The trend of people consuming content and interacting on mobile platforms (smartphones and tablets) is undeniable and some have called it the beginning of the post-PC era. Content producers and marketers are faced with integrating a mobile strategy into their customer engagement plans – and quickly. The question many companies are wrestling with is do we develop a native app for iOS and Android or do we create a mobile website or both. The answer is not cut and dried and like most things in life – the answer depends on who you are, whom you are talking to and about what.
Both approaches have pros and cons. Here is a quick review from EConsultancy.com:
Native apps are programmed using Objective C on the iPhone or using Java on Android devices.
• Native apps make use of all the phone’s features, such as the mobile phone camera, geolocation, and the user’s address book.
• Native apps do not need to be connected to the Internet to be used.
• A native app is specific to the mobile handset it is run on, since it uses the features of that specific handset.
• Native apps can be distributed on the phone’s marketplace (e.g. Apple Store for iPhone or Ovi store for Nokia handsets).
Web apps run in the phone’s browser.
• This means the app works across all devices, and ensures cross-platform compatibility.
• The same base code can be used to support all devices, including iPhone and Android.
• However, web apps do not make use of the phone’s other features, such as the camera or geolocation.
• Web apps cannot be deployed to the phone’s marketplace.
Hybrid mobile apps are a mix between these two types of mobile applications.
• A hybrid app is a native app with embedded HTML.
• Selected portions of the app are written using web technologies.
• The web portions can be downloaded from the web, or packaged within the app.
• This option allows companies to reap all the benefits of native apps while ensuring longevity associated with well-established web technologies.
• The Facebook app is an example of a hybrid app; it is downloaded from the app store and has all the features of a native app, but requires updates from the web to function.
Questions for a marketer to answer while deciding which mobile road to take.
1. Who is your primary audience/customer? What is their preference and how do they like to interact with brands/companies?
2. What type of content are you distributing – do you have video/audio?
3. Do you sell your products online?
4. How much are you willing to invest? Marketing decisions often come down to a question of budget.
This research from eMarketer shows how and why consumers use mobile sites vs. native apps.
If you are selling online and need a tie in to back end systems you may be better off with a mobile optimized site. Or, if you are distributing content in ordinary forms such as a blog, a mobile site may also be more than adequate.
The main advantage to apps is two fold – it takes advantage of the phone properties (phone, camera, geo-location) and works well with social media/text/email ties in for sharing. The other advantage is marketing – you are promoted in the App Store, you appear on the face of the customer’s phone and there is something cool and sexy about having an App. Having a mobile enabled site may be all you need, but it won’t get anyone excited.
There is value to being on the face of a customer’s phone, a device that is with them all day and in all places. It is not an overstatement to say that people develop an emotional connection with their phone so being on the phone face helps build a relationship. With a mobile site, you can hope to be bookmarked or perhaps the user knows how to place an icon shortcut to your site on their phone from their browser. It is easy to do, but many people don’t know about it or don’t bother to do it.
On the flip side, creating a native app can be expensive, time consuming and needs updating. Before creating a native app you need to ask yourself if it is going to bring real value and utility to your audience or are you just going for the cool factor. For many companies, a well-done mobile site using HTML5 and/or responsive web design may be the ticket to mobile success. The bottom line is if the utility is there and you have the budget, creating both could cover all your bases. Overall, the most important factor to remember is that need to be everywhere your customers go to consume and interact with information.