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Apps vs Mobile webMaybe it's because we in the media crave dramatic tension, or because anyone on the sell side of mobile has a vested interest, but the mobile web vs. apps debate is still raging. It shouldn't be...

As we've worked on our just launched mobile ecosystem, it's become increasingly clear that even though mobile is changing the game, it's not changing the rules... of usability, commerce or communication. Just as mobile compliments, enables and accelerates other aspects of the customer relationship, apps and the mobile web are best in concert, not opposition.

Marketing channels don't disappear. They ebb (where art thou Massive in-game advertising), but they don't go away. Teens may view email as the cave scratchings of a bygone people, but it's still an integral part of marketing, and will remain so for long enough to be important to marketers that are still in diapers today.

With that in mind, let's turn to the question of apps vs mobile web. Can the mobile web do almost everything that apps can do? Yes. Does that mean that the mobile web will eclipse apps as the primary mobile channel to customers? Yes, at some point. Is that point close enough that marketers should abandon apps in their mobile strategy? Absolutely not (and for a second opinion, check out Forrester's take).

Considering the viewpoint of the customer first (always), an app gives them something digitally tangible, reliable and in many cases, something that's useful offline (that's becoming more important as wireless only tablets fly off the shelves). Although the tablet is making inroads for design and functionality, the mobile experience is still one defined by convenience over any other quality. That means a minimum of clicks, predictable behavior and fast response. Apps have the advantage on all of these fronts, at least in the mind of the consumer.

For the marketer, apps offer something the mobile web doesn't... branding. Grabbing a piece of third screen real estate is the modern equivalent of the kid slapping a poster on their bedroom wall (see Jennifer Beals, Howard the Duck and Ferrari). And, they allow brands to see exactly what customers do, or don't do, in a way that's still on the outer reaches of the mobile web. For some companies, the app market is also a readily accessible revenue stream. Followers of Major League Baseball are only one click and $15 dollars away from hearing their favorite games via the "At Bat" application. Move the experience entirely to the mobile web and that one click becomes many.

Back to the customer. Most of them don't have smartphones. They use search on their phones and it leads them to the mobile web (or as it's known to them, simply "the web.") Those with app enabled phones may use them as an access point, but ultimately, they want all of the information and products and flexility that they've come to expect from websites. That probably means jumping from app to mobile site, something else that customers don't care about, so long as it works well.

As for the marketer and the mobile web, there shouldn't be a question of "if" or even "when" because the answer for all businesses are "yes" and "yesterday." Search is the great driver in mobile as on the desktop, so companies must have a site that works well for that limitless audience.

So as with most heated debates, the proper course lies in the dull but practical middle. If your brand is in a position to grab application real estate, you should. It's a very powerful connection, especially if you've come up with a compelling reason to use the thing more than once. Even if you haven't, it's a sign board in the most trafficked visual space in someone's life, short of their spouse's forehead. But, that application should connect invisibly to your mobile web presence to give the customer total access to your content and products. Meanwhile, that mobile site should be friendly to the vast majority of potential customers - those who haven't downloaded your app (unless you happen to be with Rovio).

For companies that aren't likely to accumulate new users through an application (for example, retailers that get the vast majority of their customers through search) apps may still have a role in their retention strategy. But just like email or social programs, there has to be a reason to download (opt-in) such as discounts, early-bird specials or easier purchase and clear communication of those benefits.

Stefan Tornquist

Published 16 June, 2011 by Stefan Tornquist @ Econsultancy

Follow Stefan Tornquist for the "Stat of the Day" tweet or connect on LinkedIn. Stefan is Vice President, Research (US) for Econsultancy. .

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Rob

Interesting post. I agree that the battle between Apps and Mobile web has been miss sold but I'm not convinced that it is inevitable that mobile web will reign or that it can do most of what an app can do.

The connected world is changing fast and the the context in which a user is accessing your services is becoming more important. I've written a little about that here (http://www.in-traction.com/context-is-king).

Essentially Apps and Web will fulfil different roles. The age of the Web being squished into doing whatever we want maybe passing. Apps mean that we can contextualise the experience to the user more and the developers / designers / marketers who can do that most effectively will see huge results.

almost 5 years ago

Nico Koepke

Nico Koepke, CEO at KODIME LtdSmall Business

There are some fundamental differences between app and mob site. These include:

- ease of login, a "one time" scenario with apps, and "enter your details here" with mob sites. This makes a HUGE difference for any community-type service.

- simpler navigation via apps. The iOS doctrin (=Apple control) forces app developers (and clients) to stay within strict limits of icons, layers, user journeys. This means that (most) apps once downloaded instantly "work" for the user, different from the mobsite world where as with the web sites tend to have unique navigational options and features.

- quality control and "seal of approval". Especially with Apple having tight control over appstore, consumers will trust an app with their details more easily than a mobsite. Less so with Android Marketplace though.

- user engagement is higher with apps. We see longer usage period and higher conversions with some apps vs. their mobile site equivalent. This could be down to usability, or trust, or the type of user, hard to say at this stage, but the numbers are there.

- offline use. Even in London the supposedly wonderful 3G network drops every second street corner, and don't get me started on perfomance on commuter trains. Decent apps will use offline caching and "save this content" options, which mean they are usable even when out of network. Mobsite, nada.

- project focus. Building an app is for many clients more a "campaign" type activity, where making all existing web activity "go mobile" a massive undertaking involving IT, CMS changes etc. While I agree that combining apps with mobile sites can be powerful, we have to be realistic here, not every client is a Tesco or M&S to be able to have the resources (and budgets) to get these done in tandem and in sync.

