobile websites can be a huge business asset. Since almost 1/3 of internet traffic is mobile, it’s obvious you need one.

They are inexpensive to setup, available on all devices, and easy to maintain and update.

Where mobile websites fail

I’ve visited one too many websites on my phone that were poorly optimized for mobile, and made me immediately go elsewhere. Some mobile sites can be cluttered with ads, popups, and content you don’t need to see on mobile.

Mobile websites can also be over-optimized, trying to make it look and feel like a native app. This usually makes things worse, with choppy animations and over-designed layouts. There are lots of funny examples of people screwing up their mobile websites on the WTF mobile site.

Even big companies with plenty of resources are guilty of this. Click the image below on the left and you’ll see a site covered in so much crap it’s hard to even read the content. Perhaps worse is a site that is not responsive, so the text is unreadable on a phone, and they even have the nerve to show me a popup!

A well designed mobile site can take care of many of these problems, but it still can’t do things a mobile app can do. You’ll see the images of a mobile app above on the right, where the content can use up 90% of the screen, making for a much nicer experience.

Let’s take a look at the advantages and disadvantages of a mobile app.

Mobile app pros and cons

Mobile apps can do things websites can’t, like push notifications and offline access, but they also have cons. They aren’t necessary for some people, for example if you are a casual mommy blogger you probably don’t need an app. However, many businesses can benefit from one, let’s look at the pros and cons.

Pros

  • Push notifications – send text messages to your subscribers
  • Offline access – read articles, listen to podcasts, or browse a product catalog while on an airplane
  • Great performance – a well designed app can be faster than a website
  • Less cluttered – this depends on the website design, but apps tend to have less stuff
  • Get on the app stores – it’s another way to get in front of your customers, you also get a button on their homescreen

Cons

  • Extra expense – while some apps are affordable ($49/mo for example) it’s still another cost
  • Extra setup – you have to setup the app and submit to the app stores

Mobile apps can help your audience get to your content faster, and keep them engaged better. Sending push notifications is a huge advantage, whether you are publishing articles or selling products.

Apps are better for accessing content offline, such as listening to audio or reading an article on an airplane.

They can cost extra time and money, and not all businesses are prepared for that.

The winner

The winner depends on your business. For the casual blogger, the mobile website wins. For a company like Instagram, the mobile app wins.

For many businesses, the winner is a combination of both. A two-pronged mobile strategy can leverage both a mobile site and an app for maximum distribution of your content.

One example would be an online store. Why not let visitors purchase through your website, as well as an app? Churches can use an app to release updated sermon notes before the service, and recorded audio/video afterwards. Restaurants can offer updated menus, directions, and online ordering. Magazines can send push notifications when new articles are published.

Instead of one or the other, consider incorporating both into your mobile strategy.

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22 thoughts on “Is a mobile app better than a mobile website?

  1. If a company can benefit their client base from native phone function then an app is a no brainier.
    Responsive web design can make all user experiences valuable and SMS apps on websites can mimic push. For our development it comes down to native functions.

  2. Hi!

    On the feature that website cannot have offline access, please have a look on this link:

    http://hood.ie/

    It will give you updated information about possibility to bring a website with offline access on mobile devices. Their understanding is “Offline First” and they are working hard to bring the necessary technology to make it work better and better.

    It is a great option to explore.

    Cheers.

  3. While considering from a developers point of view, Mobile/Tablet Apps are beneficial if you are developing it for a very specific purpose that cannot be effectively accomplished via a web browser. A mobile/responsive website will be the right choice if your goal is to offer mobile-friendly content to the widest possible audience.

  4. Hello! I really learned a lot from this post. I was actually deciding whether to get a responsive or mobile website. I’ve read it from here that both of them http://www.lionleaf.com/blog/responsive-design-or-a-dedicated-mobile-website-which-is-better/ are definitely helpful. And I agree to you that whatever you choose should depend on the kind of website that you are creating. If it’s just more about blogs, what should I choose?

