our words.

Someone always has something insightful to say.

Adam Kleinberg

Mobile App or Mobile Web?

by Adam Kleinberg

Mobile App or Mobile Web?

Many brands are confused about their mobile strategy. They ought to be. The landscape is confusing, rapidly changing and obscured by the promises of scores of vendors trying to sell you magic bullets.

There's no denying, however, that at the core of your mobile strategy is your presence. So, let's tackle that.

Mobile app or mobile site. Is that the question?

I have been asked on numerous occasions by marketers whether they should be focused on a building an app or a mobile site. 

Before I give you the answer, let's take a look at the pros and cons of each.

Pros and Cons of Apps

The average user only interacts with about a dozen apps on their mobile phone or tablet on a regular basis. In order to be one of those apps, a brand must provide substantial value to their customers. 

In exchange for providing that value, brands may receive the fantastic reward of a platform for one-to-one communication with a delighted customer who has raised their hand and said, "let's hang out." That's some big reward when you consider the battle that most brands face trying to simply gain customers' attention in a cluttered media landscape.

So, if you create value, you get value in return. Big thumbs up.

Apps also have a lot of drawbacks. 

They are walled gardens—meaning that the content within them is not discoverable. Google searches can't drive traffic to their content (and 80+% of web browsing sessions begin with a search). Oops. Shared content from Facebook, Twitter or email can't drive traffic to their content (and 80+% of purchase decisions are influenced by word of mouth). Oops.

Getting customers to download them is also a major hurdle. Brands need to get users to the App Store, get them to their app page, get them to select download, get them to open the app, get them to use the app, get them to upgrade the app. 

Would the money spent getting people to pay for all these get-them-to's be better spent just getting people to directly buy your stuff?  Maybe.

And once they download it, are they going to open it. A cursory glance at my iPhone shows me that I have apps from AAA, Shutterfly, Jiffy Lube, Office Depot, Nike, Zippo, Red Bull and Epicurious that I haven't touched for at least six months. That's a lot of effort for a connection I ignore.

Finally, you'll need to develop for iOS, Android, Windows for Mobile and maybe Blackberry too.

Pros and Cons of Mobile Websites

What about your mobile site? 

With HTML5, a great deal of the functionality from most apps could be mimicked right in a browser. That means apps no longer hold an exclusive on rich experiences.

And the discoverability drawbacks in terms of searching and sharing disappear when we shift to the mobile browser.

So do cross-platform development costs. A browser reads markup regardless of if it's on an iPhone or an Android device. Not only that, but as you evolve your platform, you don't have to wait for the user to download an update before your changes get implemented as you do with an app.

Ignoring your presence in a web browser today is not an option.

Of course there are drawbacks too. Performance tends to be slower (sometimes). And brands don't have the sustained platform presence on your device—and we've already discussed the value of that.

The Pros and the pros

The "Pros" from the most advanced digital companies recognize this. They are developing digital strategies to mitigate the shortfalls and take advantage of the "pros" of each platform—the App and the mobile web. And they are taking steps to do this efficiently.

Take LinkedIn. I regularly access both their app (by clicking on its icon on my desktop) and their mobile site (by clicking on links in emails and such) on my iPhone several times per week. My experience is seamless. There are subtle differences in the UI, but they are subtle. For the most part, once I launch I'm unaware if I'm using the app or the mobile site.

Take a look:

Other than the browser bar and the shape of the search box, these pages are identical (the first one is the app, the second the mobile site).

Same goes for Twitter:

Again, the user interface and even the graphic design is almost identical—with slight modifications for the capabilities of the delivery mechanism (i.e. on the mobile web, version, the nav icons are at the top so that they never scroll off the page). 

While the look and feel is not 100% consistent on every page, the trend is toward convergence. Facebook has a similar pattern.

This is not only smart from a user perspective, it is efficient. Strategy, interface design and visual design only have to be done once and then slightly modified—instead of being treated as completely unique products.

This is also a smart strategy because it:

1) allows for the discoverability and share-ability of the web, while

2) allowing for the connected platform nature of an app.

Both LinkedIn and Twitter understand that second part as is reflected in the first-time user experience on both app and mobile site as shown below.

While one is driving you to get the app (LinkedIn) and one is just driving to get you to put an icon on the Home Screen (Twitter), the value of getting that icon onto your Home Screen is consistently an imperative.

Of course, no strategy is turn-key. That's why it's called strategy. However, these are undoubtedly key factors that should be considered as you develop your own strategy for a mobile presence.

Related posts:

A Tale of Two Mobile Strategies

4 Reasons to Reinvent Your Website

Responsive Design


Robi Ganguly

In exchange for providing that value, brands may receive the fantastic reward of a platform for one-to-one communication with a delighted customer who has raised their hand and said, "let's hang out." That's some big reward when you consider the battle that most brands face trying to simply gain customers' attention in a cluttered media landscape.

Robi Ganguly

Adam, this post is a fantastic way of laying out the value of a holistic strategy that embraces both web and native. It's an important issue and the approach you've laid out here is a great way of looking at it. I love your comment about: "In exchange for providing that value, brands may receive the fantastic reward of a platform for one-to-one communication with a delighted customer... That's some big reward when you consider the battle that most brands face trying to simply gain customers' attention in a cluttered media landscape." That's a fantastic insight and it's what drives us at Apptentive (www.apptentive.com). The channel provided by an app is an exceptional asset, one that needs to be managed proactively and thoughtfully. Are you seeing brands embracing this and utilizing it well today? Would love to learn more about what's working, what the challenges are and where you see opportunities.

Matt J.

Mobile Sites vs. Apps: The Coming Strategy Shift

Adam

"Are you seeing brands embracing this and utilizing it well today?" == I'm seeing it primarily from brands whose websites are as much *tools* as they are marketing storefronts. For example, take a look at bank of america's mobile site and app. It's following this model entirely, it is directionally. Publications like the NYT and The Financial Times are other ones to look at.


Now you say something:

In our effort to prevent spam, we ask that you complete this CAPTCHA before submitting your comment.