As more and more mobile smartphones are sold, the buzz around mobile apps gets ever louder. So, every business should rush out and get a mobile app developed – right? Maybe not.
The low-down on mobile apps and mobile websites.
Let’s get the definitions out of the way. Mobile apps are basically small applications that you download and run on your feature phone or smartphone. An app will run locally on your handset and may or may not access services on the web to update and refresh the displayed content. In contrast, a mobile website is basically a slimmed-down version of a normal website optimized for the smaller display area that’s typical of feature phones and smartphones. Mobile websites are generally accessed via a browser application on your handset.
Which one should I choose for my business?
Well, for starters, mobile apps are cool, and thanks to the Apple iPhone and Google Android app stores, they are easier than ever to access and download. You will need to develop a different version of your app for each major mobile operating system, though – about 4 or 5 of those at the moment.
On the other hand, a properly designed mobile website can be viewed on any mobile that has web access. You can’t do as much with them as you could with an app, though, since they rely on web technologies and don’t have access to all the fancy built-in features that an app running natively on your handset will have – stuff like the camera, GPS module, address book. There’s always a catch.
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The best option will depend on your business. We can’t give you the answer, but we can hopefully give you some helpful advice before spending any of that critical marketing budget. Ignore the hype, forget about the cool factor, and consider the following important points before making your decision – Need. Audience. Budget.
Do I really need a mobile app or a mobile website?
Before starting, it’s worth writing down your list of reasons for creating a mobile app or mobile website for your business. Think about what you would like to achieve and what you would like your product to do.
Are you trying to create a potential new revenue stream? Are you looking for new ways to promote your business? Are you targeting other businesses or consumers? How do customers access your existing products and services? Will your product display interactive content, or will it be used as a static information portal? How often will you be updating content? What type of content will you be displaying? Is your product fun or unique? Will it always require internet access?
We could go on and on, but ultimately, it’s not a question of whether you need a mobile app or mobile website. Rather, it’s about what is best for your business, and we can only give some guidelines.
If you don’t already have a website or are in the middle of building one, ask your web developers to build it in such a way that it will be optimized for mobile. It may require an extra outlay but will be less costly than starting from scratch.
If your existing website is relatively static but would like to enhance your online presence and get mobile advertising benefits, consider a mobile website. Site visitors coming from mobile ad clicks will get a good first impression of your business when presented with easily readable information formatted nicely for their mobile phone.
If your product is for fun, is highly interactive, is intended as a standalone marketing tool or revenue generator, is designed to be used offline, or requires users to access large video or media files regularly, it probably makes more sense to go down the mobile app route.
Who is the audience for my mobile app or mobile website?
When we talk about the audience, we refer to two very separate ideas – the target market for your business and the overall set of people that can actually access mobile apps and mobile-optimized websites.
First off, think about your existing customer base and how they currently interact with your business through your website, RSS feeds, Facebook pages, and LinkedIn profile. Since smartphones will only become more prevalent, a mobile app or website will give you a good platform to build on existing customer relationships and extend your reach to a population that is becoming increasingly mobile.
If your main aim is to increase your profile and presence in the mobile space, it’s a good idea to start by taking advantage of existing technologies. If people are using Facebook on their mobile and click a link on your Fanpage for more information, it’s a good bet that unless your page loads in a few seconds and displays well, they will give up and go somewhere else pretty fast. Bottom line – best to make sure any pages you link to from your social media sites load quickly, display relevant information, and look good on mobile.
The main benefit of a mobile website is its large audience reach. A properly optimized site for mobile should display well on the majority of feature phones and smartphones that are web-enabled. However, when you move into the realm of apps, things become a whole lot different. Since apps are mainly confined to smartphones, your target audience is narrowed to the phones or platform(s) your application is designed to run on and the percentage of people actively using each platform.
Our main advice to you here is before going down the app route, consider the size of your own potential business audience and find out how many of them are using the 5 major smartphone operating systems: iOS (iPhone), Android, Blackberry OS, Symbian (Nokia), and Windows. By doing this, you will get a good feel for how many versions of an app you should potentially develop.
How much should I budget for a mobile app or mobile website?
Answer: How long is a piece of string? There really is no easy answer to this. It will come down to exactly what you want to achieve and what you want your site or app to be able to do, and ultimately who you get to do it. It would be unfair to give guide prices, but we can say that any prices you are quoted should be grounded in reality.
If your site is based on WordPress or some similar content management system, free or low-cost plugins are available to display the pages optimized for mobile. If your main website was built using recent technologies like XHTML and CSS, optimizing it for mobile should not be that difficult or costly, assuming it has mostly static content. If it has more dynamic content with lots of bells and whistles, don’t be tempted to replicate each page. Limit your site to the pages that will transfer well to smaller mobile screens.
On the mobile app side, the costs can range from hundreds to tens of thousands, depending on the app’s complexity and the number of platforms it will be developed for. There are sites on the web where you can create basic apps for free, but these will typically be limited to a predefined set of templates that allow minimal modifications. Some may also charge for hosting content, which is something to watch out for.