Post by Jeff Bristol, President at Rocket Jones
You know “going mobile” is important for your business. Yeah, old news. But have you taken the leap and “gone mobile” yet?
Yes? No? Maybe?
Trick question. Sorry. “Going mobile” isn’t really a simple yes or no answer anymore. With the variety of web software and mobile options, “going mobile” isn’t simple. To clear up some ambiguities, let’s take a closer look at the difference between mobile responsive web and mobile apps.
What is Mobile Responsive Web?
When I use the term “web,” I’m speaking of websites and other software that you access through a web browser. This could be a web browser on your desktop or laptop computer (Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari, or Chrome) or it could be the web browser built into your smartphone or tablet device. Either way, you’re accessing web content through a browser.
Maybe you’ve heard the term “responsive design” or “responsive development” when speaking with your developer about your company website. Responsive design is the idea of building your website in such a way that it knows the difference between a site visitor viewing your site from their desktop or laptop computer and a site visitor viewing your site from their mobile device. Page layouts that are designed to display nicely on a larger screen are often hard to navigate on smaller devices. Responsive (or adaptive) websites adapt the site to the type of screen used to view the site. You’ve probably experienced visiting a site on your phone that displays the page super small and shows the whole page at one time. If you have to zoom in and out and scroll across the page to read the content, it would be considered an unresponsive site. A responsive site stacks all the content in a nice column and allows you to scroll up and down to view the content more easily.
The responsive Starbucks website viewed in a desktop browser. You can see the full navigation menu across the top in the full sized browser window.
See the same Starbucks website accessed through the browser on a smartphone. Notice how the navigation menu has automatically collapsed and the image is optimized for the narrow screen.
Whether you have a marketing website or other software tools that run on the web (web applications), responsive design is always an important consideration. A growing portion of your customers are accessing your content on mobile devices. There are probably a few cases when responsive design is less important, but these cases are quickly becoming rare. Implementing responsive technologies for your websites and web applications allows your customers and site visitors to navigate your content and tools from any modern browser—mobile, laptop, or desktop.
What is a Mobile App?
In contrast to websites that are built to adapt to smaller screens, mobile apps are software programs developed to run natively on a mobile device. They are downloaded software that runs directly on the device instead of being viewed through a browser. Think Apple iOS or Android for now. Have you downloaded an app from the App Store or the Google Play Store? If so, you’ve used a mobile app. These apps, whether for banking, weather, sharing pictures with your friends, or chasing and capturing virtual critters at City Park, are used to increase productivity or enhance our lives in some way.
There can be some understandable confusion for someone genuinely trying to sort this stuff out. “What about Facebook?” they say. Facebook is an example of a company using both mobile responsive web and mobile apps. You may login to Facebook using the browser on your phone; this is mobile responsive web. You may also use Facebook through an app you downloaded from the App Store on your iPhone—this is a mobile app. In this example, you can see that many popular sites have multiple ways to access content and tools.
Which is Best?
As you might guess, there are pros and cons to consider when thinking about mobile web and mobile apps. Is one best suited for your customers’ needs? Should both be considered to reach the largest audience?
Mobile responsive web often has the advantage of being less expensive to develop. Also, because you are writing code to display in a web browser, you can target a wider range of devices in a single implementation (Apple, Android, Windows Mobile, and Blackberry users can all access a single site or software tool). Another advantage of mobile web for your public website is that you can manage all of your content in one place and deliver it to both desktop and mobile devices (avoiding managing the same content in more than one place).
Mobile apps, on the other hand, have the advantage of a more controlled user experience because you eliminate the need for a browser to render the content. And, mobile apps allow you to take full advantage of device dependent features such as GPS, photos, video, music, push notifications, etc. Leveraging these phone/tablet features in a mobile app allows you to build more rich and engaging experiences for your users. A mobile app can “feel” like part of the phone because it can use the same animations and navigation design. Mobile app projects tend to be more expensive than mobile web because of the required skill and experience for development and because you have to develop a different code base (essentially a completely separate app) for each platform you want to target (Apple, Android, Windows Mobile, etc). There are some options for “hybrid” apps (using the same codebase to deploy to different device platforms) but those have limitations.
Bottom line? The opportunities for growing your business and reaching new and existing customers through mobile technologies are exciting! Mobile content, whether responsive web or native mobile app, allows customers to connect with you at any place and anytime. Your customers will benefit, and your business will grow and prosper.