Mobile applications (apps) and mobile websites often perform very similar roles yet there are still fairly large differences between the two.
So, what are they? An application is a program that will be downloaded onto the user’s phone; as such, it can be tailored to a very specific purpose and can be more interactive with the user than a mobile site.
Applications can be accessed offline and can be left running in the background of your phone, allowing for easier access where regular usage is required.
A mobile site is simply a website that has a specific variant for mobiles. Mobile sites are sometimes preferred to apps as they are easier to access and provide a greater online presence for businesses, and they can be found and shared easily. Mobile sites are cheaper and easier to make than apps, and they offer compatibility across all phone devices.
eBay’s application is useful for regular users as it allows for push notifications on bids and followed items, and it provides an easier interface for those wanting to sell items. Blizzard, the creators of World of Warcraft, have produced an app for their game that provides the perfect example of how apps can be more relevant than mobile sites. The app allows users to access in-game features such as the store (auction house), team chat and follower missions that require an amount of processing power not accessible through a website.
However, the company’s online store (Battle.net) has remained app free with a mobile site. This is mainly due to the fact that Blizzard experiences far greater desktop traffic than mobile traffic by up to seven times as much, meaning a mobile-only app would not be worth the development cost. But, it is also due to convenience as their customer support must be readily accessible on all devices.
Why Not Use Both?
Apps and Mobile sites often shine in their own areas but they work best where there is some crossover. Shopping sites like Amazon often feature both, as companies must support a wide range of customers, from regular users to one-off interactions.
In the world of iGaming there is a number of casinos that offers both a mobile site and applications to download. The casino uses a mobile site for ease of access and for first time players, while they offer applications for many of their games so they can be accessed offline or on the go.
Lastly, HSBC mobile banking features a mobile site and app that must be used in conjunction as a security measure. It is a great example of both being used to their strengths; the mobile site allows for convenient banking whereas the app, which can only be on the account holder’s phone, confirms the account holder is the one accessing the mobile site through a throw-away generated input code.
Both applications and mobile sites have their own positives and negatives; you should decide which you want to develop based on what kind of experience you want your users to have.
For regular accessibility, security, and greater integration with the phone’s features (such as use of the camera) developing an app is best. For ease of access, better web presence, upgradeability, and cross-device compatibility, mobile sites are the best option.