I have been doing a lot of experimentation with apps lately. For instance, this semester I had my students develop apps for the Android OS and build mobile websites, I have been in contact with several app develop companies such as Vecro Tech, and I have been doing research studies on mobile use, development, and usability. Sandcastle Web Design & Development offered interesting ideas. After all of this I have concluded the following:
At this point in time I do NOT believe most companies and/or websites should invest in mobile applications, instead I believe they should invest in a mobile website. There are several reasons why I believe this. And for the record, I have extensively used and developed for Droid, iPad, and iPod touch.
1. Usability – The main problem with building an app: It only works on ONE operating system. So if I build it for the Apple iPhone it will NOT work for anyone who has a Droid, Windows Phone, Blackberry, or other. By building an app, I have just eliminated a huge portion of my user base. If I build a mobile website, it works on ALL devices. Why? They all have a browser. So developing one mobile website will work on all devices thus giving me full access to everyone regardless of their phone choice. Additionally, I can make a mobile website to look and function exactly as an app would.
2. Clutter – My droid and iPod each have 3-5 screens filled with apps. I use maybe 5-10 app consistently. The other apps are just taking up space most of the time. When I do want to use one of the apps that I rarely use or a new one, it becomes a chore to find it, or to download it. I do NOT want several hundred apps on my phone. The desktop on my computer is a mess with all of the files, folders, and programs, why can’t my phone just be simple? A website would solve this problem, Why? A mobile website would either be a web address, for instance, m.raypastore.com or the user could make it a bookmark on their browser if they like it. Thus, no clutter unless I have a million bookmarks.
3. Cost – Developing an app can be expensive. They are not easy to develop, thus you are going to have to hire programmers and graphic artists to develop it. This may not be a problem for larger companies that have spare cash. Another problem with COST: I do NOT want to pay for apps. I will NOT pay for apps. Usually I can find the same information or service online for FREE and ALL smart phones have a web browser. A mobile website is significantly cheaper to develop than a mobile app. This is because the development is much much easier. In fact, in one semester, my students were able to develop very nice mobile sites and they did not need to program anything. They simply used Dreamweaver. Now I will mention that if you are building website that is big and includes a lot of advanced things like a database and such, it can be just as expensive or more than an app.
4. Development Time – Since apps are not easy to develop, it is going to take significantly longer to develop than a website. Mobile websites usually have a faster turn around time due to the fact that they are easier to develop. HTML is much easier to program and develop with than C++. Again though, this depends on the features you want on the website.
5. Coolness factor – It’s a fad these days to have an app. You know the saying ‘There’s an app for that’. Sure there is an app but half of the apps I download are not very useful and take up storage space on my phone. There are other ways to say ‘my company is mobile friendly’ such as advertising ‘visit us on your mobile device at: youwebaddress’ or users can even go to your main site and you direct them to your mobile version without them even knowing. Imagine that though, visit us on your mobile device, not visit us on your iphone, or droid. You are now advertising to all mobile users, not a portion of them and that is the real power to a mobile website.
I hope this article was useful to software developers. I do think mobile apps are a fad and the mobile web is a much better place to make your mark right now. When apps begin working on all devices and become easier to develop I may change my mind, however at this point in time, mobile websites are simply much better.