When clients come to us we are often asked about the differences between a mobile website and a mobile application. “Do we need a Mobile Application?” or “Will this work on Android and iOS?” are very common and reasonable questions. Hopefully I can answer these questions for you here in just a few paragraphs.

What is the difference between a mobile application and a mobile website?

A modern mobile website is usually the same site that users see on their desktop, but optimized to also display on mobile devices. This is usually referred to as a “Responsive Design”. More on this later.

A mobile application is a separate program downloaded through your mobile devices store (Apple Store or Google Play usually).

Do we need a mobile application?

If what you want is an online presence and the ability for a user to gather information about you, and for you to gather marketing information from your users, then you do not need a mobile application.

Do you need to provide a specific service to your user? Then you might want to think about a mobile application.

Will this work on Android and iOS?

When it comes to a mobile website the answer is always yes. As long as your device has a modern browser, it will be able to display your mobile website.

When it comes to a mobile application the answer is…it depends. When developing a mobile application it is necessary to develop multiple separate applications. One for Android and one for iOS…and one for Windows Phone…and one for Blackberry…etc. There are tools today that make this task much easier than it used to be, but getting your application to work on multiple devices still requires jumping through the various hoops that are required by Google and Apple (and others ) in order to be allowed to host your application on their marketplaces.

When should we use a mobile application?

If you have a product or service you would like to provide your customers that requires access to the features of a mobile device (like the Camera, GPS, or Accelerometer) or requires every ounce of processing power a device has ( for a Game or Advanced Calculations ) then you should use a mobile application.

Another good reason you might want to consider a mobile application is if you would like your content to be available offline. Perhaps you run a physical location your users will be visiting (something like a Corn Maze, Haunted House, or Escape Room) and you want your users to be able to find information about your location without needing an internet connection (except for the initial download of your application).

How much does a mobile application cost?

The answer to this question will vary greatly depending on your application, however you should expect a mobile application to cost 5 to 10 times more than a mobile website. The reasons for this are complicated, but the basic answer is that there is much more involved with building a mobile application than a mobile website.

What is the difference between a “Responsive Design” and a “Mobile Site”?

Most modern websites use a Responsive Design to display their content to mobile users. This means that the mobile user is experiencing the same site that your desktop user is experiencing, just on a smaller screen. Responsive designs are great because it allows your website to use a single codebase.

A mobile site is a separate codebase, often using the same content and url (internet address) as your desktop. The biggest difference with a mobile site is that it is specifically designed for mobile users and will not be shown to desktop users. This can allow you to provide optimized mobile experiences to your users, at extra cost to you. 9 times out of 10, a responsive design is the better choice.

What is the difference between a “Mobile Site” and a “Mobile Application”?

While both are designed to provide optimized experiences for your mobile device, a mobile site does not have to be installed and can be accessed simply by browsing the internet.

Although a mobile site will not run quite as fast or provide quite as many features as a mobile application, it is often a great middle ground when an optimized mobile experience is required. On top of that, a mobile site generally costs about the same as a desktop site and much less than a mobile application. Updating and maintaining a mobile site is also a lot easier and less expensive than updating and maintaining a mobile application.

If you are interested in some SEO specific answers to this topic you should check out the blog post by Rand Fishkin over at Moz.com.

If you have any other questions about mobile applications or mobile sites please feel free to contact us!