A few years ago, there was much debate around the best mobile solution for businesses: native apps or stand alone mobile sites

To summarise the argument, apps allowed more functionality (geo-location, barcode scanners etc), while mobile sites had the advantage of appealing to the casual mobile searcher, and across a range of devices. 

As iOS devices dominated the mobile web back then, an app was often the best solution, but this is no longer the case. 

Now, thanks to responsive and adaptive design, as well as HTML5, mobile sites can offer many of the same features as apps. 

So does this mean apps and stand-alone mobile sites are no longer needed? 

Have the options of AWD and RWD made stand alone mobile sites irrelevant?

Stuart McMillan, Deputy Head of Ecommerce at Schuh:

Yes, given current device activity, assuming you have the resource and sufficient justification to develop new sites.

Consider carefully whether a small amount of work on your mobile site might deliver a greater amount of benefit than a rebuild now.

You might just want to wait a year and decide to rebuild your mobile site and leave the desktop site as a legacy site. It will depend on your traffic mix.

Ryan Webb, digital development director at equimedia:

We’d never rule any options out. A slightly different solution is needed for everyone.

In fact, in lots of cases we find clients hesitating because they don’t know what solution to implement, so we encourage them to just get a stand alone mobile landing page live as quickly as possible!

Also, a mix of all of these solutions can work well. We have one client who has a combination of (i) standard brochure ware pages for desktop/tablet (ii) a stand alone smartphone landing page and (iii) a fully responsive sales funnel.

This combination seems to be working well for them.

Justin Taylor, MD at Graphitas: 

In principle yes. In reality, no. For a business building from scratch, the cost and process efficiency of maintaining one code base (responsive) vs. multiple code bases (stand alone mobile site) at face value outweighs the benefits of stand alone.

However, not all businesses are in the position to build from scratch and it can be incredibly costly, not to mention time consuming, to migrate legacy platforms to a responsive code base.

My advice is always to start by defining the business goals and needs and then work out which technical solution can best deliver against the goals. If it’s responsive, then evaluate the pros and cons (not just cost) to decide if the ROI justifies the investment.

It may be sensible to evolve to RWD/AWD in phases to manage the cost over time rather than in one hit. So start by making the core components of the website responsive, then build out the rest over time but this needs careful project management and coding discipline.

Thanks to AWD and RWD, are apps now becoming unnecessary?

Stuart McMillan:

For most people apps are unnecessary, a well-executed HTML5 site should cover all their needs.

More and more device native functionality is becoming available to the browser, for example the getUserMedia API, which is part of WebRTC, allows access to the smartphone camera.

Browser-based barcode scanning will be with us soon, hopefully this year.

Ryan Webb:

As websites evolve and we find new solutions for optimising them across devices it certainly seems that the need for native mobile apps is reducing.

However, as with anything like this, it depends on your objective. There are some functional things that a native app is better for (accessing the smartphone’s contacts, uploading photos, use GPS etc.) so if these are an important part of your strategy then a native app may be better.

Furthermore, if your ultimate goal is customer retention, then what better way to encourage brand loyalty than by persuading your customers to download an app to their phone that they find so useful that they engage with it every day!

Our Mobile Web Design and Development Best Practice Guide looks in detail at mobile site design and development.