Way back in 2007 Shrek the Third premiered, Jason Lewis completed the first human-powered circumnavigation of the globe, and, oh yeah, Apple released its first iPhone. It was just a fad. Despite being small and horribly underpowered by today’s standards, it kicked off the smartphone revolution. Other companies had beat Apple to market with their own smartphones (current tech giants such as Palm and Blackberry), but Apple was able to make theirs more user friendly with features like a touch screen and a virtual keyboard.
Since 2007 a little more than 7 billion smartphones have been sold or about 1 for every person on the planet. Couple that with the explosive growth in mobile internet usage, and companies are scrambling to make sure their customers can get to them on their smartphone. The question is: do they need an app or just a responsive website?
APP vs. Responsive Website
So, what’s the difference between an app and a responsive website?
- Is installed on your phone or tablet
- Depending on permissions, can have access to additional features on your device (e.g. contacts, photos, etc.)
- Tends to have a more consistent look and feel compared to other apps on your phone.
A responsive website:
- Exists on the web and therefore requires an internet connection to be available
- Can’t access features on your device
- Has a more customized look that hopefully reflects the company’s unique personality
Why company X should get an app
First and foremost, apps can do things websites can’t. An app can grab contact information, photos, and your real time location if you have given it permission to do so. Websites can’t do that.
Apps don’t necessarily have to have an internet connection available in order to work. It depends on what the app does. If your app doesn’t have to contact a server for information (product information, order status, etc.), then users can use it even if they are out of internet service.
It should also be pointed out that many users (especially on Android phones) expect an app to be free and supported with either ads or micro transactions. That type of model may or may not fit with your expectations. There are certainly premium apps out there that have to be purchased and are very successful. However, unless your app has a specific target audience and offers features they can’t get elsewhere, you should plan to give the app away and monetize the users of the app (selling your products to them, etc.).
Why company X should choose a responsive website
Apps can be expensive if done right. Initially few companies had an app and very few companies were creating them. Then some developers realized they could create what’s called an “app wrapper” quickly and easily. These apps were little more than a container that started up a web browser and pointed it to a given website that was built specifically for mobile devices. In the early app store days, these started really taking off. So much so, that Apple banned them from its app store.
Modern websites are responsive. If you aren’t sure if your company’s website is responsive, go to your website on your phone and take a look at it. If it just looks like a really small copy of your regular website, then it most likely is not responsive. Responsive websites offer a much improved experience for mobile visitors to your site. Because mobile web browsers are consistently updated, they have all of the latest features available and web developers can take advantage of that to provide a compelling, friendly experience that will encourage your visitors to stay on your site longer.
Probably the biggest reason a company should choose to skip the app and just get the responsive website is cost. If you are getting a new website, it needs to be responsive anyway. If you want an app, you can scrimp on the mobile version of your site and just point users to download your app instead. However, requiring users to jump through hoops can be dangerous. You’ll always lose some users who just can’t be bothered with the extra effort. Additionally, to reach the majority of users you’ll need to develop two apps (one for Android and one for iOS). There are programs available to help developers with porting an app from one to the other, but it still takes additional time and effort which means additional cost.
There isn’t a single answer for everyone to this question. It really boils down to the individual company’s needs and goals. Maybe you want your users to be able to interact with each other in real time. Maybe you provide a service allowing your users to back up their mobile data to your servers for safe keeping. In those cases, an app is definitely worth strong consideration.
On the other hand, if you only need to provide your visitors with a sleek, friendly, and innovative website, you’re better off skipping the app and investing more effort into making it the best it can be. So ask yourself, should there be an app for that?