Mobile Apps, Mobile Websites, and your Existing Website:
What Makes Sense for your Mobile Strategy?
At One North, we're often approached by clients that are trying to understand how their existing website or device-specific mobile apps can fit into their overall mobile strategy. When sharing your content with users on mobile devices, there are three popular options:
Existing Website – Simply expecting mobile users to access your existing website (with no or very few alterations)
Mobile Website – Creating a website that is tailored, in content and design, specifically for mobile form factors and mobile use cases
Mobile App – Actively downloaded applications that are generally centralized on app stores, like the Apple iPhone App Store, and developed for a specific mobile platform
When deciding what kind of mobile experience you want to create for your firm and your users, you need to consider your audience, the end-user use cases, budget, timeline, in-house expectations and your branding position within the marketplace. You can use these requirements to help weigh the importance of the benefits and drawbacks below for each of the options available for your mobile strategy:
- No or low cost to develop, maintain and manage alternate content
- Familiarity for those who access the existing site on their desktops/laptops
- Not designed to be quick to download with slower wireless connections (Note: this can cost end users fees for bandwidth usage)
- Not designed for smaller form factors with their smaller screen size and resolution
- Not designed for touch navigation, providing no or limited rollover menu effects
- Flash included on the main site is not usable on many mobile devices
- May not be viewable/usable at all on some older devices
- Site Map/Architecture/Content can be tailored for mobile use cases (i.e. attorney directory, directions to an office, high level overviews) more efficiently than the standard website
- Support many platforms/devices with one website, using standards (Note: All platforms can be supported by reverting to a text only site for older, less advanced devices)
- Design can still represent a firm’s brand but fit within mobile device form factor constraints; such as screen size, resolution, lack of rollovers, and likely no flash
- Still some cost to create and maintain as a separate web application (Note: however, this is greatly mitigated by One North's Mobile Site offering)
- Can’t take advantage of native device sensors/features, such as GPS, camera, accelerometer. (Note: extensions are being written for mobile browsers to start accessing this data but with obvious privacy/security risks causing concern)
- If the user is not on a wireless/cell network your content is not available (Note: mobile browsers that support HTML 5 make it possible to do some caching for mobile websites)
- Take advantage of access to device sensors; such as location, GPS, or camera
- Content can be cached in the app so that it can still be used when the phone is not connected to any wireless network
- Provides free marketing when users are searching the app store for a given platform
- Easier to control the end user experience, especially with multimedia (audio/video)
- Creating a mobile application is generally a non-trivial task that requires a specific development effort for each platform/device that you want to support.
- An app is built targeting a specific device (Android, iPhone, Windows Mobile 7, Symbian, Blackberry, etc), making support for all platforms a huge increase in cost since the development effort for each platform is generally not reusable on other platforms. This is becoming increasingly true as the marketplace continues to stratify without one clear leader.
- Requires a user to explicitly download and install on their device, which only makes sense for frequent, recurring users.
- The app may break when the device OS is upgraded, requiring development and for users to re-download your app.
- Some platform app stores require apps to go through a submission and approval process before releasing, and cases have been reported where apps are denied if they don’t offer any additional functionality over what a marketing website provides.
If you don’t currently have a mobile strategy, you are by default expecting your mobile device users to access your main website. It would make sense to review your web analytics reports to see how many users are visiting with a mobile browser and test out the experience on the popular devices they are using. You can then determine whether their needs are being served by this approach or take any additional steps that might be necessary.
Although initially some firms may consider creating an iPhone-specific mobile app to serve as their mobile strategy, the case can be made that a targeted, thoughtfully designed mobile site will serve a much larger audience while requiring a smaller investment. At least as a first step, creating a mobile website and then analyzing usage may be the most logical step forward.
However, if you have a need to support internal users, for example, who all have one device (like an iPhone or Blackberry) with a specific type of content or interaction, a business case can be made for a mobile app to provide the best experience in sharing content with these recurring users. And, of course, strictly from a marketing perspective, in the interest of being viewed as a technology leader, some firms may decide that having a device-specific app may be justified and valuable. However, it is important to realize that a large percentage of mobile users would be left out if a solid mobile website experience is not offered as well.
As is always the case with technology - and especially so for mobile technology right now - this space is constantly changing and evolving in exciting ways that can impact what the right strategy might be for your firm.