Mobile apps vs mobile websites – which is better?

  • May 6, 2021
  • Website

Do you really need a mobile app?

Back in 2017, we wrote an article about the benefits of mobile apps. To this day, it’s one of the most popular articles on out site. But given the advancements in both website and app capability since then, we’ve decided to revisit the topic with a more in-depth and up-to-date approach.

In this article, we tackle the benefits and disadvantages of both native mobile apps and mobile-optimised website designs to help you make an informed decision about which is best for your business goals. Read on to find out the strengths and weaknesses of each, which questions you should ask yourself when making the call, and the alternatives available to some essential features.

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    Mobile apps: the pros and cons

    Benefits of apps

    • Apps minimise wait times
      Since their data is stored locally on a device, apps don’t have to wait for a browser to load. This allows them to present information much quicker than the average website, providing a better user experience. It also allows for offline access to information.
    • Apps are a constant reminder of your business
      Mobile apps reinforce your brand by increasing your visibility. An app gives a business more presence on a phone than a browser bookmark does because it is always visible on the phone’s screen. This helps build loyalty with customers because your business is in front of them at all times.
    • Apps increase customer engagement
      Customers are calling out for mobile apps because they quickly connect them to businesses they most commonly want or need. Businesses are using apps to improve their processes and increase the level of accessibility their customers have to them.
    • Apps provide low communication costs
      Apps reduce costs of SMS messages and paper newsletters. They simplify communications by securely, instantly and directly messaging customers. Apps reduce staff workload by information requests and phone calls.
    • Apps can leverage mobile device functions
      While modern websites are often capable of accessing and integrating features such as a phone’s camera and GPS, these functions are still best used through a native app. With a better connection to the device’s operating system, mobile apps can provide a superior experience in this area.

    Disadvantages of apps

    • High development cost
      The average app with basic functionality can cost upwards of AU $50,000. Complex apps with greater levels of function can cost much more – often over AU $100,000.
    • High maintenance cost
      Mobile apps generally can’t be edited and updated by a person without specialist training. The added cost of specialist app developers to maintain and update the application can bring up the price tag even further.
    • App store costs
      Both the Apple and Google Play stores take a cut from the total price of both paid apps and in-app purchases – this can be as high as 30%. If your app is your main platform for ecommerce, this can represent a serious hit to your bottom line. 
    • Separate development required
      Apps require separate development to run on different operating systems. If you plan to make an app to service both Apple and Android customers, you’ll need to make two separate native apps at extra cost.
    • Download required
      Generally speaking, people are much more hesitant to download a mobile app than they are to visit a website. Downloads take time to complete and use space on the mobile device for an indefinite period of time.

    Mobile-optimised websites: how do they stack up?

    Advantages of websites

    • Broader audience reach
      Websites don’t require app store downloads, free space on a device to run, or restriction to a single store or app market. Your website can reach a global audience without marketplace restrictions.
    • Lower development costs
      The time and resources spent on web development can often be reduced by integrating pre-built plugins which can serve a variety of functions with minimal customisation. Templated page layouts and designs can also be established to improve build efficiency and facilitate consistency in information added later on.
    • Easily updated
      Websites made with most modern CMS platforms have intuitive user interfaces which allow an authorised user to easily update and edit. If your mobile-optimised website doesn’t have on overly-complex design, you may be able to handle updates without enlisting a developer for ongoing support.
    • Natural cross-platform compatibility
      If it’s effectively optimised, one version of your website can suit all devices which use it. You don’t need to produce separate versions for different operating systems or screen sizes.
    • Easier to link and share
      Social media platforms and ad campaigns are much more suited to sharing web links than app information. This gives mobile web pages an element of shareability that most apps can’t match, and makes them excellent tools for conversion.

