App or mobile optimised website?

We have taken a closer look at which will provide a better return on your investment.

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Two of the most engaging options in the online marketing mix are Apps and mobile websites.

With the increasing popularity of smartphones, more and more businesses are launching either a mobile optimised version of their website or a mobile Application. However many businesses haven't yet taken the plunge. We have put together a useful list of the pros and cons of each to help you decide which will provide the best ROI for your business.


Pros & cons of building an App

The unique quality of an app is that they create loyalty bewteeen you and your customers. Customers who take the time to downlowed your app are generally interacting on a more frequent basis and are looking for substantial experience. Apps are provide all the usual features that a website can offer but with the additon of being able to utilise the features of a smart phone such as GPS.

Pro: User experience
The main advantage of building an app is the user experience. Most mobile browsers can't handle JavaScript and Flash. A properly built app gives a developer full control over the way text and images are displayed, as well as the use of sounds and videos. Apps can utilise the entire screen and remove other distractions from the user, such as the address bars.

Pro: Compatibility
There are also no compatibility issues when apps are dedicated to the device they were developed for. Screen size and features are consistent for all users.

Pro: Loyalty
A user who actively downloads and installs an App has a pretty good chance of using it.

Pro: Off-line usage
Even when Wi-Fi or 3G is unavailable, a user can browse and access things like image galleries, news, services, products and contacts which do not require Internet access, and can store information locally until the phone regains network access. An App is also more likely to be responsive and more user friendly.

Con: Development resources
Apps take longer to develop than mobile websites. Not only because the look and feel of the App will usually have to be built from scratch, but also because you will need to create multiple Apps to reach a wide audience. The iPhone currently dominates the App market, but with the large amount of other devices and App stores popping up from Blackberry and Android, that will not last forever. The Android platform creates additional complexity because of the wide range of different types of phones using Android (some have touch interfaces, some have keyboards etc). Because of the range of different handset capabilities the App needs to either be written for a specific handset or written for the lowest common denominator.

Con: Adoption and usage
Before a user can experience your App, they will have to download and install it. You will mainly reach your most loyal customers who are fairly invested in your brand. Just as with PCs, most people think twice before they install an App on their phone.

Con: Developing market
Despite all the press coverage, the App market in total is not that big. Only 13.3% of the phones sold in Q3 of 2009 were smartphones, and of those only 17.1% were iPhones. With Apple controlling the App market for now, that's a very small number of potential customers, as there are many factors involved in defining a target audience, and deciding on how to communicate to them.

Con: Ongoing costs
Building an App for multiple platforms such an iPhone, Blackberry and Android will be expensive to maintain. Each time you update some key elements, you need to update all native applications.

Con: Loss of control
There is potential your App could get rejected. Also if you have an App through the Apple Store, the process can be quite lengthy and can take weeks for updates to be approved by Apple.


Pros & cons of building a Mobile Optimised Website:

A mobile optimised website is perfectly designed to run on a small screen device, unlike a normal website, and can overcome elements that Apps can't. With an optimised website, it gives your company appeal and shows commitment to communicating your message to an audience without the obligation of downloading an App.

Pro: Minimal resources required
Mobile sites will be quicker to implement compared to building an app with a unique look and feel. In most cases, you should be able to reuse large parts of your existing website infrastructure and focus on changing the website's look and feel so that it fits a smaller screen.

Pro: Accessible to all
If a potential customer or user is not heavily invested in your brand, chances are slim that they will be willing to download an App. But a mobile site is accessible on any device with a mobile browser, including non-smartphones, as most of these have some form of WAP-browsing. Though WAP is fast becoming a long forgotten technology it's still worth considering depending on your target audience you're trying to reach.

Pro: Cost effective
Building a mobile optimised website is resourceful can be achieved within the tightest of budgets. It's more cost effective initially and the ongoing costs are minimal as it does not require multiple platforms to be updated which can be costly.

Pro: Seamless syncing with your website
As a mobile version can be a small screen version of your main website, the information presented can be seamlessly integrated with your current website database. This provides a much cleaner data path and makes it easy to maintain your information from a single point.

Con: Limited functionality
Even though all smartphones have browsers, most of them are very simplistic and cannot handle the same complexity and dynamic behaviour as browsers on a PC. Flash is especially an issue, as hardly any of the smartphone browsers support it. You may not be able to use any of the phones other features such as GPS, depending on the phones capabilities. It also means the user must have network coverage to continue to use your website. If the connection drops for any reason you could potentially lose your audience.

Con: Customer satisfaction
A mobile optimised site may not have the same appeal for your target audience who might expect a greater interaction or immersion with your brand.


Our conclusion...

Whether it's the functionality limitations or budget restrictions, it may be that neither option provides the perfect solution for proving information to your customers,

However unless there is sufficient customer demand, reseachr suggests in many circumstances an optimised mobile website will offer you the best ROI.

However, the creativity and the functionality that is being achieved and that is ever evolving with the app market, is continuing to challenge the user and along and with the smart phone and tablet market growing, we are sure this will continue to do so rapidly.

The best approach is to determine the exact requirements and objectives before starting the project and be open minded.