Dedicated App or Mobile Optimized Website?


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Back in the day, simply having a company website was sufficient. This is no longer the case. More and more, if your company’s website is not easily used on a mobile device, you risk losing business. But should you invest in a dedicated app or go for a mobile optimized website? The short answer is: it depends. The longer answer requires an objective evaluation of your company’s client base and finances. Furthermore, the answer could change as your company’s needs and capabilities change.

What Is a Mobile Optimized Website?
Don’t make the mistake of believing that just because your company’s website will load on a mobile device that it is mobile optimized. First and foremost, the formatting may be out of whack, with pages running off the edges of the mobile device screen (a major problem with small mobile phones). Instead, a mobile optimized website is designed especially to run on browsers for mobile devices. Of course, that means ensuring that your company’s website fits on the screens of various mobile devices. It also means ensuring that the website can hook into geolocation APIs to provide directions to your company’s location, phone number links that are dialable and entry fields that are responsive to touch commands.

What Is a Dedicated App?
A dedicated app is a piece of specially designed code intended for use with for mobile devices. It is self contained and is downloaded and installed onto a home screen of the mobile device with an icon to indicate its location. A dedicated app may or may not perform all of the functions of a website. Instead, a dedicated app is designed to perform specific functions, such as reserving a seat at an entertainment or sporting venue.

Phone Memory Usage: Advantage – Mobile Optimized Websites
Each dedicated app immediately and permanently demands a specific amount of a mobile device’s memory. For users whose devices have small memory capacity, downloading apps can use up so much of the device’s memory that functionality is adversely affected. By contrast, mobile optimized websites do not demand space in a phone’s memory, giving them a decided advantage for users who are dealing with storage problems on their mobile devices.

Potential Visibility: Advantage – Mobile Optimized Websites
Dedicated apps are listed in the app catalog for the operating system (OS) for users’ mobile devices. That means potential users must search for your company’s app among hundreds, even thousands of competing apps. Of course, you could increase the visibility of your company’s app by providing download links via social media or email messages – but that adds an extra step to the process. On the other hand, mobile optimized websites can be located via mobile browsers simply by a search of your company’s name.

Cost: Advantage – Mobile Optimized Websites
Developing and maintaining dedicated apps can involve a significant investment. First, different apps must be built for every OS. In some cases, different versions must be created for mobile phones and for tablets. Furthermore, apps must be updated fairly frequently – either in response to user reported bugs or desired features or to allow the app to run under an updated OS. Also, the OS takes a cut from all sales revenue from your company’s all. On the other hand, developing a mobile optimized website, while not free, involves far less investment than the investment associated with a dedicated mobile app.

Native Mobile Device Functions: Advantage – Dedicated Apps
If your company’s clients or customers are frequent visitors to its website, it may be worthwhile to invest in a dedicated app. Likewise; dedicated apps can be used with the native functions of mobile devices such as the camera. Gaming is also naturally suited to a native app environment. By contrast, mobile optimized websites fall short in these areas.

User Experience: Advantage – Dedicated Apps
A well designed dedicated app provides a seamless user experience – allowing your company’s customers or clients to search for products, services, and post payments inside the app. Dedicated apps are also designed for use with native mobile device functions such as GPS and the camera. On the other hand, mobile optimized websites (with HTML5) can perform some of these functions, but not all of them.

Performance: Advantage – Dedicated Apps
If you attempt to get away with a single mobile optimized website, you may wind up with a site that runs poorly on multiple OS or type of mobile devices. In plain English, all mobile devices are not alike. Phone screens are considerably smaller than tablet screens. On the other hand, barring serious bugs, dedicated apps enjoy a significant performance advantage over mobile optimized websites – because they’re designed to run on specific mobile OS.

The Final Decision
As the above sections illustrate, there is no single answer to the question of whether you should build a dedicated app or create a mobile optimized web space for your company. Cost is a major factor. If your company’s budget is limited, a dedicated app may simply be too expensive. However, if your company can afford it, building a dedicated app can provide customers (and potential customers) with a seamless user experience.

Audrey Henderson
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Posted In: Technology

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