We think that a web app (a mobile website) is the most pragmatic, affordable and future-proof way to provide a compelling experience for your mobile visitors. It's a key part of the joined-up marketing jigsaw and opens up a wealth of possibilities…
And if you don't think that you have enough mobile visitors to worry about the mobile web - you soon will have!
The future of the web…
As we've said before, the future of the web is mobile.
- Almost half of UK internet users access the web via a mobile device.
- In 2012 more than 50% of all mobile phones in the UK will be smartphones.
However, a recent report by Google shows that 79% of their biggest customers don't have mobile-optimised websites.
And when you consider that Google themselves are now rewarding websites which offer a good mobile experience with better search results, it's clear that there's a justification for embracing mobile as part of your digital marketing strategy.
There are two ways to deliver a mobile experience to your users:
- Mobile app
- Web app (or mobile website)
There's been a gold-rush to mobile apps since 2008 when Apple launched its App Store to promote the downloading of iOS apps to iPhone (and, more recently, the iPad). There are now some 425,000 apps on the store which have been downloaded over 10 billion times.
Apps can also be downloaded for the other main mobile phone platforms including Android, BlackBerry, Symbian and Windows.
Apps are developed natively for each device which means that the full range of each phone's capability (eg, the camera, GPS positioning, notifications) can be blended in to the app.
Apps are single-platform. An iPhone app won't work on an Android device, and so on.
Apps are distributed from central stores (such as Apple's App Store or the Amazon Appstore for Android) which makes the process of monetising downloads straightforward and easy to manage.
In the case of iPhone/iPad apps, Apple decide whether an app is fit to be distributed, and will take 30% of the sale price of each download.
Companies looking to deliver an app which gives marketing or
promotional information might find it challenging to satisfy point
2.1.3 of the App Store Review Guidelines:
2.13: Apps that are primarily marketing materials or advertisements will be rejected.
In fact, Apple themselves recommend that if there's no justification for using the additional functionality of their mobile devices within your app, then "you may consider building a web app using HTML 5"…
…which is handy as this is our recommendation, too!
A web app is, in essence, a mobile version of your website which is displayed automatically when a visitor using a mobile device comes to your standard website.
It can look and feel just like a mobile app but will be a real-time version of the website designed with mobile users in mind - both in terms of how it looks and in terms of its content.
(It's vital to remember that mobile users have needs which are quite different to those of your standard website visitors. They'll want information quickly, they'll want it to the point and they'll want clear calls to action. There's little sense in restyling your website in its entirety. Think about what users really want when they're on the move.)
Web apps have the widest reach. Unlike mobile apps, they work on all phones, regardless of the operating system. To match the reach of a web app you would need to consider developing, managing and maintaining at least four different mobile apps (iOS, Android, BlackBerry, Windows).
Web apps don't need to be downloaded. They serve from the same web address as your standard website.Web apps are feature-rich. There are ways to perform location sensing and caching, too, so that the app will deliver even without an internet connection.
There's no approval process. You choose what's right for your web app and that's that. If it's a marketing web app you want, great! Let's build it.
Web apps can be more affordable, faster to build and easier to develop than mobile apps.
They're more pragmatic, too. The only constant with the web is rapid change and it's difficult to predict confidently where the mobile device market is going (some reports have Windows Phone dominating by 2014, some consider that a new mid-range Apple device might boost their share and what about Kindle as a low-end mobile tablet?). A mobile website is the best bet because it will work today and it will work in five years' time, on whichever device is to hand.
Of course, if you want to develop a game or something which relies on the smartphone's core functionality, then a native app is always going to be the better option. But to deliver joined-up marketing to an exploding mobile market-place, the best place to start is with a mobile website or web app.
A web app in action
As a result of a dispute with Apple, The Financial Times replaced their iOS mobile app with an HTML browser-based app - and it's excellent.
To see what's possible with a web app, see the FT's app page.
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