This is a guest post by James Pilcher
In mobile data development – at least from a content provider’s perspective – one of the biggest questions has become: Should I create a smartphone app first or a mobile version of my website?
And while the answer is simple (make a mobile site before an app EVERY TIME), companies can be excused from asking the question.
After all, the apps are the cool kids on the corner, getting all the attention. There are now more than 630,000 apps available in the iTunes store, and more than 15 billion have been downloaded. The Android numbers are pretty staggering as well, with nearly 8.8 billion downloads and nearly 450,000 available.
But think about two things – reach and functionality. Sure, there may be a cool gamification factor to your app, but you are going to reach a heck of a lot more people with your URL. Your website is still your main billboard – the main way people are going to try and reach you. It is a lot easier to market that URL than trying to get someone to go to iTunes and download and install an app.
On the flip side, imagine someone trying to go to your site on their phone, and you have a lot of Flash, a ton of graphics and such. No way are you going to create a sticky relationship, and you might turn off some of your customers. In fact, some estimates have mobile devices accounting for seven percent or more of all Web traffic. On Christmas Day, that number shot up to 18 percent, according to a study by IBM. That is a lot more eyeballs than even the app market.
Take a look at your own analytics – how many people are coming to you through mobile devices (Google Analytics allows you to look at that and even by device type/operating system). If it is creeping above 10 percent, it’s time for a mobile site.
And let’s face it, browsing the Web on your phone (and some tablets) is a MUCH different experience. You will get a lot more bang for your development buck with a new mobile website as compared to an app. One key – make sure you install a redirect on your Web servers that can detect what kind of device is trying to reach your pages, and redirect mobile devices to your mobile site. It’s a fairly easy process that any back-end Web developer/IT expert should be able to complete.
In closing – here’s a great take on mobile news sites from the Knight Digital Media Center – but it can and should apply to ANYONE looking to take their content mobile. This goes double for e-commerce providers trying to get in on the mobile tsunami for e-retailers (see my previous post about mobile commerce for more on that subject).
What's your take on mobile apps versus mobile sites?
James Pilcher has worked for more than 20 years as a journalist, covering technology for the last decade. Recently, he has also worked in mobile and e-commerce marketing, as well as business analysis at several firms in the Cincinnati, OH area. He currently works as business analyst for Ascendum Solutions, LLC, an IT consulting firm in Blue Ash, OH.
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