The question is not what is the better solution – a mobile application or a mobile site – it is what works for your customer, brand and organisation? By understanding what it is you are trying to achieve from mobile in the first place and answering some simple questions such as who the audience is, what level of information versus engagement you want to achieve and what the long term goals are, the answer to the mobile website versus mobile app question will become clear.

With over 50% of Australians now owning a smartphone capable of installing applications, there is a much larger audience than ever before for native applications. Consumers are also far more tech savvy, with the majority of users understanding the process of using an app store on their handset and being able to install applications on their phone. Once an app has been downloaded, having the on-screen real estate of an icon is a powerful incentive for brands to develop applications. However apps that do not provide any utility function and have no incentive for repeat usage are quickly forgotten and the application will not lead to any return on investment. Basically, there must be a reason for your consumers to regularly use the app as a source of information.

On the plus side, native applications offer a much richer and more visually appealing user experience which takes advantage of a variety of handset-specific features such as location, accelerometer, camera, address book etc. However development time is required for each different operating system such as iOS and Android and development time is required for system updates. Building and maintaining applications across a range of platforms requires a variety of skill sets and development time. With that in mind, committing to a long term roadmap for your apps can provide valuable return on investment.

Mobile sites are often quicker to develop and can be optimised to run on a wide range of handsets. With the advent of HTML5, mobile sites can be developed with many of the attributes of native applications. Features such as offline caching and geo-location mean that much of what used to require a native application can be done within the browser. Although HTML5 has brought a number of standards to the mobile browser, there are still inherent challenges and quality assurance should be a significant component of any development process.

Enterprise applications – apps used for internal business or B2B purposes – are a significant area of growth for businesses wishing to take advantage of employees having the latest handsets and wanting to access information from the office when on the go. Native applications also offer significant security advantages over mobile sites as they can be linked in to corporate backend systems. Tigerspike’s Innovation Lab is investigating how enterprise organisations can take advantage of mobile applications to increase productivity and collaboration amongst employees.

Understanding how mobile fits in to your overall digital strategy is fundamental to determining what the best course of action is for your brand and business. You must also understand how the behaviours and preferences of your consumers are changing in the light of emerging technologies. There are pros and cons to developing mobile sites or mobile applications, but by having a clear understanding of what it is you are trying to achieve, the best course of action can be determined and a successful mobile execution can be developed.

With one billion smartphones predicted to be sold in 2015 and 300 million tablets forecast to be in the market, companies must interact and engage with their stakeholders via personal media or be left behind.

Oliver Palmer
BY Oliver Palmer ON 2 December 2011
Oliver has more than 15 years experience in the digital arena. As co-founder and Head of Innovation at TigerSpike, he combines his experience in technology with his passion for research and development to ensure TigerSpike remains an industry leader in the personal media space.