We get a lot of questions regarding mobile apps. Quite a few people have an incredible idea for an app, but others are just wanting to have their site available for their mobile users. What’s better? An app? Or, a mobile website? I’m glad you asked!
There are actually three separate ways to develop for mobile all with their pros and cons. A mobile app is one that is developed directly for a specific app store and platform. To this end, Android apps are different than iPhone apps, which again are different than Blackberry apps. Each require knowledge of a specific set of software (called a Software Development Kit or SDK) and requires a developer account for the specific app store. The specific use for apps are also different than a mobile version of a site. An app usually is used for some sort of repetitive functionality so that there is a reason to come back to your app again and again (enough to have it be an icon on their phone).
Mobile website take on the last two forms. The first is a dedicated website built for mobile browsers that redirects from the desktop version usually to a subdomain (m.yoursite.com) or, less commonly, to a separate domain (ex. yoursite.mobi). These versions of the site usually have very slim designs and not a lot of pictures to be optimized for mobile browsing. These are often not full versions of the site; they have considerably less content, providing the basics of the site message, features and contact information.
The last type is what is known as a responsive design. It is just coming into mainstream use and is arguably the best of the three. This version detects the width of your browser and serves the same information in a view optimized for your screen width. In this manner, we have several “break points” for different views from different devices. This puts a large focus on keeping the file size of the main site down so it serves quickly to desktops and to mobile devices. In this manner, all the information found on the main site will be found on any device. An amazing example of a “responsive site” is www.bostonglobe.com. If you load this up in your browser, then drag the width of your browser window slowly narrower, you’ll see the content reorganize itself. When the window is about as narrow as your hand, you’re seeing the view you would see on your cell phone. To this end, we try to program all sites in a responsive manner.
Depending on the size and complexity of your desires, specific mobile websites can run a few thousand dollars and up. Responsive websites are usually quoted with your regular website creation. Mobile apps often run in the tens of thousands and require a full business plan before most web firms will look at them.
Which one is right for you?