Mobile App, Mobile Site or Responsive Design?

Many businesses, whether they have an ecommerce store, a website which generates leads or a website that simply markets their company, are asking the question, “should I build a mobile app or a mobile-optimized site?” The answer can be different for each business depending on your audience, and there is also a newer option to consider vs. a mobile-optimized site; responsive or mobile-responsive design.

One big thing to consider in all of the options, is that mobile users have different needs from a laptop or a desktop internet user. The mobile user’s searches are different and fewer due to the restrictions of a mobile keypad, and their attention spans are typically shorter while browsing the internet via a mobile device.

Here are a few things for you to consider while you are pondering this same question for your business:

  1. What percentage of your website users are mobile? If you aren’t measuring user metrics on your website, you likely won’t know the answer to this question. Using Google Analytics, for example, can help you better understand this and similar types of usage data that can ultimately help you make better decisions regarding the design and functionally of your website, and in this case, whether a mobile/responsive site or mobile app is best.
    Here are a few other things you can track regarding mobile users on your site:

    1. Mobile devices
    2. Mobile operating systems
    3. Where mobile users are coming from
    4. What content mobile user are requesting the most
    5. Much more…
  2. Mobile Internet users are on the rise! Don’t brush off mobile as simply a fad. Since 2009 mobile Internet users have just about doubled every year. It isn’t uncommon for website owners to see mobile user percentages on their websites in the 20% – 40% range (depending on the type of site and business category of course). If they don’t have a mobile solution, they are usually turning those people away out of pure frustration with the mobile experience.
    A few reports on mobile usage

    1. Almost half of adults in the U.S. have smartphones.
    2. 28% of mobile internet users use their smartphone for the majority of their internet experience.
  3. Native mobile apps typically perform faster than mobile websites. If your users need to accomplish a specific function or set of functions, a native mobile app might be your best bet. No user, especially the mobile user, wants to wait on content to load, ever. They will bail (I know I do).
  4. Mobile site vs. Responsive design. One of the big user experience issues here is access to content. Traditionally with a separate mobile site, users have to settle for a sub-version of the site with less content and less of an overall experience. In an effort to deliver the same experience to mobile users as they have on a desktop, responsive design allows users to access all of a sites content and thus have a much closer experience to the desktop site.
  5. URL Management. An issue with a separate mobile site is the URL. I can’t tell you how many times I have wanted to share a website link from my iPhone with someone via email, however the link I am sharing is “m.website…” or “website.com/m/…” In many cases, if the users receives my link on their desktop, they are still viewing the mobile version of the site. This is not the case with a responsive design.
  6. Other resources. Here are a few articles that I have pulled from while researching this topic.
    1. Six Revisions
    2. Smashing Magazine

3 Responses to “Mobile App, Mobile Site or Responsive Design?”

  1. Mike February 11, 2013 at 2:11 am #

    Great post.
    As for mobile V repsonsive, unless you are a large organisation with resources to manage a separate site, responsive is the way forward . it forces designers to keep site and content simple (which is generally a good thing).

    • Ryan Schumacher February 21, 2013 at 2:46 pm #

      It can in some ways be just as much work to design a responsive version for particular mobile devices, take for instance a webapp like Wunderlist. Yet we do find responsive websites scale better with varying budgets, adding more customization and features as able.

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