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Mobile App vs. Mobile Website

Mobile web technologies are continuously improving, providing mobile website visitors with more app-like experiences. However, there are several reasons why a well-designed mobile app can deliver a superior experience.  See the table below for an overview of the differences between mobile apps and mobile websites.

A Mobile App is a software application that works on a specific mobile device's operating system and is downloaded to the device to perform a specific set of functions. Apps can be device-specific such as iPhone and iPad apps.

A Mobile Website is a website intended to be viewed using a mobile browser on the various display sizes of phones, tablets, and other mobile devices. Mobile websites are typically simplified versions of a standard website that provide a better mobile user experience through improved usability, faster page loads, and often reorganization of content to bring mobile-specific features to the forefront of the experience.The table below outlines some specifics of each option:

  Mobile App Mobile Website 
PortabilityNeeds to be developed for each platform (iPhone, BlackBerry, Android, Palm, etc.).Common platform – some solutions enable you to develop once and run on all web-enabled mobile devices.
HyperlinksIt is possible to link to an app but since most users will not have the app installed, the most effective way is to link to the download page for this app. It is possible to link from an app externally to other websites.Possible to provide links to different pages on your mobile site and to link from your mobile site to other websites.
Development SkillsSpecialized programming.Design, development, and deployment of a mobile website is similar to a standard website. 
Channel Controls 

Apple, Google, RIM, Wireless Carriers. 

PBS and stakeholders.

DiscoverabilityMost apps don’t achieve critical success and fade into the world of anonymity. You will need a very well defined strategy to break into the top list for your category in order to make it.People can find your site by using any of the search engines and via links from other websites, blogs, Twitter and links embedded in emails. A good marketing strategy can definitely increase the number of visitors, especially if it is viral.
Distribution & Market SizeApple App Store requires submission approval as well as an annual membership with an associated fee.  Requires users to download – huge barrier to entry. 

 

Limited to the number of users on the released platform

Anyone on the web has access to your mobile site regardless of hardware or operating system.
Usage of Device Capabilities

Able to use all device capabilities (GPS, camera, voice, RFID, address book, calendar, etc.).

Interface controls are more intuitive and operate without the same lag time of mobile websites, which transfer data back and forth between server and user.

Developed for a single screen size or a smaller range of sizes, making interface and controls easier to design.

It is possible to use features like GPS, offline data storage, and video from within mobile websites using the latest mobile browsers which support HTML5. Access from the web to some native capabilities of mobile devices is still limited due to security and privacy concerns (e.g. access to address book or calendar).
Supportability & Upgradeability

Difficult to support and maintain after app is downloaded. Every new release with bug fixes requires to go through the entire approval process of the app store.

After new version of application is placed in the store, it requires all existing users to upgrade in order to get it- big barrier.

Easier to support and maintain as developer has complete access to the site.

 

No need to upgrade, all users see the latest version.

Entry CostsSome app stores charge extra fees for publishing or certifying your app.None.
Revenue ShareNeed to share sales revenue with the app stores.All revenue is yours.
User ExperienceFull control of User Interface.Limited to the capabilities of HTML/CSS. User experience will largely depend on how the mobile website is designed.
PerformanceAble to achieve high performance through app code that runs locally on the device.  Can store resources locally and utilize the computing power and memory of the device to perform operations instantaneously.Performance will largely depend on how the mobile website is designed.
Offline BrowsingPossible.HTML5 enables it to some extent, but is supported only on selected devices.

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