The first line of defense for those who don’t want to build apps is the ease of mobile websites.
More than a third of the websites in the world run on WordPress. WordPress in general provides a stable mobile-friendly website. Thus, a third of the websites in the world at the very least are able to provide a reasonably good mobile experience.
Mobile-friendly websites seem like a fine substitute for mobile apps. The first major advantage of mobile websites is that they save companies from the quagmire of app development. Secondly, there is no need to specifically manage or market mobile websites. They change automatically whenever the main website is updated.
These advantages would naturally make most companies ignore the calls to make an app. Why would anyone want to suffer through the complications of making an app?
The statistics listed below could be some of the reasons behind the continued focus on app creation and promotion
- 85% online shoppers prefer mobile apps over websites
- Only 12% shoppers find the overall experience of shopping on mobile websites satisfactory
- Visitors spend more time on mobile apps on average compared to websites
Yes, there is a general preference for mobile apps over websites. The stats won’t please those who want to ignore the task of learning how to create an app. And yet, these numbers point to a reality.
This piece seeks to go beyond the numbers. The following sections will cover why mobile apps are better than mobile websites on every key front.
The foundational difference between a mobile app and mobile website
The sections later will cover the key areas where mobile apps upend mobile websites. However, it is first important to set the context between this comparison. How do mobile websites and mobile apps differ?
As an exercise, open YouTube on your mobile browser and use it for five minutes. Open the different sections of YouTube on the browser and make note of things like navigation, ease, and overall experience.
Then open your YouTube app and spend five minutes using it. What are the key changes you notice?
The YouTube mobile website would no doubt perform well. It would have most of the features you need in a typical session. You won’t have anything stopping you from enjoying a good video as you normally would.
Despite all these advantages, the experience of using the YouTube app would win out. The app would be much more intuitive and provide a faster and more immersive experience.
Why does the app perform better than a website despite the latter having the same features?
A mobile app is like software built for your device operating system. It provides a more immersive experience because it is designed to perform on a mobile device. On a purely performative level, apps work better because they use the hardware of a device with much greater ease.
Mobile websites are not software. They are heaps of code designed to run on a mobile browser. Every browser has a rendering engine and a mobile website is built to perform on the same.
At best, a mobile website can ape the experience a mobile app provides. Ultimately, it is a mobile version of a desktop website. This is the key foundational difference between a mobile app and a mobile website.
Why are mobile apps ahead of apps on key metrics?
The following points cover exactly why mobile apps are a better bet for the long term success of a business compared to mobile websites
#1 – Integration with device
We often share images through text messaging apps like Whatsapp and Telegram? While selecting the image, the app generally shows the images recently added to the device. There is also the option of clicking a new picture with the device camera.
The app is able to provide these options because it can access your device storage and camera. These options enable it to provide the best options for users when they’re about to send images.
This is a perfect example of mobile apps using the resources of the device to improve UX.
Could a mobile website do the same? Developers can create mobile websites which use specific device resources. However, websites are not programs installed on a device. They don’t offer the same level of integration as mobile apps do.
Integration with the hardware of the device is crucial. This is not just to access the device camera or storage. Even making use of the device RAM or processor is important. Mobile websites depend on internet speed for performance while mobile apps can leverage device hardware to provide a much rounded user experience.
#2 – User personalization
There is a reason we enjoy spending more time on apps than websites.
Apps are able to provide a much more personalized experience compared to websites. This is because the former is designed to discover user patterns and correlate them with real user action. This entails for an overall better user experience.
Many apps ask users to select their specific interests during the onboarding process. This is very common amongst content-based apps like Quora and Netflix. Selecting a specific interest further helps apps provide more accurate content recommendations.
The same is true for shopping apps to some extent. Ecommerce apps start recommending products based on the spending patterns.
In some cases, apps can use the location of their users to personalize services. Cab booking apps like Uber and Lyft are a prime example of the same.
User personalization is a common theme in all of these trends. It helps users to customize their experience while using a service.
Mobile websites can offer some degree of personalization. However, their lack of integration with the device makes the process difficult. App users who stick with an app for a long enough period manage to create their own version of the app. For instance, your YouTube feed will be very different from the feed of your parents or friends. This is because of clear variance in interests and habits.
#3 – Branding
An app can help a business create its own mobile presence. You won’t be wrong to suggest that a mobile website also provides a mobile presence. What is the real difference then?
A website is a necessity nowadays. People won’t raise their eyebrows these days if you tell them you have a business website. Since web development has largely been simplified by CMS development, a website is no longer a standout factor.
This doesn’t make a business website inconsequential. It only means that a business website won’t do much to set your brand apart from the competition.
