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A mobile app or a mobile website?

By: Dr Lynda Kelly, Category: Museullaneous, Date: 18 Oct 2012

Continuing on the mobile musing path, when should you build a mobile website and when a mobile app?

Web 2U (#1)

Michael Hugill © Australian Museum

Following on my musings about @austmus current and future mobile plans, we have also been thinking quite alot about the merits of a mobile website compared with a mobile app. Came across this nice infographic from Socialmedia.biz - Should you build a mobile app or mobile website? - as a useful way to explain the difference.

However, as my colleague Russ points out "With local storage, mobile websites can work partially or fully offline. It is also a sweeping statement to say that mobile is 'fast' and apps are 'faster'. A mobile website speed depends on the size of the files being pushed as well as the network connection..."

Given his comments, I found another resource Native App vs. Mobile Web App: A Quick Comparison, by Six Revisions that I think is even more useful and balanced. Russ's comments on this?

I disagree with this statement:
Since there is no app store for the Mobile Web, it can be harder for users to find your app: If you are promoting a website, it is often EASIER to show people a web address than get them to go to the store, find the app and download.

And this statement:
App stores and marketplaces help users find native apps: They only help promote ones that feel are worth promoting. Many apps are in the store that get very little attention at all.

Also, this:
App store approval processes can help assure users of the quality and safety of the app: From personal experience, I'd say the approval process is NOT a strength at all, [as the store] can approve or reject apps at any time."

Having had personal experience with an app being rejected (our Frogs Field Guide took two goes to get in the Apple store!) I strongly agree with his last point. Findability of an app, as Russ points out, can be quite a difficult process. This is why I found these articles referenced in rolling-out your mobile product so helpful. As Smith says, the aim is "... not to reach more users, but rather to reach more of the right users” (2011, p.83).

Finally, as both articles rightly remind us, having a clear purpose, audience and success measures are critical: "Whether you decide to build a native app or a mobile web app depends on many factors: business objectives, target audience, technical requirements and so on." (Six Revisions, 2012).

My overall feeling is, given the vagaries of the Stores, accessibility issues, responsive web design and the potential of the Windows 8 tablet and operating system, mobile websites will be the preferred way of the future?