If my customers mainly use mobile devices, should I be building a phone app?

If my customers mainly use mobile devices, should I be building a phone app?

Like many complex things, it can suffer from being over simplified. Doing mobile well can occasionally get simplified to make a mobile App and get it listed in the App store - tick. Make the site responsive - tick. But what are the drawbacks or compromises? Are they really the best options?

In my experience this simplification can stem from two factors. The first is a misunderstanding about the differences between an App and a mobile site. The second is what I call the Digital Marketing Bucket List of having an App.

1. What you can do on a mobile app that you can’t do on a mobile web site

Mobile is changing, and usage patterns are changing. We’re now running into users that don’t have a PC or a landline phone and they don’t have an internet account. Their whole online experience is via their mobile phone and 4G network. And they are understandably pissed when we’ve just made them download 800Gb of video stream.

I was going to be witty and have this space has been left intentionally blank, but not everyone gets my humour. So, the answer is not much. And to clarify I’m talking about Apple iOS apps. Not so long ago there were quite a few things you could only do in an App- like upload images and the speed was much better. Now that gap has closed, and there are only a few things left like accelerometer and music integration left.

In fact, when you’re using an App, usually you’re looking at HTML pages that are the exact same type of HTML that youd be looking at if you we’re viewing that content via a browser. Same CSS, same code, same images. No special magic there. In fact as App developers we go to great pains to make HTML layouts and buttons look like the Apple interface - when in fact it could be anything you fancy.

2. The digital marketing bucket list of having an App

Some people just expect that there is an App available. And there is definitely merit in listening to your customers and providing your product/service in the way they are expecting. But take some time to listen carefully - are they actually asking for an App, or are they asking for an icon that appears on their home screen? Clicking it takes me to your product/service.

If the icon on their home screen is what theyre after- great news: that takes about 10 min to set up. If they really want an App, take some time to research exactly what they’d like in it vs what you might already have available. You might find that they’re asking for features you don’t provide. So delivering those features via the App Store or via carrier pigeon is kind of irrelevant- you need to do some product planning.


Dont get me wrong- **creating a mobile App can be a perfect strategic fit. But taking a look at many of the current apps created by brands and products to support their product/service, it is puzzling as to why they just didnt make a really good mobile web site.

Business Insider - html5 phone apps have a future

If you're making stuff for the web, mobile is a really big deal. It's really important to form and execute a mobile strategy well. Which can be hard.

Ben Still


17 Sep 2013

Related to this work

Let's build something awesome together

Hire us