Summary: these are exciting times for the mobile channel, and the consumer indeed does not care too much how the brand and features are delivered, as long as consistent and user friendly. In reality, each project needs evaluation to decide which is the best route, app, mob site or both, and that evaluation should include a market/device outlook beyond the next 6 months.

almost 5 years ago

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veiko herne

I had some mobile webistes since 2007 and recently I shot them down with following reasons:
1. You can't get any visitors there without having a huge marketing budget;
2. Google takes all sites same and even converts usual websites to mobile friendly format so you can't compete with your mobile readiness there;
3. I wasn't able to get any reliable statistics;
4. It simply didn't made me any money at all even I tried several ad and affiliate networks

An app could be much different story as:
1. It's still only mobile and works on that platform where you have written it
2. You have a established sales channels to sell and promote it
3. As the most viable startegy since 2007 to get visitors to your mobile website has been to release a free app, why you need your mobile site then at all... sure you can build the website functionality directly to your app?

almost 5 years ago

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Craig Sullivan, Customer Experience Manager at Belron International

This article is wrong, for almost every country I collect mobile device stats from. "Most of them don't have smartphones" LMAO! In the UK, for example in May, we have out of all mobile devices:

Tablets - 14%
Smartphones 78.94%
Feature phones - 3.66%
Media players - 3%
Games consoles - 0.3%

Nuff said - and it's like that in many key markets round the world (we have 35).

@nico Hybrid web apps (and most of our browser visitors run webkit) can store data like this, so logins are no problem.

Designing good experiences, on a par with an app, is an art but there are good examples later in this post.

In terms of seal of approval - not true - this is a complex question and involves the type of user, the data and the trust of the brand and site concerned. It is not true to say apps confer more trust - that's just an opinion and not fact.

User engagement with apps - higher but if mobile websites were fast (most aren't) or designed optimally for devices (very few are) then they could offer better comparisons with apps. If you compare a lot of Google's mobile optimised stuff, there is hardly *any* difference!

Offline storage - HTML5 which is now supported on over 85 and in some cases 90% (and over 95% of our converting audience) - no problem storing local data. There are plenty of articles and books about this, which is great on all the webkit browser based smartphones.

Making a site mobile. Actually, it isn't hard - we use 3 CSS stylesheets to render business logic, map data and inputs on 97% of UK handsets that visited us in the last 3 months. It wasn't hard to build but required good developers (who know their stuff).

This is one of the key problems with mobile - too many people perpetuate the myth that it is hard to do, complex or a resource drain. It doesn't matter though - when sites are taking up to 20% of their business through the mobile optimised version, that justifies the investment, period. Some of our sites have doubled their mobile business in the last 5 months.

Market outlook of 6 months? That will be upon you before you blink. We discovered that conversion rates are 2.2-3x higher on a mobile optimised site (than desktop version) so in that 6 months, how many sales might you have lost?

Some resources:

You can do touch, pinch, zoom too - load these on an iPhone:
http://cubiq.org/rotating-wheel-for-your-iphone-webapps
http://cubiq.org/iscroll-4

Some good sites:
m.flickr.com
mobile.twitter.com
m.facebook.com
m.bbc.co.uk
basecamphq.com
m.guardian.co.uk
m.dropbox.com
and of course
m.autoglass.co.uk
maps.google.com
m.foursquare.com
m.gmail.com
amazon.co.uk
m.johnlewis.com
m.marksandspencer.com
wap.ebay.co.uk
m.youtube.com
m.vimeo.com
m.wikipedia.org

Some mobile web app resources:

http://woorkup.com/2010/08/25/10-useful-frameworks-to-develop-html-based-webapps-for-touch-devices/
http://web.appstorm.net/roundups/100-web-apps-to-rule-them-all/
http://news.cnet.com/8301-30685_3-20029864-264.html
Some useful articles:
http://technolog.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2011/04/01/6389383-facebook-mobile-now-with-250-million-users-gets-a-makeover
http://networkeffect.allthingsd.com/20110125/facebook-sets-mobile-sights-on-html5/
http://techblog.netflix.com/2010/12/why-we-choose-html5-for-user.html
http://www.lukew.com/ff/entry.asp?1264
http://www.lukew.com/ff/entry.asp?933
http://www.lukew.com/ff/entry.asp?1270
http://www.lukew.com/resources/articles/MobileFirst_LukeW.pdf
http://www.lukew.com/presos/preso.asp?26

almost 5 years ago

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Craig Sullivan, Customer Experience Manager at Belron International

@Veiko

Try wwww.bango.com for their mobile device detection - far more reliable than most web analytics packages. My killer app for all my mobile projects and very good price.

Also - most marketers I've quizzed this year (and our own stats) show that the costs are low in PPC and display advertising on mobile. Returns are also good on SEO so for free and paid marketing, mobile offers less competition than the desktop search universe and a higher ROI.

And why do you need a mobile site at all? Because when people search for you, they don't use freaking iTunes as their primary discovery method, that's for sure.

almost 5 years ago

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Mike

I use apps more that the web because I am always on the go and the majority of the time the apps are much faster. But when I am in my office or home, its browser all day.

almost 5 years ago

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Craig Sullivan, Customer Experience Manager at Belron International

@Mike Depends on the site - try giving ours a go at m.autoglass.co.uk where there is a poor data connection. If more people optimised for performance like this, the mobile optimised web would be a slicker and faster place.

almost 5 years ago

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Craig Sullivan, Customer Experience Manager at Belron International

@Mike - One more point - we're finding a lot of people using their home wifi connections (we can see the ISP address blocks in the IP addresses).

We presume this is because they can do everything without getting up from their chair. Always on web doesn't have to mean 'away from office and home'. In the same way that people use tablets with their wifit connections, people also use phones in preference to desktops, even at home.

almost 5 years ago

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