John T O'Farrell's Commentary On The Digital Space and Online Marketing

The Mobile Movement: Apps vs. Mobile Websites

I coauthored the paper below on mobile apps versus mobile websites with a couple of my colleagues at Pershing, a BNY Mellon Company, (notably, Kerri Tansey, Rocky Patel and Neil DiCicco) back in November 2011, and have been meaning to post this for the last four months.  

Additionally, Jacob Neilsen’s Alertbox of February 23, 2012  “Mobile Sites vs. Apps: The Coming Strategy Shift” concurred with the conclusions published in our paper.  An admirer of Jacob Neilsen’s I was flattered to have been part of a team that published a paper with nearly identical conclusions on the mobile space and of course wanted to make an entry on that for the last month.  Needless to say we reference some of Jacob Neilsen’s findings from an earlier study of his on the mobile space.

So without further adieu……….

The Mobile Movement: Apps vs. Mobile Websites

App, mobile site or both for your company? The answer is really “it depends.”
 Before doing anything, you must ask yourself two questions:
>What is the business objective I want to accomplish with a mobile device?
>What do I want the user to accomplish using a mobile device?

Knowing the answers to those questions, combined with the information below, will help you make more informed decision for your business.

Mobile websites and apps each serve a purpose and there are clear advantages and disadvantages to both of them. (Reference Advantages – Disadvantages section below)
Here is what you need to know about both.

Mobile websites
Mobile websites are designed to be viewed on handheld devices (small screens). They can be accessed by any device with a browser and an Internet connection. No special download is required. Because of the small screen, they are best when they are a limited version of your main site, focused on key messages and actions. However, the next version of HTML(HTML5 )1 will allow mobile sites to offer a richer, more dynamic user experience.

Mobile Apps
Mobile apps (or applications) are software packages that must be downloaded to a mobile device. When well designed and carefully built, they can provide a user experience that is superior to that of a mobile website. Apps are best used when they are focused on a single objective, typically related to marketing, branding or task-based transactions. In addition to a superior user experience, one advantage apps have is that they work without a connection to the Internet. On the downside, the cost in both dollars and time to build and maintain apps is significant, as a separate app is needed for different platforms (e.g., Android™, iPhone®, BlackBerry®).

Taptu, a mobile search company, released a report showing that the future of the mobile Web is likely to be dominated by browser-based mobile websites—rather than apps built specifically for iPhone, Android, or any other platform. We agree.


> 6.8% of Web traffic in the U.S. comes from smart phones and tablets. - ComScore
> Global mobile data traffic will increase 26-fold between 2010 and 2015. - Cisco
> Task Success Rates Using a Smart Phone2 – Desktop Site: 58% – Mobile Site:   64% – Mobile App: 76%

This should give you a clear sense of what you are trying to accomplish and a better understanding of these two solutions. Now you can make a decision that will work best to satisfy both your company and your customers.


> Excellent when focused on a single objective, typically marketing, branding or task-based transactions
> Provides a very rich and dynamic user experience and takes advantage of features already in the mobile device such as GPS, camera and voice
> All content is available without an Internet connection
> Integrates with other services such as Facebook
> Positions your firm as being technically savvy

> Cost to initially produce is significant. A minimum of three apps need to be produced (Android, BlackBerry, iPhone) to cover the main handheld devices. Add in more apps if want them for tablet devices (e.g., iPad®)
> Supporting multiple app versions (e.g., Android, BlackBerry, iPhone, etc.) is costly and time consuming
> Will only work on the devices they were designed for (e.g., Android, BlackBerry, iPhone, etc.). All versions and updates need to be approved by the manufacturer’s app stores before released
> Requires marketing to have users download the app
> Focuses on a singular objective

> Significantly less expensive than building apps. Build only one site: most manufacturers (e.g., iPhone, BlackBerry, Android) use the same framework
> Delivers a focused, limited version of your main website
> Works on any mobile device with a browser
> Operates like any other website, users do not have to download anything
> Publish when you want—no approval from manufacturer’s app stores
> Be found: mobile sites are listed by search engines
> Users won’t get your full website on a tiny screen (i.e., unreadable)
> All marketing efforts drive traffic to your mobile site and content immediately. Apps require marketing to download the app before anything else

> At the mercy of available Internet connection speed
> Integrating with the features on the mobile device (e.g., GPS, camera and voice) is possible
> Not your full site with all your content
> Not all content is available without an Internet connection

1 HTML5 is the next version of HTML 4.01 and XHTML 1.0. It will make the Web browser into an application similar to JAVA and .NET. HTML5 apps can run in a browser and can also be deployed on multiple mobile platforms. HTML5 apps are written in Web standards and have one core application source—the website. Managing a single application makes it easier to update the app unlike native apps (apps that are built using specific programming languages) where there are a number of platforms that need to be updated.
3 HTML5’s application cache API is capable of storing all resources in your Web app so that the browser can load them while offline

Originally published by Pershing, A BNY Mellon Company, November 2011.  Authored by John O’Farrell, Kerri Tansey, Rocky Patel and Neil DiCicco