Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Responsive Website, Mobile App or Mobile Web?

I have met many people recently who want to leverage the growth in mobile space. For most of them the default way to enter the mobile space is an app. Now while that might be true for some cases, I wonder if they have even thought about other options as well. 

While on one hand, Financial Times has become kind of a poster child for how people can bypass the walled gardens of app stores and still be successful with their mobile HTML5 application; on the other, some people swear by the wonders of responsively designed website. I have been thinking about the options for my own application and thought of capturing some points I have considered for each option in this blog. Please feel free to add or comment on it. (Note that I am considering hybrid and native apps as one - Mobile Applications - because they need to be downloaded from app stores.


Responsive Web Design Mobile Application Mobile Web
PROs
  • Making just one [responsive] website that can perform and look beautiful in all devices (PCs, tablets, TVs and mobile phones) is the ultimate dream, and hopefully we will get there some day

  • Given the various kinds of screens we have nowadays, it is pretty much a no-brainer to have a responsive web design

  • Having a single site for your PCs, tablets, mobiles and TVs, saves a lot of investment (time and money) in device specific design
  • Mobile apps are able to leverage device specific features (such as GPS, offline access and local storage)

  • They provide faster, sleeker and more optimized app experience

  • They can leverage the distribution and payment channels of the app stores
  • A lot of users will try to go to your website at least once before downloading and using the app. TO serve such audience, it makes a lot of sense to have mobile website

  • No sharing of revenue. It's all yours to keep!

  • Single mobile website for all mobile apps. Requires less effort and cost for maintaining the application

  • [HTML5] mobile web apps can leverage some device specific features, such as offline access and local storage
CONs
  • Responsive apps are not able to leverage the capabilities of a mobile applications, and serve the same content to mobile as is meant for a PC, hogging more than required bandwidth

  • No matter how good the concept of responsive design is, the reality is that the way a user interacts with a PC, tablet and mobile phone is different. Bottom line is that, currently, while responsive design might work for basic websites (like for a shop, blog or partnership), it is still a compromise for proper web applications
  • The federated mobile environment means that you need to build an app for each type of mobile OS, which is a costly and time consuming affair

  • Sharing revenue with app stores is one of the biggest and most irritable problems for developers and companies

  • The app store approval process (particularly in iOS) is a big pain for the developers and companies

  • App discovery (with hundreds of thousands of apps published) remains a big problem

  • Danger of vendor-technology lock-in
  • Does not provide access to all device specific features

  • Unable to leverage the advantages provided by an app store (such as distribution and payment systems)

  • HTML5 is still an evolving standard and not all mobile browsers fully support it yet

For some types of apps the decision to go with one of the above options is more obvious than others. For example, for high performance gaming apps a native app is a better choice. For a small pastry shop making a responsive website might be better and cost effective. Whereas, for an app which requires online access, is not into too much into graphics and where revenue sharing is not an option, mobile web is the option to go with. With app discovery still remaining a problem in app stores, I personally do not see much advantage in going with a native app (considering the revenue sharing constraint as well) - as HTML5 web apps are more than sufficient for most of the applications out there. With increasing browser support and developer adoption for HTML5, I am very hopeful that mobile web is the future.

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