Apps vs mobile web - what should you develop

The mobile and smartphone markets in the UK are huge, as they are worldwide. In the UK we have more phones than people and of those phones over half are smartphones. As such, it is no surprise that brands, big and small, have taken particular interest in mCommerce. However a conundrum which has proved a stumbling block for some is:  Should we develop a mobile app, a mobile website or both?

Why do consumers care?

In an article I read recently it was claimed that consumers simply do not care if you have a mobile app or website and that they don't know the difference anyway, or so it was claimed. I disagree. Even if the consumer does not know the difference, the choice of whether to download your app or browse the mobile web for your services is a conscious one. In a recent study we carried out to better understand mCommerce we discovered that Apps were great for repeat purposes, checking social media or train timetables. However, if a user was looking for pure information on the spur of the moment, in the majority of cases they would use the mobile web to browse for what they were looking for. Even if the consumer were to download your app for their one off purpose if it does not fit into a routine our study showed that it was soon forgotten and subsequently deleted. Essentially, you need to decide what you want to offer; what can you supply by way of  service? If your offering is not invaluable to a users daily routine, then a mobile app is not ideal (an exception to this rule might be using apps for one off spurts of brand awareness). If you can't or don't want to supply such a service via native apps make sure you have a  website optimised for the mobile web, try responsive design. When it comes to mobile the customer is king - "We no longer get to be the tail that wags the dog".

Looking to the future

Recently there has been growing debate surrounding the future of native apps and whether HTML5 and responsively designed websites might be their downfall. Indeed, HTML5 can offer app like functionality  in a web browser and best of all their is nothing to download. Skeptical? Some big brands have already taken this step, the Financial Times for example. After developing their web app it quickly overtook their native iOS app in popularity.  It became so popular they no longer offer a native equivalent. Whatever their grievances with Apple would they have made this step if it were not for HTML5? Probably not. However FT's approach is in no way indicative of the future of native apps. Will manufacturers like Apple, whose success was arguably founded upon native apps, let them disappear? Nevertheless, I believe there will be a shift towards web apps. According to research from IDC by 2013 there will be more than 1 billion HTML5-capable browsers in use throughout the world. Applications for those HTML5 browsers will be created by 2 million HTML Web developers. The future looks bright for HTML5.

To conclude

Research, a clear idea of what you want to offer, and an in-depth understanding of your target audience are integral to your decision concerning mobile websites and native apps. But, as a general rule, apps repeat purposes, mobile sites single purposes. As far as the future of native apps is concerned, will they even be around in 5 years? If i were to give any advice it would be not to second guess the mobile market. By all means consider HTML5 and definitely look into responsive design but the mobile market moves too fast to predict, and there can certainly be an element of serendipity in developing your mobile offering. If you are interested in this topic we are releasing the aforementioned mCommerce report in the coming months, so please keep an eye on Twitter and our website!

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