There are two major branches of mobile usage: “apps” (applications) and “the mobile web”. The mobile web is just a way of referring to all the website that have mobile-enabled pages. The term also loosely includes most of the Internet because you can still see almost any wibsite with a mobile device … you just can’t necessarily see it all that well.
Unlike mobile websites, apps are not hosted on servers. Apps are self-contained programs that are typically optimized for use on smartphones and tablets. Some apps have similar functionality to their sister websites and behave like little portable microsites, while other apps behave more like true software programs on your computer.
Apps Versus Mobile Sites for Engagement
Apps have an edge if you want a deeper, more engaged experience with your users, and if you want to make the most of the functionality of the device they’re using. For example, the way the carpenter’s level apps make use of a mobile device’s sensitivity to the angle at which it’s held.
Apps Beat Mobile Sites on Speed, But Lose on Reach
Apps are also better for response time. If you’re building a game, an app gives the player faster response than would a website. But the advantages come at a cost as apps tend to be more expensive to develop than mobile sites. You will also have to get Apple’s blessing to have your app available on iTunes, and the same goes for other smartphone platforms like Droid.
Mobile sites beat apps in terms of access because vastly more people search the web than search iTunes or any of the other app platform. That means your mobile site is more likely to get used because an app is harder to find. Apps also have to be downloaded and installed.
Data Management Limitations
For managing lots of data, apps have an edge in that they typically connect to a database where mobile websites use simpler solutions. For example, a restaurant reservation system is simple enough to with a mobile website, with email or text messages for confirmations. But a hotel reservation system that has to track room availability, rates, and other data (smoking/non-smoking, bed size, etc.) would run more smoothly with a mobile app that could draw information from a database.
Mobile Sites for Simplicity, Apps for More Robust Features
Ultimately, apps beat mobile sites in terms of speed, data management and advanced features. But all that functionality comes with a price tag. Most small businesses will do fine with a mobile version of their site, while larger companies, like a chain of retail stores or a conference, should look into developing an app.