Wheelhouse collaborator, Scott Blaine, weighs in. Part one of a two-part series.
Should you build a mobile app or a responsive website?
Your customers are increasingly using mobile devices as their primary method of accessing the Internet. Pew Research reports that 63% of adult cell phone owners use their phone to go online, and 34% go online mostly using their phones . You might be thinking its time to start reaching consumers on the go, but you’re not sure if you should build a mobile application (app) or a responsive website. And just what the heck is a responsive website anyway?
What are responsive websites and mobile applications?
You probably know that you can access websites on your phone’s web browser without installing any additional software. A responsive website is different from a standard website because they are designed specifically to look good regardless of whether you’re viewing it on a desktop, a laptop, a tablet, or a phone. It’s called “responsive” because it automatically adjusts (responds) to how small (or large) the screen size is.
You might have tried to view a standard website on your phone’s browser only to find that you could only view the leftmost third of the page, and then you had to try to zoom out to view more of the page, but then the text was too small so you had to zoom back in and constantly drag the page around to read it. You probably ended up just closing the page because it was such a frustrating experience. Responsive websites address the issue by adjusting the pages to fit whatever screen size you’re viewing the site on. They look great on mobile phones and desktop computers alike.
Mobile apps, on the other hand, are downloaded and installed onto your phone. You must visit the Apple App Store or Android Play Store, find the app you’re looking for, and install it. Once it’s installed you tap on an icon to start the app. Mobile apps always display well on phones and tablets because they’re custom-built for that specific task. They are not, however, viewable on larger desktop or laptop platforms.
Which should I build?
There are countless articles on the Internet discussing the pros and cons of mobile apps and responsive websites, their answer for which you should choose is always: it depends. And yes, that’s true, there are many factors to consider in choosing a mobile strategy. But I’ll let you in on a secret… I already know which one you should choose. You should build a responsive website. The End.
“But Scott,” you’re thinking, “how can you be so sure I’ll choose that, without even knowing my requirements?” I can confidently make this declaration because there are a limited number of reasons why you should build a mobile app instead of a responsive website. And it’s likely that none of them apply to you.
When should you build a mobile application?
Build a mobile app if any of the following are true:
▪ You want to build the next killer app and strike it rich. That’s right, the only way to build the next hit iPhone app is to build an app. Your website will never make it to the top of the Apple App Store charts because the app store only lists apps.
▪ You need an app that can access a specific phone feature*, such as using the accelerometer, downloading your contact list, or interacting with Bluetooth devices.
▪ You want to create a mobile game (such as Angry Birds). Games — particularly ones that are graphics intensive or require a lot of user interaction — are best served by mobile apps.
▪ Your app needs to do a lot of computation (without an internet connection**). In the case that your site needs to do calculations on the fly, and needs to do it even with spotty mobile service, you’re better off creating an app.
*You might be surprised to learn that many phone features can be accessed by responsive websites, including your camera and GPS coordinates.
**Did you know that websites can be built to work offline (after an initial visit)? Websites that work without the Internet… crazy but true.
Outside of those few cases, you should build a responsive website. More on those benefits coming in part two.
Learn about Scott, his developer expertise and see examples of his work, at scottblaine.com.
 Pew Research’s Mobile Technology Fact Sheet