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The Great Debate: Building a Mobile Site or a Mobile App

Duo on April 7, 2014

How do you know which to choose?

Just six years ago, iPhones cames into existence and they, along with Androids, have come to dominate the mobile phone market in less than a decade. In this day and age, you know you need a mobile presence in order to stay in the game. The question that has replaced, "Do I need a mobile website?", is: do I build a mobile site or a native app? 

Only you can answer that question, but to help you do so we’ve compiled a list of functions that can assist in determining which is best for your business.

1. Phone Accessibility & User Experience

One of the major reasons companies develop native apps is their capability to access other phone features. Brian Krall, Duo’s senior front-end developer, explains that apps “can progressively enhance your content based on what features a user has. For example, with Facebook and Twitter you can take a picture with your camera and upload it right from the app without having to send it anywhere”. Native apps can also use many other features including GPS, scanning and accelerometer tools, all of which can provide for a better user experience.

Camera aside, native apps also provide user benefit in that they are 100% tailored to mobile platforms, resulting in seamless and intuitive use. Depending on the company and programming necessary, they don’t have to be reliant on the Internet in order to function.

2. SEO

If you’re creating a mobile presence in the hopes of improving your SEO, a mobile site is the only option. Native apps won’t increase your chances of being found by search engine crawlers, as they’re platformed on the phone itself, not the Internet. Create a user-friendly site with minimal loading time to produce successful results. If your site is designed with your user in mind, your audience is bound to be delighted by your content and continue to come back for more. 

3. Time Investment

If you’re in a time crunch and need your mobile presence developed as quickly as possible, an app may not be your first choice. App development can be time consuming, as developers must follow Windows, Google Play, and Apple App Store guidelines and wait receive approval before it can be launched.

Mobile site development, whether done in-house or outsourced, is generally a much quicker process from start to finish. In the long-run, updates are easier to implement and can be done within your time-frame. In general, native apps must be updated along with software updates. For instance, all Apple App Store apps were required to be optimized for the new iOS 7 by February 1.

4. Buyer Personas

Knowing your audience will help you to understand how they desire to connect with you. One way to determine this is by looking at your analytics. Are most of your users interacting with you via iOS? Windows? Mobile? Try to cater to the largest audience possible by keeping your buyer persona’s user habits in mind.

Brian Krall notes that on a macro level, “you're going to reach the most people with a responsive site. Apps have really targeted ecosystems, and the two biggest on-ramps are iOS and Android.  They both have big audiences but not as big as ‘the web’”.

Regardless of whether a mobile site or a native app proves to be the best solution for your company, having any mobile presence at all is the best choice your company could make. Examine your company’s needs and limitations in order to decide which format best suits your needs and then take steps in order to implement your decision. For suggestions on designing a mobile site, take a look at this post of helpful tips

In terms of cost, if you’re looking to produce a mobile presence with minimal financial investment, mobile sites are the way to go. However in a perfect world, building both an app and a mobile-friendly site would create the best results, appealing to all audiences and utilizing all of the advantages smart devices provide. 


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