Choosing to go with a mobile app or a website platform for your next product idea can be a tough decision to make, especially if it’s your very first project. In today’s digital age, people are using a myriad of devices and platforms, so figuring out which channel will connect you to your target audience can be a challenge. As a product studio that emerged from a mobile app development company, we’ve helped many clients figure out where to start, and we wanted to share with you some of the main things we’ve learned over the years.
Deciding between a mobile app or a website platform for your new product will depend on several factors that are relevant to your particular idea.
- Do you offer solutions for users on the go or they can be reached in their offices or homes?
- Do you need to track some of the users’ physical behaviour in order to deliver them value?
- Is this the first product you’re developing?
- Do you already have a website?
- Are you planning on offering offline services to users?
- Are you on a tight budget?
- What is your main business goal?
These are just some of the questions you need to ask yourself before deciding whether to develop a web application or mobile app first.
We’re going to go through the pros and cons of choosing either a web platform or a mobile app for your next product. Hopefully, by the end of this article, you’ll have a better idea of what your business needs, and you’ll be able to make an informed decision. However, if you’re still unsure and would like an expert opinion on the matter, reach out to us and let’s talk about your next idea.
Mobile App First for Your Next Product Idea
Regardless of what you ultimately decide to do, having a solid mobile product strategy is crucial for any business nowadays. More than half of the worldwide traffic today comes from mobile, so even if you go with a web platform first, it will still need to be optimised for mobile devices.
Pros of a mobile product strategy
1. Unique branding opportunities
When building a website or web platform for your product, you’ll have to figure out your brand and brand message and identify your target audience. The brand identity and business image you create will be the same on mobile devices, so craft them carefully.
On the other hand, let’s say you already have a website and want to also develop a mobile app. You’ll be able to give your brand a new spin unique for mobile users, and you will have the freedom to personalise the app independently from the web platform. You can come up with a new design and offer an entirely new branding experience to your mobile users, and therefore broaden your online reach.
The cool thing about building a mobile app for your new product idea or project is that you can customise it to suit the types of behaviours your audience needs, delivering value pretty much anywhere. Websites rely on browsers to perform basic functions, like going back, refreshing a page, and so on, while an app gives you the freedom to experiment with touch gestures like swipe, pinch, drag, tap, and so on. That means you can add different extra features to your app that will make it easier and more fun to use, which is always a plus.
3. Offline access and speed
A crucial difference between a web platform and a mobile app is that a web page will always require an internet connection to load. No matter what device you’re on, you’ll need either a wifi or ethernet connection to be able to see and navigate a website.
With a mobile app, you’re not relying that much on an internet connection. Depending on the type of app you’re creating, you’ll be able to offer different features that can be used offline by anyone who’s already downloaded the app. Calculator apps, financial tools, recipe or fitness apps, they can all include features and functions that are accessible even when you’re offline – a clear advantage over a mobile-friendly website.
4. Access to device capabilities
One of the greatest advantages of mobile apps is that they can tap into the core capabilities of the device in order to enhance the user experience. Apps can access smartphone functions like camera, GPS and location, microphone, gyro, compass, contact list, and so on, thus making the experience of using it a lot more interactive.
This interaction greatly boosts the user experience and allows users to perform different actions a lot quicker. When on mobile, users will want fast results and an easy way to perform certain functions on an app. For instance, apps can access a user’s device camera to scan QR codes to complete different actions, which is a lot faster than typing in a link.
5. Brand presence and awareness
Another subtle, yet important difference between a web platform and a mobile app is related to brand presence. With a website, a user will access different pages, get what they need, and then close the tab and move on with their day. With an app, you’re making sure you’re present in a user’s daily life by always being right there on their smartphone screen. Your users will remember your brand and your app because they’re always seeing it on their devices, whether they realize it or not.
You can be even more present in your users’ lives by taking advantage of push notifications on mobile devices. If you have limited offers, discounts, new features and so on, you can send users notifications to let them know about it. Just make sure you’re not overdoing it, as too many notifications can put users off and they might disable them or uninstall your app altogether.
Cons of a mobile product strategy
1. Unfamiliarity with your brand
Mobile app stores are chock-full of apps, and some of these apps will provide similar features to yours. If you choose to go for a mobile app without some branding actions first, you should know that users are reluctant to download and install an app that they’ve never heard of. What’s more, you won’t be able to use SEO to boost your app’s presence in the app store.