    Thank you in advance!
    Oliver

  5. Hi!

    A number of other pretty big cons for mobile apps:
    – no SEO (appstore SEO is just terrible)
    – content hard to share
    – extra user time/cost of downloading the app, when you probably lose plenty of users in the process
    – update process takes a lot of time, not very responsive to user feedback / bugs (2 weeks updates on Apple store)

    I think down the line when browser are more responsive, apps will be reserved to heavy duty such as playing music, video etc. Just like on desktops!

  6. In my personal opinion, it is good for the company to have an app but as a user it is nightmare. To access anything you have to install it. how many app a person can install? A common platform like browser enables user to just use an app without installing anything. I feel the problem is browser available right now needs lot of improvement and should provide more support for mobile devices. I hope browsers improve to have seamless experience in all device.

    1. As a user I do agree with Pijush vehemently. Apps take a lot of storage, need permissions, drain battery life. And then I don’t even considir the whole administrative side of things: installing and uninstalling apps and keeping track of what you have installed. Another drawback of apps is that they get outdated all the time, whereas with websites you always get served the latest version.

      So to the user the advantages of apps are often non-existent, except in rare cases. Often I feel like apps are forced down your throat: they are not made attractive in themselves, but the mobile websites are limited in functionality. For instance, a postal service advertizes their app ‘with push notification’ which will alert you when your package has been delivered. I would think that it would be just as easy for them to send you an email or a whatsapp message via their website. Don’t underestimate the irritation factor if your user has to install yet another app.

  7. Mobile apps are doing good but i personally feel that corporate should maintain a mobile website too as without a website they will loose lot of traffic from search engines.

  8. Apps are specially made for the mobile users so experience of mobile users are better on apps but they first they have to download it.

    Mobile sites can be used without any downloading and it gives you traffic from search engine also which apps lack.

  9. Thanks for sharing your fair thoughts! Very well said, I agree that mobile sites has a lot of useless ads and popups which annoyed me always. Though mobile website helps when it comes to SEO but for usability, i don’t think so. Mobile apps so far is good , it is fast and easy to use but it is quite expensive.

  10. As long as mobile remains a relatively new frontier, the “app vs web” question will remain a very real consideration for organizations seeking to establish a mobile presence. If your mobile goals are primarily marketing-driven, or if your aim is to deliver content and establish a broad mobile presence that can be easily shared between users and found on search engines, then the a mobile website is the logical choice. On the other hand, if your goal is interactive engagement with users, or to provide an application that needs to work more like a computer program than a website, then an app is probably going to be required.

  11. When it comes to deciding whether to build a native app or a mobile website, the most appropriate choice really depends on your end goals. If you are developing an interactive game an app is probably going to be your best option. But if your goal is to offer mobile-friendly content to the widest possible audience then a mobile website is probably the way to go. In some cases you may decide you need both a mobile website and a mobile app, but it’s pretty safe to say that it rarely makes sense to build an app without already having a mobile website in place.

  12. That’s interesting what you mention about how a mobile app can get my audience to my content faster, while also keeping them engaged better. What is it about mobile apps that keeps the audience more engaged? This information will be really useful for me if I ever have to choose between a mobile website or mobile app. Thanks!

  13. I don’t think mobile apps are better than website if you have local business. I don’t like the idea of businesses closing websites to start an app. It’s a lose

  14. I believe this demonstrates that consumers indeed want the simplicity and focus that apps provide , rather than the variety and diffusion inherent in websites.

    Thanks for sharing this post.

  15. A very interest blog post – Mobile marketing is here to stay and is only growing. The most appropriate choice really depends on your end goals as well as your target audience. A mobile website should come first in most cases, with the app complimenting or being an addition to the website. Apps help you build a user experience and encourages engagement. Remember that a mobile/responsive website and a native app are not necessarily mutually exclusive.

  16. such a nice article you post and tell the differences between mobile app and mobile website, and i get a lots of information with your article. such a nice post, thanks for sharing!

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