Mobile website or mobile app?
August 30, 2012
The best way to answer this question is: "It depends.” What does it depend on? Understanding your customers and how they interact with your business.
A mobile-optimized website is without a question a must. When you look at search traffic and the number of people using mobile search, you have to have a mobile-optimized Web presence—or miss out on a lot of potential customers.
- Efficient Frontier tells us that already 10%-15% of search traffic on average comes from mobile devices
- According to comScore's new Mobile Metrix 2.0 report, Facebook's mobile usage is on the rise. In March 2012, Facebook users spent more time accessing the social network on smartphones than on computers—an average of 441 minutes—or 7 hours, 21 minutes. By comparison, users spent just 391 minutes—or 6 hours, 31 minutes—accessing Facebook on PCs
- According to Nielsen, in March 2012, a majority (50.4%) of U.S. mobile subscribers owned smartphones, up from 47.8% in December 2011
- According to a May 2012 Adobe study, tablets’ share of website traffic is growing at an astounding 300% a year, based on an Adobe Digital Index analysis of 23 billion visits to the websites of more than 325 brands across North America, Western Europe, and Asia-Pacific. The report found that by early 2013, tablets’ share of website traffic is on track to exceed the traffic of smartphones
How you go about designing a mobile-optimized website is another question. Do you build one specifically for the mobile platform? Or do you leverage responsive design to ease code and content maintenance by having everything in one place with portability across platforms and devices? My opinion is that responsive design is the way to go, because you gain more control over what gets shown on the variety of devices, and you save yourself the headache of managing multiple code instances, content instances, etc. And Google recently said that they prefer responsive design as well. I love bostonglobe.com as an example of a responsive design site.
The question of the day is, Do you need an app? If you look through the most popular apps on iTunes, they are usually games or utility applications. So if you’re just going to repurpose your website into an app and not take advantage of the benefits mobile devices have to offer from a functionality standpoint (motion sensor, location awareness, hand gestures on iOS, etc.), why are you building the app? A lot of internal functionality (location awareness) is already available on the mobile website; so where is the value of the app? If you can’t answer that question … don’t build the app. It’s destined to become just another shiny object.
Some say that apps provide branding value, but I question that theory. Do I really need a United app on my phone, or can I just as easily go to the mobile-optimized United.com site on my phone to get what I need?
- In 2011, 26% of all apps downloaded were opened only once and then never used again. (source)
- About half (51%) of mobile owners use a handful of apps at least once a week, while 17% report using no apps on a regular basis. (source)
- The top 10 Android apps account for 43% of all the time spent by Android consumers on mobile apps. The top 50 apps account for 61% of all time spent. With 250,000+ available Android apps, that means the remaining 249,950+ have to compete for the other 39 percent of the pie. (source)
So what’s a poor mobile marketer to do? Listen to your customers and react to their needs vs. their wants. We all know customers want everything under the sun, but they may actually only need a few things. If you focus on doing those few things exceptionally well, you will succeed. I'm of the opinion that apps will continue to play that utility and gaming role but will lose luster with brands when it comes to mobile-optimized websites.