No one seriously doubts that mobile is the future of the web. We crossed the point at which a business could blithely ignore mobile users a couple of years ago. Today, if you’re not mobile-friendly, you’re in trouble.
But what does it mean to be mobile-friendly? There are two choices: native mobile apps or the mobile web. Native mobile applications have a host of advantages compared to the mobile web: access to the device’s hardware, easy push notifications, and better performance. But, when I chose my company’s mobile strategy, we went all in on the web. Here’s why we made that choice, which might get you thinking about whether your business really needs a mobile app.
If we were to ask users to install an app, there would have to be a very good reason. Good reasons include a genuine need for access to on-device features like the camera or accelerometer, or a requirement for graphical capabilities available only to native applications.
If the functionality of benefit to the user can’t be implemented on the web, you have a good reason to create a mobile app. Let me stress “of benefit to the user.” If the only benefit is to your company, then it’s a little rude to nag a user into installing an app on their phone.
Here’s the thing: Almost everything that the majority of businesses want to do with an app is possible on the modern mobile web. Modern front-end and back-end web technology, when coupled with responsive design techniques, give us everything we need to create a powerful experience for our users, regardless of the device they use.
My company’s clients come to us via the web. If we created an app, there’s no chance that we would get new business through an app store. The web is how our clients find us, and the web is where they want to do business with us. That’s not true of just my business — it’s true of most businesses with a presence on the web.
We’d be imposing on our clients if we asked them to move from their preferred platform to a native application. Furthermore, a native app could never replace our site. We’d need to develop apps for several platforms in parallel with a mobile-friendly website. Managing multiple code bases, all of which would have to be integrated with our back-end ordering systems and control panels, would involve a huge duplication of effort with no tangible upside.
Most people do not want to install yet another mobile application that does exactly what a business’ website does. I know I don’t. Some companies cripple their web experience with annoying ads and limited functionality to encourage uptake of an app that users don’t want or need. We respect our clients and the choices they make — why would we treat them like that?
We thought a lot about developing native applications, and we decided it wasn’t worth the investment for us or our clients. Instead, we have focused on creating a compelling and elegant mobile experience on the web.
When deciding on a mobile strategy, founders and leaders should consider the following:
- Is the complexity of creating and managing — or paying someone else to create and manage — multiple code bases worth the specific benefits a native application can provide?
- Would a native application provide a unique and original experience, or would you simply replicate the functionality of a website?
- Would you be better served creating the best possible mobile web experience?
- How do your users find you? Is a native app likely to generate more revenue than a mobile-optimized site?
The mobile web is open, it’s universal, and it’s come a long way in the last few years. A couple of years ago I’d have recommended a native app to most businesses because the mobile web wasn’t ready for prime time. That’s no longer the case. Entrepreneurs should think long and hard about whether a native app is the right way to go.