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The apps versus mobile websites debate isn't going away any time soon.

It's not an either-or proposition, and companies that get too focused on picking a winner may lose sight of more interesting and important subjects that apps and the mobile web have created.

For instance, instead of worrying about whether mobile websites will one day overtake mobile apps in popularity, consider the question: is your mobile app better than your main website?

That question is raised by an insightful blog post by Stackoverflow founder Jeff Atwood. Using a high-profile example, he points out that eBay's tablet and mobile apps "are just plain simpler, easier, and faster to use than the eBay website itself." His screenshots which pit the eBay website against its tablet and mobile apps show the stark contrast: the apps are simple and uncluttered, while the eBay website is quite the opposite.

According to Atwood, the lesson is to "embrace constraints":

Having a limited, fixed palette of UI controls and screen space is a strength. A strength we used to have in early Mac and Windows apps, but seem to have lost somewhere along the way as applications got more powerful and complicated. And it's endemic on the web as well, where the eBay website has been slowly accreting more and more functionality since 1999. The nearly unlimited freedom that you get in a modern web browser to build whatever UI you can dream up, and assume as large or as small a page as you like, often ends up being harmful to users. It certainly is in the case of eBay.

The solution: "design simple things that scale up; not complicated things you need to scale down." It's an interesting suggestion, and one that Atwood notes is part of the increasingly popular mobile-first design approach.

There's an obvious problem here, however, for many organizations: many don't know that their mobile app experience is better than their web experience. Which highlights the importance of analytics in mobile apps.

When a company understands how its mobile app users are interacting with its app, and collects the right data, it can compare apples (its mobile app) to oranges (its website) in a meaningful way.

If your mobile app has a better conversion rate for certain actions, for instance, it may hint that the more complicated website experience is getting in the way somehow. On the flip side, knowledge of what works well on the website and is popular with users can influence what functionality is a worthwhile candidate for inclusion in a mobile app.

The point here is that collecting, analyzing and comparing analytics data in every individual channel is the first step in building better experiences across all channels. Building fantastic user experiences is difficult, but the web and app worlds are giving companies a greater opportunity to pull it off if they're watching and carefully evaluating the right things.

Patricio Robles

Published 24 April, 2012 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

2380 more posts from this author

Comments (3)

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Matthew

This goes to prove that a Mobile First attitude (as recommended by Luke Wroblewski) and a content first approach is the right way to design and build websites for today and the future.

Paraphrasing Jared M Spool from his Secret Lives of Links presentation, "Mobile visitors want to see menus and opening hours, desktop users want a 1mb picture of a woman smiling at a salad."

Why shouldn't mobile and desktop visitors want, and expect the same content, and to be able to access it quickly and easily?

Paul Boag suggests that there are only 3 reasons for an app:

1) When there is a clearly defined task, such as Skype.

2)Where the app will be used regularly.

3)When the app will need to use the native features of the mobile device, such as the camera or location.

By focusing on creating a better mobile website offering a better user experience, and ideally using Responsive Web Design, there is no need to make an app.

However, if the app is performing much better than the "mobile" or "desktop" version of the website, then there are obviously issues with the website site that need addressing.

over 4 years ago

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daniel

We Developed high quality website upgrade to current website ,Web Design and
Modification to an existing project Flash imaging, links to a you tube video
Were done in 100 % Satisfaction for us by ITShastra ................ Excellent.

over 4 years ago

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Rita Dawson

That's absolutely true. Jeff Atwood has given a good example with eBay. I get confused with eBay website while I feel the Mobile app to be very convenient. I think so are many mobile apps. I always go with Mobile apps rather than websites.

about 4 years ago

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