GUEST POST: One Developer’s Perspective (Second in a Series): Making the Decision to Go Mobile – Native App or Mobile Compatible Website?

In my previous post, I discussed the reasons why some firms and companies prefer mobile apps to mobile web sites. So, how should a firm trying to “Go Mobile” make this decision? Here are a few questions to ask:

Is this an application or a website?  While these terms don’t have formal distinctions, I think of a website as being a frontal “top-down” information distribution mechanism; think a billboard on steroids.  Every firm needs a website, a billboard where customers can see their brand, learn about their services, read a blog, get in touch.  Your firm’s website might not be usable on mobile devices, or design that renders differently on different sized screens, so that users always have an easy experience getting around and emerge with a favorable impression of your company and your brand. If that’s what you want, stay on the web and stay away from native apps. Apps tend to be more interactive, remember you as a user between interactions, and provide a richer experience that is enabled by the native web code.

What is your budget? Mobile web can be done for considerably less than the cost of native apps.  You can read a separate post on why mobile apps can be a challenge, which usually translates into higher upfront and ongoing maintenance costs. Among other factors, you are paying higher rates for specialized developers, taking more time up front to decide on user interaction models since you are unconstrained by the browser, need a graphic designer to make it look snazzy, and building differently (both front-end design and back-end code) for different platforms. Having said that, there are a range of services out there that can help you develop apps for a reduced cost (with trade-offs, of course).

What is your marketing strategy? Lots of firms “want an app”, but it’s not unusual for firms to spend big bucks to build an app that no one uses.  If the goal was to “have an app”, mission accomplished — but if the goal is to drive business and connect with users, extra cost was incurred with no real benefit. On the web, build it and the search engines will come, followed by the users if there is good content. On the app stores, you need to either rise above the noise or direct users to your app in some other way.

Is mass distribution important?If this is a tool to be used by just a few people (e.g., an administrative interface of some kind), they can be individually coached on installing a web app on their screen, and they might also be less sensitive to the snazz factor.  Then you have a heap, web-based solution that gives them control, cross-platform and cross-device.

– JACK KUSTANOWITZ is founder and principal of MountainPass Technology, a consulting and software development company providing end to end services both on mobile devices and on the web.