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Mobile app vs responsive website

Have you ever wondered whether to create an app or just have a mobile-friendly website? Ideally, you'd want to look at developing both, but if your budget prohibits the expense, deciding between the two paths can feel like you're giving up on an opportunity.
March 12, 2014

Have you ever wondered whether to create an app or just have a mobile-friendly website? Ideally, you’d want to look at developing both, but if your budget prohibits the expense, deciding between the two paths can feel like you’re giving up on an opportunity.

While an app can cost more to produce, your decision to go with native app or responsive website should be based on two parameters:

What would your target audience prefer?

What platform makes the most sense for your content?

One of the best ways to determine your path is to start developing for both platforms. As you move through the early-stage development, certain realities about your goals and content come to light, and you feel comfortable about your decision. Also, you’ve potentially lays the groundwork for future content development.

Understand and define your content

Whether you’re creating new content or re-purposing existing, it’s good to see what naturally fits where.

For example, if you’re creating new content like an awesome game that works on mobile, then an app is likely the way to go. While developers can do some amazing things with HTML5, its functionality can be limiting and testing on the platform can push you over budget. Don’t skimp on game quality just to make it work on a mobile browser. Kids will only care about the game experience, not the technology that went into making the game.

However, if your new content is not a game, consider how using the phone functionality (camera, GPS, etc.) could enhance your content. If it can, an app might be the way to go.

Are you interested in re-purposing existing content? Conduct a inventory of your current digital content to establish what can be reused in the mobile environment. Usually at this stage, you can establish through this content audit if a responsive web design is better suited to your needs.

Know your audience

Here is where you need to create context for why a kid would prefer an app or a website.  Develop scenarios that explain where a child or their parent would use and open this app, or the content on your website. Review the current analytics of your site to see what mobile devices they’re using now, and where on the website they’re going while using a handheld. Could this content easily be ported into a mobile environment?

Boil it down to one sentence, and understand mobile content

Let’s say you’ve decided to go the app route. Can you create one sentence that summarizes what your app needs to do, and why? Try the Apple Application Definition Statement (ADS) model. An inability to explain your idea might suggest you need to head back to the drawing board to understand your content and audience better.

If at this stage you’ve decided to go the responsive design route, I urge you to visit Karen McGrane’s site about Mobile Content Mandate, where she helps you understand that a mobile site should be as robust in content as your desktop site.

Get your Team

Whether your developers work in house or are outsourced, they can help provide insight that could generate new ideas and keep you on track. For example, if your website is a blog, there is a growing number of platforms that can make your site look good on any screen. And speaking of keeping on track, be sure the development team understands your objective and your ADS.  If they don’t, perhaps it isn’t clear and you’ll need to revisit your statement.

These early stage tasks can take some time, but it can guide you towards a decision based on your company’s goals rather than your budget limitations.

Lianne Stewart is a freelance digital consultant and content strategist. Follow her on Twitter at @liannestewart.

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