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Do I Need An App?

  • 4 min
  • March 30, 2015
    • Mobile-First Responsive
    • App
    • The Great Debate

In today’s market, having a solid mobile presence is crucial.  It is very likely that a customer’s first experience with your company will be via a mobile device.   The question is, to reach these customers do you build a mobile site or an app (or both)?  To determine this, you need to understand the mobile market and the capabilities of both apps and mobile sites. 

ComScore stated that in 2014 the number of mobile users surpassed desktop users. To break that down a bit more, Pew Internet Research estimates that:

  • 90% of American adults have a cell phone
  • 58% of American adults have a smartphone
  • 42% of American adults own a tablet computer

Now, consider that 62% of mobile device owners have made a purchase from their device.  For perspective, ecommerce revenue accounts for 10% of ALL retail revenue. Without a mobile presence you’re completely missing the ability to capture some of those sales.

So with that in mind, should you have an app or a mobile site?

The primary advantages to mobile apps are that they live on the user's device and can run in the background gathering information, such as behavior and preference information. They are also able to send geo-targeted notifications, which can be an effective feature if you also have a brick and mortar presence.

Sounds great, right? However, the downside is that apps are difficult to update and keep current. The danger to this is that once an app loses its luster, or the user’s attention, they tend to get deleted. In fact, a study from Compuware reports that 80-90% of all downloaded apps are used once and then eventually deleted by users.

In contrast, responsive mobile sites have the distinct advantage of being able to be updated easily, and therefore provide the most current content every time a user connects.  Fresh content keeps users engaged and continues to provide value, resulting in a greater likelihood that they will continue to return to your site.  Furthermore, unlike an app, which usually requires additional effort on the user’s part to keep information updated, a responsive mobile site is effortless for the user to continue to utilize.  

The key to having a first class mobile site is to approach the project with a “mobile-first” philosophy.  Designing mobile-first allows the experience to be tailored to your specific mobile user's needs.  From there, as the screen size increases to a tablet, laptop, and desktop, site features and functionality can scale up as well.  Not only does this provide the functionality and content that users need and want at the right time, but it also delivers a more consistent experience across all devices. 

The benefits to a well-designed and developed mobile site extend beyond the user’s experience with the site.  Google favors sites that are mobile responsive, ranking them higher in search results. Additionally, from a financial perspective, it can be more economical to maintain a responsive site, than maintaining both an app and any separate web presence that you maintain.

As with everything, the decision to utilize an app or a responsive mobile site is one that is keyed to your very specific set of business needs and requirements. If you just need a mobile site, chances are good that an app would be an unnecessary expense, as most features can be accomplished by using a mobile site. However, there is definitely a situation where an app is the better fit, especially if there is a very specific task that your users need to accomplish.

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