The only thing you can do in this case is to make sure that your app is easily discoverable in the store. Do your app store optimisation right from the start, as it works like a charm and looks great. That’s a lot of pressure to place on your app, and if you’re on a tight budget, it might be an even bigger challenge, as typically a mobile app costs quite a bit more than an equivalent web platform.
2. Not an instant experience
Accessing a website and its related web platform is an instant experience, as you already have a web browser on your phone. You look for the brand or website name, or you type it into your address bar, and boom – you’re done. For users who are unfamiliar with your brand, it’s the easiest way to check your credibility and what you’re all about and decide quickly if they’re interested or not.
If you develop a mobile app without also having a website, you’ll have to hope that new users discover your app in the app stores, download it, install it, and then try it out. Some users won’t be willing to invest that kind of effort on an app that they don’t know, and will choose to go with an app that they’ve heard about before.
3. Uninstalls are your worst nightmare
We’ve already stressed the importance of brand presence in your users’ lives, which you can achieve through a mobile app that they install on their devices. Unfortunately, your users also have an uninstall option and your brand can disappear from their lives in an instant. Many times, a user that has uninstalled your app isn’t likely to install it again in the future, so uninstalls are not something that you’d like to happen.
This is where having a web platform as well can pay off. Nobody can delete, uninstall, or erase your website; it will stay right where it is, always easily accessible to users. If you invest in SEO and manage to place your brand in the top search results, your website will constantly show up to potential users. As a result, they’ll be more inclined to download your app when they see it in the app stores, because unconsciously, they’re already familiar with your brand.
4. Mobile apps are pricey
Creating a website or platform is not that difficult and it can be done at a very low cost. Once your website is live, you can tweak and improve it whenever you like, and if it works well, you won’t have to invest a lot more on top of your initial investment. Things are a lot different when it comes to mobile apps.
Developing a mobile app is a lot more costly than building a website and optimising it for mobile. Creating a web page is quite straightforward; it’ll work on any browser, any device, and any platform, so you won’t have to worry about that. All you will need is a brand domain to start with. With mobile apps, you need to customise your product for iOS or Android, update it constantly, tweak existing features, and add new ones, so it’s constant work. That all comes with more development time, which also leads to higher costs.
5. No such thing as a one-size-fits-all mobile app
We’ve mentioned that a website will work on any browser, software, or device; all you’ll need is to optimise it for mobile users, to make sure they have a smooth experience. When it comes to mobile apps, things are not quite as simple.
You’ll need to decide whether you want your app to be available to both iOS and Android users, and whether you want to go with native development or a cross-platform solution like React Native or Flutter. There are advantages and disadvantages to both approaches, so you’ll need to also worry about that and consider what works best for you. Then you’ll also have to constantly update your app, tweak features, and always be improving your product to make sure users don’t switch to a competing app.
Website First for Your Next Product Idea
Now that we’ve seen what benefits and downsides there are to a mobile-app-first development strategy, we’ll look at websites and web platforms and what they have to offer. If you’re looking to launch a new product and are unsure about where to start – mobile app vs website – this might help you make a decision.
Pros of a website-first strategy
1. Brand awareness and exposure
With so many mobile apps available in app stores today, it’s hard to make any new product stand out. This is where starting with a web platform has some advantages, as it allows you to build your brand and get some exposure for your product.
You can use SEO, marketing, and PR campaigns to spread the word about your product and build some brand awareness. That way, when a user finds your app in an app store, they’ll be more likely to download it if they’ve heard about it before on the web. Many mobile app users won’t trust a brand or a business that doesn’t have a website, even if it’s only used to showcase their mobile apps.
2. A broader reach
Because a website will work on every browser, software platform, or device, you’ll be able to expand your audience and your potential clientele pool, and maybe even create demand for your products.
If, say, you’re developing an app for iOS, you won’t be able to market this app or your brand to Android users, and as a result, you’ll lose some brand exposure. With a website, you’ll be able to target a much wider audience, and you might eventually create demand for your app to also come to the Google Play store. You’ve probably heard people talk about a cool app that’s only available on one platform, and wished the developers would make it available on your platform so you can give it a try.
3. Use marketing and SEO to your advantage
Unfortunately, you can’t reap the benefits of SEO if you decide to go for a mobile app instead of a website. All you can do is create a great app and hope users will find it and download it on their devices. If you start by creating a website for your product, you’ll be able to use SEO and other marketing tools to boost brand visibility and improve credibility.
You can use content marketing strategies to attract visitors and convince them of your product’s potential. Moreover, you can use link building and PR to get brand exposure and let people know about what app you’re developing. With SEO, you can make sure your brand and your product show up in users’ search results, and PPC can help you get instant results and leads for your business.
