Mobile Websites vs. Apps

Instantly Available
The most obvious difference is immediacy - an app is usually downloaded from iTunes or the Android Market, whereas a Mobile Website can run on your mobile's browser (Safari in the case of Apple).

Compatibility Across Devices
Mobile Websites can reach users across many different types of mobile devices, whereas native apps require a separate version to be developed for each type of device.

Updatable Instantly
A Mobile Website is much more dynamic than an app in terms of pure flexibility to update content; updating an app on the other hand requires the updates to be pushed to users, which then must be downloaded in order to update the app on each type of device.

Findability - Can be Found Easily
Mobile Websites are much easier for users to find because their pages can be displayed in search results and listed in industry-specific directories, making it easy for qualified visitors to find you. In contrast, the visibility of apps are largely restricted to manufacturer app stores.

Mobile Sites Have Broader Reach
Because a Mobile Website is accessible across platforms and can be easily shared among users, as well as search engines, it has far greater reach capability than a native app.

Mobile Websites Can't be Deleted
The average shelf-life of an app is pretty short, less than 30 days according to some research, so unless your app is something truly unique and/or useful (ideally, both), it's questionable how long it will last on a user's device. Mobile Websites on the other hand are always available.

Easier and Less Expensive
Last but certainly not least, Mobile Website development is considerably more time and cost-effective than development of a native app, especially if you need to have a presence on different platforms (requiring development of multiple apps).

Support and Sustainability
The investment considerations of app vs. website don't end with the initial launch; properly supporting and developing an app (upgrades, testing, compatibility issues and ongoing development) is more much more expensive and involved than supporting a website over time.

Why a Mobile App?

There are a number of specific use scenarios where an app will be a good choice:

  • Competition - level the playing field against bigger companies, by out-doing them with a superior app!
  • Graphics/Effects - apps are capable of very robust and superior graphics as mobile sites are limited to bandwidth and technology.
  • Interactivity/Gaming - for interactive games (think Angry Birds) an app is almost always going to be your best choice, at least for the foreseeable future.
  • Regular Usage/Personalization - If your target users are using your app on a regular basis (think EverNote) then an app provides a great way to do this.
  • Complex Calculations or Reporting - If you need something that will take data and allow you to manipulate it with complex calculations, charts or reports (think banking or investment) an app will help you do that very effectively.
  • No Connection Required - If you need to provide offline access to content or perform functions without a network/wireless connection then an app makes sense.