mobile app or mobile website

Mobile App or Mobile Website: What does your business actually need?

We are on the crossroads of a very interesting era in the mobile landscape. Today, the debate over whether or not to go mobile-first has taken the backseat and has transcended to the next level of going mobile, i.e. whether businesses need a mobile app or a mobile website to stand out and be successful?

To put it very simply, the question today is: how crucial is a mobile app for the success of a modern business?

With over 2.1 million apps on the Google Play Store (for Android users) and 2 million apps on Apple’s App Store (for iOS users) as of the 3rd quarter of 2018 (Source: Statista), one would be tempted to believe that a mobile app would solve all business challenges and audience engagement woes, but that’s not entirely true.

As a mobile app development company, we have built mobile apps for businesses of different sizes and from diverse industries. And every time, before getting started with development or planning the mobile marketing strategy, we ask a simple question: What’s the nature of the business and audience?

The rest of the game plan should be structured based on the answer to that question.

Mobile App v/s Mobile Website: How similar and/or different are they?

An app is not always the obvious answer, while a mobile website might be insufficient in several cases and markets. So, how does one decide?

Awareness and User Engagement:

First things first – mobile apps command a certain degree of loyalty as users need to download apps and allow it phone space. This in turn facilities brandingby its constant presence on the phone and a natural propensity towards using it.

On the other hand, when it comes to immediate access, a mobile website wins, as users can effortlessly use any phone browser to access all information. A mobile website comes with almost no device-barriers to access, and if it’s a question of creating awareness and initial engagement, then a mobile website surely has its perks.  

App and Website Lifecycle:

When it comes to mobile apps, there is an additional risk of apps being uninstalled! The lifecycle of a mobile app is often limited as users at times delete apps either to save phone space or lack of engagement. Sometimes apps are downloaded simply for the thrill of it (gaming apps for instance) and then deleted soon due to lack of engagement. In fact, between January-July 2018, Adjust analyzed global app installs and concluded that at times apps are deleted in merely 5.8 days after they were last used!

That’s a very disappointing figure considering that in 2017, almost 178.1 billion apps were downloaded to connected devices! (Source: Statista)

The lifecycle of a mobile website, however, is not ruled by the user. While users might stop visiting a particular website after the initial engagement, the website in itself cannot be removed. Online presence, as such, will remain, and the mobile website can be viewed and engaged with by future users.

Development Cost and ROI:

An app moreover is expensive to build and developers need to build separate apps for iOS and Android platforms, often leading to the dilemma of whether to build an iOS or Android app first. A mobile website, on the other hand, requires no separate investments and is more economic than its app equivalent. Additionally, it is compatible across devices and would function seamlessly on Android and iOS phones.

Update and Upgrade:

In terms of development, when it comes to iOS development, there is the burden of a meticulous review process, that often takes up to 10 days or more. Moreover, every time new features are added or bugs are fixed, users need to be prompted to upgrade their apps. While this is comparatively easier for iOS phones, it’s a completely different battle for Android upgrades.

When it comes to a mobile website, the click of a ‘Review’ followed by a ‘Publish’ button ensures instant website-wide update.


There is also the big question of being ‘searchable’ or found. Mobile websites can be found easily online, once URLs are indexed and content is optimized for search (SEO).

Visibility is comparatively more tedious for apps, unless optimized for app stores through a comprehensive app store optimization strategy.

Though most apps are downloaded through word-of-mouth and recommendations, app store search has increased phenomenally, as more and more people are relying on app store results for installing relevant apps. Reason – App store results display all necessary details, especially app size, updates, description and app ratings and reviews, that guide users towards informed decision making.  

While these read like reasonable drawbacks of having an app developed for business, the fact that app revenue in 2016 was approximately $88 billion and is projected to rise to almost $189 by 2020 (Source: App Annie, Statista) leaves sufficient food for thought.

Considering that the number of businesses preferring to build customized apps has been steadily on the rise, it’s safe to conclude that apps have some edge over mobile websites.

The question is – is the business in question likely to gain from it or not?

Should you build a Mobile App or a Mobile Website?

When it comes to the question of whether to build a native mobile app or a mobile website, there’s usually no definite answer. Of course, logic says that mobile apps are not mandatory for any business – and yet, the number of apps being developed for mobile phones and tabs are teeming.