4. Short development time
Creating a good-looking, well-performing app is a costly and lengthy process, especially if you’re looking to release it on multiple platforms. If you plan to use native programming to develop your app separately for iOS and Android, you’ll double your development time. If you choose cross-platform mobile app development, you’ll still need to take your time to tweak and make sure your app works and looks great on each platform. You don’t have to worry about any of that if you start with a website first.
Creating a website is as easy as it can be, and you can have one up and running with just a few clicks. Sure, you’ll need to set up the design, usability, and of course, make sure it’s optimised for mobile, but it will still take you a lot less time. What’s more, you can make changes and updates to your website whenever you want; it’s not that easy when it comes to apps. For instance, if you realise there’s a typo or a mistake in your app description in the Apple Store, you won’t be able to correct it until the next time you update your app.
Given that creating a website doesn’t require as much development time and long-term investment, kicking off with a website first is much more cost-effective. With a mobile app, your investment doesn’t end with the initial launch. You’ll have to constantly keep improving your app, adding new features, testing, and fixing bugs, which means a lot more development time and a lot more effort. A website doesn’t require as much time and effort as an app; you can get it up and running and then update when necessary with the help of an SEO specialist.
Cons of a website-first strategy
1. You have to optimise for mobile
The good news is that creating a website is easy peasy compared to what it takes to develop a mobile app from start to finish. The bad news is that you have to make sure that website is optimised for desktop users, as well as for mobile users. Like we’ve mentioned at the start of this article, more than half of the worldwide traffic comes from mobile nowadays, so there’s no excuse for having a website that’s not optimised for this traffic.
It can be tricky to get a website, which relies on clicks and other browser-exclusive features, to look and feel great on any mobile device. You’ll have to spend some time tweaking your website to make sure that it works on smartphones, tablets, or even smartwatches.
2. Less customisation available
With a website platform, you won’t get to play around too much with the design and features to make it more interactive for mobile users. Your website will still look like your website, even if it’s accessed through a mobile device, and you won’t have the chance to add extra features and cool gestures for users to play with. You’ll also lose your chance to explore new branding opportunities and will most likely have to stick to your existing design and image.
3. Dependence on an internet connection
Mobile apps usually include different features and functions that are available to users even without an internet connection. A wifi or ethernet connection is only required to download the app onto your mobile device. Things are different with websites, as they rely on servers and require an internet connection whenever they’re accessed on mobile. That can translate into slower loading time, server errors, and users won’t be able to access any part of your website if any issues occur.
4. No way to leverage device capabilities
A website, even when optimised for mobile use, won’t be able to take advantage of all the features of a mobile device, like cameras, compass, accelerometers, microphones, and so on. This will result in a less fun, less interactive, and much slower user experience. Nobody wants to waste time clicking, typing, and going through several web pages to perform a task on their mobile device. They’re more than likely to resort to an app that does all those things for them.
5. Slower loading time
Since websites are dependent on servers and internet connections, they can often take a while to load properly on a mobile device. If you’re in an area with poor connectivity or a particular server is having issues, your website might not load at all. Nobody wants to see a website with broken links, missing images, and a lack of CSS.
If you are planning to embrace a website-first strategy for your next product, you’ll need to invest some time in fixing technical SEO issues that affect page speed and loading time. The truth is that mobile users are used to lightning-fast loading times, so you want to make sure your website is properly optimised to that end.
Still not sure what to choose? The quick answer is ‘it depends’
If you’re still not sure where to start with your product idea – website platform or mobile app first – then don’t worry, you’re not the only one. It can be difficult to pick one or the other, as both approaches offer a lot of advantages, but also disadvantages.
We would recommend you do both, even if you’re not necessarily interested in marketing campaigns or outreach for your brand. Not having a website in this digital age is rare, and it can send off the wrong signals to potential users. If you want your mobile app to be successful and attract users and installs, you’ll need to use all possible channels to your advantage, including social media.
Like we’ve mentioned before, users are reluctant to download an app onto their mobile device that they’ve never heard of before. If they look you up online to make sure you’re legit, and they find that you’re nowhere to be found, that won’t convince them to install your app. Having a good-looking, well-performing website can introduce these users to your brand and convince them that your app is worth downloading.
Erika is a full-stack marketer passionate about the intersection between technology and social impact. She mixes research with content design and a human touch to help people and startups succeed in delivering value through their work. When not writing or talking to people, you’ll find her reading or quoting Hamilton for any life situation.