Do you need a mobile app?

This is a very common question most website owners and personal developers ask themselves. Do I need a mobile app, or is extending an existing web app to better handle mobile devices, such as iPads and other tablets, the way to go. This is a hot topic that relates to current trends, so let’s consider the pros and cons.

“We deal with all sorts of customers,” says Amir Shah, the CEO of St. Louis-based Web developer “I find that when we introduce them to ‘mobile’ the first thing they think about, and usually the only thing they think about, is an app.”  But focusing only on mobile apps dedicated to tablets and all the different mobile devices  can be complex and costly.

Websites and web apps have their utility. If a client already has a product that is an app, or if they are already generating revenue from an app or need something that leverages the internals of the iPad such as the camera or GPS, then yes, an app makes sense.  However, if the web app simply needs to function properly on all mobile devices with the same features it already has, a mobile-friendly version of the website might be enough.

There are several misconceptions about the purported advantages of using mobile apps rather than building a better website that can handle both mobile and traditional browsers.

These include:

  • Mobile performance. With the right coding methods and techniques, you can improve the mobile browsing experience to close to that of a fixed desktop and with a better perceived latency too.
  • Better disconnected access. Many apps do require continuous Internet access, so you aren’t getting anywhere with moving off a traditional browser just for this reason alone.
  • It isn’t just the iPad either. Once you finish your iOS app, you will want to do another one for Android devices. Each platform has different requirements, specifications and tool sets.
  • Push is just for apps. You can rig up alternative push notifications using SMS or email that could be just as effective and don’t require the notifications to be managed by the mobile device itself
  • Anyone can code up an app these days. True, but coding up a great app isn’t any easier than coding a great website. Plus, done right, a website that will work well on a tablet or smaller screen is easier to maintain and could be cheaper to build and maintain then a forked development model.
  • Apps deliver more marketing force. Not true. When was the last time you could search Google for in-app content? Users will not search an app market for a restaurant or product review. Having a single code base for your site content means that your SEO is going to leverage all your site visits, including all the page views from your mobile readers.

Obviously, if you go the one-website-for-all route, all of your code exists on one platform which could be beneficial, yet at the same time could be restrictive if you’re trying to perform functions that are specially designed for mobile devices. In order to make the proper choice, the proper plan must be made, and all options weighed.