There’s a lot of buzz in the marketing world about mobile “apps.” If you’re interested in creating a mobile app, in most cases it makes sense to ensure that you have a mobile-friendly web presence first. Sure, iPhone and Android apps have the potential to provide the richest user experience. However, a mobile version of a website can generally be developed more quickly and less expensively than an app, and is much easier to alter and update. And, one mobile website can work across multiple platforms, whereas a separate app must be developed for each individual platform.
Apps have gained attention due (in my opinion) mostly to some early, innovative iPhone applications. Yeah, that’s right, I said applications. We’ve always had ‘applications’ and ‘programs’ for desktop and laptop computers, and even for the pioneering mobile device platforms like the Palm OS. Once Apple started using the term “app,” it really caught on. There’s even an App Store just for Mac desktop applications. The buzzword factor reminds me of a short bit from Seinfeld:
George: Salsa is now the number one condiment in America.
Jerry: Do you know why? Because people like to say “salsa.”
The explosion of interest in apps is great, but I think it has cast a shadow on the importance of websites designed and built for mobile devices.
We recently got our hands on Adobe’s February 2011 Scene7 Mobile Commerce Survey: Mobile Shopper Insights for 2011 (registration required). This report contains a few findings that support the importance of mobile websites over apps. It’s focused on retail, but I believe that the information applies to general usage as well.
Most of the participants of this survey were carrying an iPhone, iPad, Android device, or Blackberry. In the context of this discussion, the iPhone and Android are most relevant. Not too many people are constantly carrying an iPad around with them. And while there are tons of Blackberry phones out in the wild, only the newest ones (using the Blackberry 6 OS, which does not have wide adoption yet) have a decent web browser.
Most people carrying a mobile device prefer accessing the web directly, not through an app:
And, users prefer the browser over an app for many specific tasks:
It is interesting to note that the margin of preference (browser over app) is significantly narrower among iPhone users. This is a reflection of the vast number of iPhone apps that are available (far more than Android), but does also demonstrate iPhone users’ comfort with apps.
So, if you’ve been thinking “app,” consider the mobile web as well. You’ll almost certainly see greater return on your investment. In a recent Mashable article, Aaron Maxwell estimates that “you can reach nearly five times as many people per dollar invested with a mobile website rather than a native mobile app.”