When to build a mobile app:

For instance, for a transportation service company like Uber or Lyft, an app is the most favorable solution. Users are likely to use the app every day and an app can be accessed with a tap. Moreover, data gathered through regular usage will assist to provide customized route recommendations and make auto-suggestions.

Gaming developers, on the other hand, should go for an app version for all practical reasons! Gaming apps are all about high-end UI/UX and apps provide the complete platform for seamless interaction with the game and its content. (Of course, there was a time when Zynga’s FarmVille was a rage and the desktop seemed like the perfect platform for interacting with the game; but we have come a long way from that.)

When to develop a mobile website:

For a business into vehicles/cars, for instance, an app does little justice. Users are likely to purchase a vehicle once in 2 years or more, and while they will certainly be researching the product before purchase, a web app or even a responsive website will serve the purpose. A mobile website with chat assist or click-to-call function will provide better service than an app.  

P.S. Of course, vehicle companies can plan to have apps for after-sales service or for finding the nearest dealer or service station!

When to maintain a mobile app and mobile website:

On the other hand, think of a hospitality and lodging company like Airbnb. The audience here is diverse. While there will be travelers who would simply browse, there would be serious travelers who would make bookings. There would be travelers who would be planning multiple trips annually, while others would make a booking for only one trip a year! Surely for a company like Airbnb, maintaining a mobile app and mobile website would be feasible, as their user/customer behavior is dynamic.

Whether a mobile website or a mobile app is better for the business?

Here’s the basic thumb rule: If the need is to create online presence first, or the business is likely to have users across platforms or is of a seasonal nature predominantly, go for a website first. A website will give permanence to the brand and easy access by all.

An app should be the choice when catering to a very specific purpose and niche audience, or when daily app engagement is likely, and the experience cannot be replicated or will be diluted by a website (eg. Think of an eCommerce app like Amazon: Do you enjoy to shop via the app or the website?)

Mobile Applications or Mobile Website: What’s good for your business

Whether enterprises or start-ups, all are adopting a mobile strategy for establishing market presence and reach. But when it comes to start-ups, the question is all the more poignant.

Start-ups usually have limited funds, and the intelligent allocation of resources is necessary. Enterprises, on the other hand, need to maintain their market presence and cannot compete with new players with obsolete technology. So, consider the pros and cons of mobile apps and mobile websites before deciding on your mobile strategy.

Here are some factors to consider that will help in decision making:

  • If it’s a generic product that needs to reach out to a wide audience base, it is advisable to build a mobile website first. Websites have multi-device reach, can be optimized for web search through SEO, and are compatible across platforms. Moreover, they are less expensive to build, requires minimal maintenance, and can save businesses the dilemma of additional resources and funds allocation.
  • If the product is one where multiple daily engagements is expected (eg. a social media and networking app or a gaming app), then a high-performing app is a natural choice. A recent survey by The Manifest shows that 39% of smartphone users rate social media apps as the most frequently used apps (2018).  
  • Also, consider if the product will require multiple updates frequently or only at scheduled intervals. The frequency will justify investment in an app or a mobile website. If updates are to be frequent, then a sound development team is required for apps, while the CMS can take care of effortless website updates.
  • Keep the business revenue goals in mind while planning. Before building an app, ensure to have an app monetization strategy in place. While most trending and top apps are free to download, they come with a thorough monetization strategy primarily via advertisements, in-app purchases, subscriptions, freemiums, etc.
  • Check if the product offers offline features (eg. music apps) or not. Mobile websites, however effective, need an internet connection to run. This is not the case with mobile apps that can offer offline mode features. Offline mode usually is a premium feature and subscriptions are required for access.  For instance, meditation and mindfulness app, SOS Method, offers subscribed members the choice to hear programs and meditations even without an internet connection.
  • And finally, consider the significance of user engagement for the success of the brand/product. Apps provide the flexibility to provide quality UI/UX and can even be personalized extensively for bringing out the best user experience. Mobile websites often miss out on this aspect.

The question today, therefore, is no longer about the choice of going mobile – it’s more on how to go mobile. There are billions of app downloads happening every year, and research shows that users have moved away from desktops to mobile. So, obviously, being mobile is the only choice. But whether your choice is to go for a web app or mobile app, consider your business goals and audience. And if you are in doubt, go for both!


April 29, 2019 2 years ago

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