Every day, we’re introduced to new mobile apps. We get to see the ones highlighted in the app store and hear about the cool new app our friends talk about on social media.
Take a guess as to the number of mobile apps that were downloaded globally in 2013. Try 102 billion, according to research by Gartner. Long story short: the app market is crowded.
Mobile apps are designed to run on a specific mobile device – download and installation required. With mobile websites, there’s no download or installation required.
As consumers spend more time on their smartphones and tablets to surf the Web, download apps, play games and stream movies, app creators must determine how to best create richer and more functional experiences across an ever-growing number of device platforms. The wrong choice can result in considerable extra expense, or in users being dissatisfied with poor quality and lack-luster performance.
Instead of creating a mobile app, another option is to build mobile websites built off of HTML5, which gives designers an easier way to make web-based features that can easily be updated without having to make updates to the actual mobile apps.
A number of notable companies have gone down the HTML5 road, like The Guardian and the Financial Times. When the FT announced that it would switch from the app store to HTML5, Graham Hinchly, engineering manager from Financial Times Labs, listed two reasons. In an interview with the International News Media Association, Hinchly said that a determining factor for the switch to HTML5 was to “maintain a direct relationship with (FT) customers.” Hinchly also said “HTML5 makes the development of apps for an increasing range of new tablet and smartphone devices easier and quicker.” What are the net results from switching to HTML5 for the FT? Hinchly says that the media outlet is seeing a 14 percent increase in digital subscribers.
Other companies that are also redoing their websites to be more mobile friendly are Nike and Walmart. In August 2014, Walmart unveiled a new website that enhances the overall user experience with more in-depth product pages, and an improved personalized search engine. Built by Walmart’s R&D team Walmart Labs, the new website was done in response to new shoppers habits of purchases via mobile devices.
Before making a decision, small business owners face several criteria that should be considered. Here are five areas to think about when deciding between a mobile app or a mobile website:
- Creating a mobile app means that you need to create a different version for the iPhone, BlackBerry, Android, etc. With a mobile website, there’s only one common platform: the browser.
- Most mobile apps don’t achieve critical success and fade into the world of anonymity. Not to mention, with mobile apps, you’ll need a very well-defined strategy to break into the top list for your category in order to make it, which often includes paid media spend. However, with mobile websites, people can find your site by using any of the search engines and via links from other websites, blogs, Twitter and links embedded in emails.
- Distribution & Market Size. Whether it’s Google or Apple, the apps are at the mercy of the App Store police in regards to availability and approvals to get it in. From there, obviously the ultimate objective is to get users to download the app. With a mobile website, anyone on the web has access to your mobile site.
- Entry Costs. Some App Stores charge extra fees for publishing or certifying your app (Apple charges developers $99 and enterprises $299, RIM charges $200). With mobile websites, there are no entry costs because there is no App Store to deal with.
- SEO Are your users going to their respective app stores to search for the product or service your business is selling? Very likely they are not, but instead turning to search engines like Google. With a mobile app, you’re losing out on that traffic.
There are some cases where a mobile app makes more sense as for example: businesses that have a very large and dedicated user base (e.g. Facebook, Google Maps) or solutions that requires special capabilities of the mobile device that are not accessible through the web (e.g. gaming).
But in the majority of the cases, small businesses will gain more from going through the mobile web route. The development costs will be lower, the potential market size will be bigger and it will be much easier for people to find your site by using any search engine.