    Disadvantages of websites

    • Domain registration
      If another person or business has registered a website under your business’ domain name, it can be difficult to get control of it. You may need to consider setting up your website under a variant of your business name.
    • Hosting costs
      Website hosting is necessary to keep your site accessible via the internet. It presents an ongoing cost which can add up over time. It’s important to select a plan which meets your traffic and security needs – depending on what these are, this can become a substantial budget item.
    • Requires an SSL certificate
      Since July 2018, Google has required websites to have a secure sockets layer (SSL) certificate to show that they’re safe and secure for users. While generally inexpensive and easy to procure, failure to renew these when required can lead to warnings which will dissuade many users.
    • Requires an internet connection
      Since websites do not store content natively on the device, they require an active internet connection to provide information and value. This can make them hard to use effectively or disable them completely if a user enters an area without internet coverage. If your content needs to be consistently accessed offline, an app may be a better alternative.
    • More difficult to access
      Mobile device users in particular want to reach information quickly. Even an extremely well optimised website can’t match the single-tap accessibility of an app – accessing a website still requires a user to navigate to a browser, type a query or URL into the search engine, and wait for data retrieval.

    Is an app or a website better for your business?

    Both mobile apps and mobile-optimised websites aren’t the answer to every situation, and it’s important to consider your business’ focus when determining the best approach. If you’re not sure which is best suited, ask yourself:

    • Is the app going to do something that your website can’t?
      Websites have become much more powerful in the recent years. If your content needs to be used offline or rely heavily on the functionality of a mobile device, you may benefit from the added functionality of an app. However, a more simplistic model may fare better as a mobile-optimised site.
    • What’s your budget?
      Mobile apps are a considerable investment of both time and money – as discussed above, they are often much more expensive than a mobile-optimised website. Like any technology, they will need to be maintained to stay relevant to provide the best service to your customers.
    • Will your app provide ongoing value?
      Your app needs to have a clear purpose and provide value. Put yourself in your customers’ shoes: what do they want and need from your app? How is your app going to improve your service to them on an ongoing basis?

      Most people don’t want to download apps for a single use. If your model requires customers to frequently visit and consistently log in to fulfil its purpose, an app may provide the best user experience. However, a platform which won’t be visited frequently may fare better as a mobile-optimised website.

    • Is there an existing alternative that serves the same purpose?
      An app designed to provide online bookings might be convenient, but you could achieve a similar (and cheaper) level of function by adding a booking plugin to your website. If you’re considering an app so that your customers can save their details and pay for a purchase quickly, you could consider integrating PayPal into a website to provide a similar level of seamless checkout experience.

    Before committing to app development on the basis of functionality, see what other options are available and talk to a professional about finding the most labour- and cost-effective solution.

    Alternatives to unique app functions

    If you’re considering an app for a single needed element, you may be better off with an alternative strategy replicates the effect. Examples of this include:

    • Substitute in-app notifications with eDMs, SMS, and online messaging
      These can be easily customised to suit almost any purpose, and often have a much wider reach than notifications from an app. Bear in mind that these are often subject to per-send costs. 
    • Substitute push notification with social media activity
      Since most users access social platforms through apps, a good social media strategy can provide the same standard of notifications and information distribution that a branded app would and push towards your website for more information. 
    • Substitute check-in scans with loyalty cards
      If your app is meant to serve as a membership or loyalty system, you may be better off with an old-fashioned punch card. These can be printed and distributed in bulk for significantly lower cost, and scanned in-store or checked via website. 
    • Substitute offline access with downloadable resources
      Attachments such as PDFs and images can be easily saved to a mobile device for later access. If your content needs to be accessed offline, you may consider recreating key components in an appropriate downloadable format so they can be downloaded and stored for later use.

    In conclusion: thoroughly evaluate your needs before committing

    In many situations, a well-made, mobile-optimised website will serve the same purpose as a native app. This is especially the case if you’re a small business or if your user base doesn’t consistently access your website from a mobile device – a mobile-optimised website man simply more cost-effective, fulfilling the same roles without extra expenses.

    As mentioned above, the main barrier to app development is the cost. Both up-front and in the long run, apps cost more to create and maintain. If this isn’t an issue and you can’t make do without the performance benefits, you may consider an app to best fulfil your business’ needs.

    You may also consider an app if you have high consumer engagement. Schools are an excellent example of this – an app can bring together all school-to-parent information in a convenient and effective way, combining all alerts into one accessible platform. However, parents may be equally satisfied with an well-implemented social media strategy and regular email newsletters to keep them up to date. If you’re considering an app for your school, poll your staff, students, and parents to determine the features needed.

    Are you ready to make the decision? Phone us on (07) 3482 4262 to discuss how a native app or mobile-optimised website could add value to your business.

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