The advent and rise of the Internet has helped connect a diverse strands of users owing to which a huge number of businesses have gone online. With the internet access now available to countless number of devices, mobile-friendly content is crucial for connecting with users as well as ranking well on search results. Naturally one would want users to have access to their businesses through mobile phones. This has been achieved through the active roles of mobile websites and mobile apps.

However, the age old debate that continues to lurk is that of the constant decision to choose between a mobile app and a mobile website. To further analyse this issue, let us understand the true difference between these two contenders:

Mobile apps:

A mobile app is a software application developed specifically for use on small, wireless computing devices, such as smartphones and tablets, rather than desktop or laptop computers. Users visit device-specific portals such as Apple iOS App Store or Android Play Store in order to find and download apps for a given operating system.

Mobile apps are sometimes categorized according to whether they are web-based or native apps, which are created specifically for a given platform. A third category, hybrid apps, combines elements of both native and web apps.

Mobile websites:

A mobile website is designed and developed specifically for the smaller screens and touch-screen capabilities of smartphones and tablets. It can be accessed using any mobile device’s Web browser, like Safari on iOS and Chrome on Android.

Thus a mobile website is similar to any other website in that it consists of browser-based HTML pages that are linked together and accessed over the Internet. Like any website, mobile websites can display text content, data, images and video. They can also access mobile-specific features such as click-to-call (to dial a phone number) or location-based mapping.

 

Mobile App or Mobile Website?

Now that we have defined the actual purpose of both of them, let’s turn to real debate here. Below are the situational criteria which will tell you when to use what.

 

1. Budget
This is often considered the most dominant factor to decide how technology should be built and developed. If one has a relatively a smaller budget to forgo, then it is preferable to build a mobile website because building a mobile app is costlier than building the former.

Of course, one can still build real good mobile apps for lower budget as well. However, the sophistication involved also depends on the type of mobile app you build and the range of technologies you use, which can be a budget breaker. Development could cost you around $10-100k per operating system (Android, iOS etc.).The Backend should be built with consideration to the Web App.

2. Complexity
If you need to build something that accommodates interactive gaming, involves location based component, cloud computing, requires delivering real time information, contains Complex Calculations or Reporting that will take data and allow you to manipulate it with complex calculations, charts or reports (think banking or investment) then an app will help you do that very effectively.

3. Compatibility
The level of user experience for mobile apps depends on which device they use. The more efficient the hard ware is, the better is the user experience. On the other hand, mobile sites ensure that no matter which device is being used, visitors are met with a usable experience.

4. Availability to work offline
The beauty of the mobile apps lies in their ability to work even offline. It is probably the most fundamental difference between a mobile website and a mobile app. Although apps too might require internet connectivity to perform most of their tasks, they can still offer basic content and functionality to users in offline mode.
This lays a great disadvantage to mobile websites where they require constant access to internet for their services. Even though mobile websites can use caching to load web pages without an internet connection, they can only offer limited functions.

5. Creative designing
Even with all the technological advancements in web designing, mobile websites have to rely a lot on browsers to perform even the most elementary functions. Mobile websites depend on browser features like ‘back button,’ ‘refresh button,’ and ‘address bar’ to work.

Mobile Apps don’t have any of these restrictions. A mobile app can be designed with a lot of elaborate functions, based on advanced gestures like ‘tap,’ ‘swipe,’ ‘drag,’ ‘pinch,’ ‘hold,’ etc.
Apps can use these gestures to offer innovative functionality that can help users perform a task better. For example, an app can let users move to a next or previous step using the swipe gesture.

6. Use of mobile extensive features
Do you require consumers to use native device features like taking photos for example? Would you like them to upload data interactively syncing all accounts at a go. Would you like to use your mobile’s GPS related data. Would like to extend the full potential of notifications where you require constantly interacting with users and relay them information. Then all these are going to easily accessible and usable by your Mobile Apps. Mobile websites are going to lag in those sectors.

7. Reach
A website makes more sense for information dissemination, which educates the customers about the brand and its offerings. You get the attention of the desktop surfer as well as those who are browsing or researching about on the go. Website enables Android, iOS and any other mobile OS users to interact with your brand with a similar experience.

You build only once and get your desktop and all mobile platforms covered. This helps you in validating your source of traffic. But weirdly, and this is very strange but confirmed by several different sources, there’s more traffic overall. On the other, for a wider reach you may need to build mobile apps for different operating system to get wider reach. Also, it may be difficult to monitor traffic on mobile apps.

8. Popularity and usage
This is a feature which is of another paramount importance. The ranging popularity of your product can also be a deciding factor. If your product is something which will involve browsing for a few times and avail the service, then it would be convenient to use a mobile website. On the other hand, if your product is such that people will tend to come again and again to avail its service (ex: Facebook type social media products), then having a mobile app would make more sense.

Conclusion:

If your mobile goals are primarily marketing-driven, or if your aim is to deliver content and establish a broad mobile presence that can be easily shared between users and found on search engines, then the a mobile website is the logical choice. On the other hand, if your goal is interactive engagement with users, or to provide an application that needs to work more like a computer program than a website, then an app is probably going to be required.