Mobile app use has increased across every age group since 2015, but audience growth is still being driven by mobile websites. Here’s what each platform can (and can’t) do for your business.
When you pick up your smartphone, what do you tap first?
If you’re biding time on your commute, you might gravitate to social media apps such as Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter, which automatically show your timeline.
If you’re looking for the answer to a specific question – “Where’s the nearest coffee shop?” or “What time does the gym close?” – you’ll probably pull up Safari or Chrome and perform a search.
These two actions – clicking on your Facebook app or opening your internet browser to search for Facebook.com – bring us two entirely different mobile web experiences.
This article walks you through 5 key differences between a mobile app and mobile website.
Use these observations to decide whether to invest in a mobile website, mobile app, or both for your business.
What’s the Difference Between a Mobile App and a Mobile Website?
Smartphone users access both mobile apps and mobile websites from a mobile device.
A mobile app is a software application that is downloaded from an app store. Once an app is downloaded, you can use it whenever you want – both on or offline.
Mobile websites are HTML pages that you access through an internet connection such as WiFi, 3G, or 4G networks.
Today, websites can be responsive, meaning they scale to fit your device's screen, or websites can be mobile-friendly, meaning the entire site fits the screen.
Should You Have a Mobile App, a Mobile Website, or Both?
On the surface, mobiles apps and mobile websites serve a similar purpose: reaching customers via mobile devices. But, determining whether to invest in a mobile app, a mobile website, or both depends on 5 factors:
- Mobile websites are easy to access
- Mobile apps attract loyal customers
- Mobile websites are easy to update
- Mobile apps are costly to develop and maintain
- Mobile apps can be customized for different user interactions
1. Mobile Websites Are Easy to Access
Mobile websites provide a user with instant access to information across all devices. To find an answer, all they need is internet access.
Mobile apps require a user to find and download the right app.
Mobile websites appeal to users who:
- Needs a quick answer (“Where’s the nearest restaurant?)
- Are looking up a site for a quick, one-time use (finding the correct address)
2. Mobile Apps Attract Loyal Customers
Mobile apps attract loyal customers who use the app repeatedly. In fact, once a user downloads an app, they spend about 20 times more time using the app than visiting a mobile website.
For example, Instagram has over 500 million daily active users who use the app repeatedly to scroll through pictures, comment and favorite photos they like, and share their own.
Loyalty to a mobile app shows dedication to the brand or product: Customers get so hooked your service that they need the app on their phone for ease of access.
So, if you’re debating whether to create a mobile website, mobile app, or both, it depends on what type of customer you’re looking for. The bottom line: Websites attract customers but apps retain them.
3. Mobile Websites Are Easy to Update
Mobile sites can be upgraded and changed instantly. Responsive website design allows your site to scale down to the size of the device used to access it.
4. Mobile Apps Are Costly to Develop and Maintain
Mobile apps can be costly to develop and maintain. The cost to build a mobile app varies based on the app’s complexity and features.
For example, while 70% of mobile app developers say integrating push notifications cost less than $5,000, 30% say it costs between $5,000 and $100,000.
Maintaining a mobile app over time also costs money. More than 70% of app developers say it’s $5,000 or more to maintain an app over one year.
For your app to get to the customer, you have to work with app stores, which takes time and requires approval from Google or Apple.
You may have to pay those marketplaces up to a 30% cut of download revenue. And, let’s face it, there are a lot of apps out there. As of March 2017, there were over 2 million apps available in the iTunes store, and close to 2.8 million on Google Play).
5. Mobile Apps Can Be Customized for Different User Interactions
Design is key when trying to appeal to a new customer or retain an old one.
Mobile apps allow your business to customize how users interact with your product or service on a mobile device.
For example, you can allow users to scroll, tap, press, drag, and receive push notifications.
The app user above enabled Instagram to access location, photos, microphone, camera, and notifications
Businesses Benefit From Responsive Mobile Websites and Apps
Now that you understand the difference between mobile websites and apps, weigh the pros and cons to see which option is best for you.
If you have a new product or service, consider starting with a mobile website.
If you have an established base of loyal customers, consider creating a mobile app.
The bottom line: A successful business can benefit from having both a mobile website and an app.
If you want to maximize your marketing potential and engage as many consumers as possible, it’s best to get your company in the app store and create a responsive website for mobile.