Still on the fence – mobile site or app?
December 20, 2010
Lee Zoumas is is manager of design and development at MoreVisibility
By Lee Zoumas
Every marketer knows that to gain an advantage over its competitors it needs to have a mobile strategy in place.
There are two main approaches that a marketer can take to determine how to deploy its mobile strategy.
The first approach is via a mobile application, which is an application that is physically installed on a mobile device, such as Pandora or Facebook.
The other approach is via a Web-based application or mobile Web site that is viewed on a mobile device’s browser.
So how does a marketer determine which approach is right for it?
Site to see
The answer to this question may lie in the differences between these two approaches.
The differences between mobile application development and mobile Web site development are quite similar to that of traditional desktop development and Web development.
The biggest difference is that in mobile application development you are developing the application for a specific device such as the iPhone, Android, BlackBerry or Windows Phone.
All four of those devices run their respective operating system and require knowledge of a completely different software development kit and development environment.
When developing a mobile Web site, you are developing against the device’s native Web browser.
This is very similar to desktop Web site development in that developers still need to be conscious of the same techniques for having the Web site display properly across multiple browsers.
So in a sense, you can write one set of code for a mobile Web site and have it behave functionally the same across all the different mobile devices.
There are a few intricacies in the way that browsers render CSS, but developers can add a sniffer to detect the mobile browser and serve up a different CSS for a specific device.
Another variance between mobile applications and mobile Web sites is the way that updates are handled.
Locating app’s charms
On a mobile application, updates are delivered in the form of a patch that has to be physically downloaded and installed on the actual device.
Mobile Web site updates are transparent to the end user because they take place on the Web server.
Once an update is made on the Web server, it is now available to all users who are visiting the mobile Web site.
Coordinating patches for mobile applications among the various operating systems is a time-consuming task that requires a lot of resources and has a lengthy and complicated QA process.
The actual type of application you are planning to develop can also dictate the approach you choose.
For example, if you are planning on developing a location-based application that ties into your mobile phone’s GPS location, then a mobile application may be the better option.
A mobile application makes it easier to access a device’s native functions through the software developer’s kit (SDK), such as global positioning.
On the other hand, it is more difficult to achieve global positioning natively through a mobile Web site.
There are many third-party tools available that will help do this, but most of them rely on your phone’s IP address, which is not as precise as GPS.
It is a common trend for marketers to take the mobile application approach as its software solution of choice, thus ignoring the mobile Web site approach altogether.
If a marketer truly understands the differences in these approaches, it will be able to make a more informed decision in the selection of its mobile approach.
The company will also ultimately save time and money in the long run, while also delivering to its end users the best possible mobile experience.
Lee Zoumas is manager of design and development at MoreVisibility, Boca Raton, FL. Reach him at .
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