Mobile apps, on the other hand, are not as ‘run of the mill’ as websites. Not all companies have the resources to bring an app to market. Even if they manage to create an app with the help of a reliable online app maker, promoting and perfecting an app is another challenge.
The difficulty of app success makes it a phenomenal branding factor. As a startup or a small business, most of your immediate competitors won’t have a mobile app. Bringing an app to the market is thus a brilliant differentiating factor and can work wonders for your brand.
The only caveat here is the quality of the app launched. You can’t just launch an app and expect your brand value to shoot up. The app itself must stand its ground and provide a good service.
An app which performly poorly on various app metrics will counteract any branding efforts. The debacle of Apple Maps is a clear example of this. Apple correctly foresaw the rise of map-based applications. However, it failed to create an app that matched the segment leaders, Maps (a Google application). This besmirched the spotless reputation of Apple in rolling out user-friendly hardware and software.
Even the best can get it wrong. If you plan on launching a mobile app to surpass competitors, make sure it meets standard expectations.
#4 – Feature additions
Bringing out new features on a website or app is common for any given business. Every business has a direct incentive to move with the times and add new features which improve the app.
Let’s take an example and assume you run an ecommerce business. You created a WooCommerce app for Android and iOS with an online app builder without coding.
A closer look at the behaviour of your app users shows that a small but sizable portion of people are leaving at the user onboarding stage.
This is not exactly surprising. Most users find the user onboarding process a needless hindrance.
What can you do to help these people? A simple way of making these people come into the app is enabling guest checkout.
This will make sure that user onboarding is less of a reason for user churn.
Why are apps better for feature addition compared to mobile websites?
The guest checkout option is a small example. Consider a large scale change like the addition of AR features to improve shopping experience. Such a feature is ideal for mobile apps because they can directly leverage the hardware resources of a device. Mobile websites however will struggle to provide users such a feature in the environment of a web browser.
Mobile websites are the best platform to launch a high-level feature. Apps thus win out in this regard and provide companies the ability to launch the best possible features and provide a more wholesome experience.
#5 – Accessibility
Here are two simple questions –
- How do you access a website on a mobile device?
- How do you access an app on a mobile device?
The answer to both these questions will show why apps are preferable to mobile websites.
Accessing a mobile website is a two step process. Users have to open the browser and manually enter the URL.
An app can be accessed directly by a simple tap. Thus, app content is more accessible to users at any given point in time. Websites, on the other hand, are less accessible.
This marks a clear line in the sand when comparing apps and websites. Apps can be called upon with a single tap of the button while websites are only accessible through browsers.
Accessibility is one of the key reasons many of the numbers discussed previously suggested a preference for mobile apps. Easy accessibility directly correlates to more time spent on apps and higher user retention.
As a company, bringing an app to market also opens up the possibility of remaining engaged with end users all the time. Website users can go dormant for irregular periods of time because websites themselves are not in the visible range of users.
Apps remain on devices and are visible to users every time they open they check the screen. This increase in accessibility also leads to a direct impact in branding and marketing. No company can discount the value in having its audience see its icon and name every time they open their devices.
#6 – User experience
All the performance advantages of mobile apps over mobile websites have a direct impact on user experience.
Since apps are built for mobile operating systems, they offer users the best possible experience. Across various tenets like mobile app navigation, user personalization, accessibility, and speed, mobile apps are bound to perform better than websites.
The fundamental coherence between apps and mobile devices makes for a better user experience.
There is another point where websites fall behind. User experience can be revamped and improved on mobile apps over a long period of time. Mobile websites, on the other hand, only reflect a mobile version of a desktop website. Even UX optimization is thus an area where apps beat mobile websites.
#7 – Offline access
Many apps these days come with offline access. The idea is to engage users even when their device is offline. YouTube for example enables users to download videos and store them on their device. Other streaming apps such Netflix and Prime video offer the same facility. Many popular mobile games also work offline.
The ability to operate online is rooted in the fact that apps are software for mobile devices. They can operate if they can load data directly from the device storage.
Mobile websites are the exact opposite. They work on browsers and can never load in the absence of an internet connection.
Offline access is not a big factor because most people have internet access these days. However, it is a credible factor in situations where people regularly need access at slow internet speeds. Offline access can help at such stages and thus prove beneficial for app users.
The debate between mobile websites and mobile apps is not new. Old stakeholders are always resistant to new ideas. Companies with an established website for both desktop and app are less likely to suddenly make an app. Even now when it is possible to create a WordPress mobile app without coding, some will continue to count the benefits of mobile websites.
This piece seeks to dispel the notion that mobile websites are enough. The seven pointed factors discussed here show mobile apps beating websites on all major KPIs.
Are these factors alone enough in making someone create an app? Readers may still want to uncover more factors before finally jumping into app development. The points here are nevertheless strong enough to make readers think beyond mobile websites.