Suppose for a moment that you are a business owner or executive who understands that more than half of your customers are regularly accessing the internet through phones and tablets. You know that this percentage is growing every month, and you want to dominate your competitors in the mobile space rather than falling behind. What’s the best way to pursue your goal?
If you talk to a handful of web designers and developers, you’re likely to come up with two possible solutions: building a native mobile app or launching and maintaining a responsive business website. Which solution is the right one for your situation?
Because this is a question we hear quite a bit here at our web design agency, we want to address the pros and cons of each in today’s post.
Defining Mobile Apps and Responsive Websites
Many web developers like to stress the importance of having a native mobile app or a responsive website, but they don’t always spell out the differences. That can be problematic for high-level decision-makers that might not be familiar with the distinctions between them.
A native mobile app is a piece of software that lives on your smartphone or tablet. You download it from an app store (usually Apple or Google) and access it by tapping an icon rather than typing a web address.
A responsive website, on the other hand, is simply a layout that changes its shape and appearance based on a user’s device type and screen size. You could use our agency Maxburst website as an example. Someone visiting us on a large desktop computer gets one layout, while a mobile user receives another. Both have access to the same content, but the size and configuration of the pages are different.
The Pros and Cons of Native App Development
When it comes to achieving mobile compatibility, developing a native app gives you the most power and flexibility.
Because an app is downloaded to the user’s mobile device, it doesn’t have to be accessed through a browser. That means there are fewer programming limitations, so the app can include features and perform functions that a website cannot. Additionally, because the app is downloaded, it may be able to function off-line. It also gives the user direct access to your business in a way that doesn’t put you right next to your competitors. It’s important to remember, though, that all of these advantages come with some drawbacks as well. For one thing, mobile app development can be costly, particularly when you consider that the expenses are going to run above and beyond what you would spend on a website. Most companies can do without a mobile app, but they’ll need a website even if they have an app developed. So, you can do without one but not the other.
Maintaining a mobile app can be a chore and expense, as well. You’ll have to make updates anytime you want to add new features or to keep up with changes in a mobile operating system. For that matter, you’ll probably have to maintain separate versions of the software for iOS, Android, and other platforms, not to mention different releases of each one.
Perhaps the biggest challenge, though, comes with the realization that you will need to market your app aggressively if you want users to download it in the first place. How stiff is the competition? When the Apple App Store first went live, there were about 500 offerings on display. Today, there are 20 million registered developers generating new software. It’s fair to say that the market has gotten a little bit crowded.
The Advantages and Drawbacks of Responsive Websites
Launching a responsive website is often the more straightforward and more cost-effective solution for a business that wants to achieve mobile compatibility without too much hassle.
When you use a responsive website, you give your customers everything they need to access your tools and content from a smaller screen without having to maintain a separate app or web presence. You don’t have to generate a new design every time a new mobile operating system comes out or worry that your website will work on one kind of phone or tablet but not another. And, you don’t have to convince your customer to download anything – they can visit your website just like they would any other.
One good reason to opt for a responsive web design is that you’re likely to need one anyway. As already noted, you can do without a mobile app but not a website. And even if you have an app, some customers will go to your website anyway. In one survey, 85% of respondents said they expected a company’s mobile web presence to be as good or better than their desktop website. Your customers are going to expect the functionality they’re used to.
As with anything in the world of business, though, this flexibility comes with a few downsides. As we’ve already mentioned, you can do more with a mobile app than you can a responsive website. For instance, you can’t give users the option to log into your website with a facial ID or let them access your pages when they don’t have a web connection. Additionally, when a customer is coming to you through their mobile browser, your closest competitor is just a click away.
While it might be easier to convince someone to visit your website than it is to have them download your app, a responsive design doesn’t have a captive audience or the same kind of branding power.
Responsive Web Design vs. Mobile App Development: Finding Answers for Your Business
Naturally, getting to the right answer for your business requires an examination of your goals, resources, and challenges. A business with a substantial mobile customer base might find app development to be the smartest choice. Another with limited mobile needs might settle for a responsive website, especially if they want to take the chance to gauge the market and examine results.
In our experience, it is usually the case that small and medium-sized businesses are better off maintaining a single responsive web presence than they are taking on a huge web development project that might not be strictly necessary. However, this generalization shouldn’t be taken as blanket advice. Your best option is always to meet with a team of professionals who can help you better understand the pros and cons of each choice. You want to find the course of action that will help you achieve your business goals, not just minimize expenses now if it could cost you later.
Are You Getting the Right Web Design Advice?
It’s one thing to know about web design and development, and another thing to find the tools, techniques, and answers you need for your specific challenges. If you worry that you’re falling behind your competition or are failing to maximize the return you get from your online marketing budget, then it’s time to start getting better advice. Contact a highly rated digital agency to receive a proper growth path.