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The first mobile phone was launched in the year 1973 and this year commemorates the 40th year of its birth. Mobile is everywhere and creating presence amongst mobile consumers is a growing need amongst enterprises. For starters, after having decided to invest in mobile and mobile technology solutions, the next big question is whether to invest in mobile application development or mobile website development. Though this has been in discussion for a long time, the solution is still elusive to most. Here is a guide to help one decide between a mobile application and a mobile website.

In order to arrive at a solution, it is important to answer a few key questions:

  1. What is the business need for the mobile application?
  2. Who will be the audience/customer?
  3. What kind of interaction with the target audience is required?

Mobile Web and Mobile Apps serve different purposes. Understanding the above questions will enable one to choose the relevant solution. A business need may be to create brand awareness, render product information, increase customer retention, run campaigns etc. Similarly the target audience can be a large population spread across geographies, ranging from a targeted population in a specific country/continent to consumers at a specific stage of a purchase life-cycle. This would also determine the kind of interaction that is needed to capture the attention of the audience. Different problems, different solutions. Once these questions are answered, one can look into the next level of features needed for the application. Prioritizing the features below would enable one to arrive at a suitable solution:

1. Device specificity and Audience reach
Mobile Apps are best suited for device specific applications. If the application is targeted at different platforms for a very wide audience, Mobile Web is a better choice. Mobile Web can be viewed by anyone with the help of a mobile browser unlike a Mobile App, which can be accessed only by appropriate devices for which the application has been designed. Also, a Mobile Website can be found through search engines which increases the chances of getting noticed vis-Ã -vis a Mobile App, which can only be searched in an app store or at specific sites.

2. Native Device Capabilities
Mobile Apps can best exploit native device capabilities like camera, accelerometer, GPS etc. If device hardware integration is not required, Mobile Web can be a suitable option.

3. Rich User Experience
Mobile Apps provide rich user experience and high graphic interactivity through a rich mobile UX design. Unlike Mobile Websites, they do not have dependency on bandwidth to provide these features.

4. Offline Usage
Mobile Web will work only when connected to a network. In case, there is a need to store important information for offline usage, Mobile App is the right choice.

5. Cost and Affordability
Building device specific applications for different platform can be an expensive exercise. A Mobile Website is more generic and can be accessed across multiple devices. And typically the total cost of Mobile Website development is less than that of a Mobile Application.

6. Updates and Maintenance
Mobile Apps once updated need to be pushed to the users. There may be a need for multiple development for different platforms. Also, for some app stores, an update means a re-submission process. As such, frequent updates may not be very conducive for Mobile Apps. On the other hand, updates in Mobile Websites are reflected easily and instantaneously.

7. Expected Lifetime
Usually, if the application is supposed to be available for a very long period of time and is used to achieve objectives like content distribution, Mobile Web is an ideal choice. If the application is targeted at a niche audience, a specific event, campaign or serves a specific purpose which requires the application to be available for a limited time frame, Mobile App is the right option.

8. Usage Frequency
Mobile Apps usually lead to higher frequency of usage and increased user’s interaction time. Strong user engagement can be achieved through Mobile Apps. However, if the application does not need very frequent usage, then mobile website is a good choice.

The choice for Mobile App or Mobile Website is driven by the above considerations. However, that is just part of the story. App and Web need not be treated as substitutes all the time. They fulfill different objectives and as such, in many cases, enterprises can adopt strategies to reap complementary benefits. For example, while mobile web can be used for brand establishment, lead generation and conversion, mobile app can be used for post purchase engagement and customer retention. The right approach and implementation of web & app to make them work in synergy can have the potential to create wonders at different phases of a consumer’s purchase life-cycle.

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