What are the differences between Responsive Websites, Web Apps and Native Apps, and which should I use?

 

Mobile users access information differently than their desktop counterparts, creating a need for an alternate experience within their phone or tablet. There are three different options to build out your company’s mobile presence, but which one makes the most sense?


RESPONSIVE WEBSITES

A responsive website is directly related to the desktop website and displays the same content. For this site type, the content is organized into grids that resize and reorganize to adapt to the device it is accessed on. Therefore, the website you view on mobile is the same single responsive site from one’s desktop reacting to the browser window’s size (especially width).  This option maintains a consistent user experience and overall look regarless of platform.

The Responsive Website Advantage:

• Google recommended as the number one method of going mobile.

• Only one HTML/CSS codebase is required and so site maintenance is much simpler.

• Avoids the need for configuring server redirects, found on web apps, which detect the device being used and automatically switch to the appropriate site.

• Allows for the same user experience when the mobile content and functionality should be the same. This keeps the device experiences from feeling disjointed.


WEB APPLICATIONS/MOBILE SITES

A mobile site shares qualities with both responsive websites and native apps. They run off of the user’s internet browser like a responsive site but from their own individual code. This allows for a completely different user experience, which can be more interactive and gesture driven. Such sites are lighter and faster than responsive sites and oftentimes contain more limited content.

The Web App Advantage:

• Separate user experience can be offered when desktop and mobile goals differ.

• The cheapest of the three options to develop.

• More control over the individual user experience.

• Load only the content that a mobile user requires, resulting in faster load times.

Together, mobile and responsive design websites both have some shared advantages over native apps.

Web App AND Responsive Design Advantages:

• Instantly accessible from google searches and don’t require a download from the device store.

• Social media friendly and can be shared between users with a link or directed from other websites.

• Compatible across devices and don’t require separate versions for different platforms.

• Changes can be upgraded instantly without the need to download updates.

• Have a longer life cycle than native apps, which often have a shelf life of less than 30 days.

• Mobile websites are cheaper and easier to develop than native apps.


NATIVE APPS

Native apps are generally found in the Google Play or iOS Apple Store for download and are designed specifically for mobile users. These applications live on their specific device and don’t require internet access to function, however, changes require the users to download repeated updates.

The Native App Advantage:

• Can be better integrated with native smartphone features (camera, geo-location, etc).

• Allows for the most advanced and robust user experience.

• The fastest of the three options, Native Apps lack mobile site’s long load-times.

• The best integration of personalization based on user preferences.

• Available to use without a network or wireless connection.

• Easiest to monetize with app store pay models.

• Superior graphics and animation capabilities.


Each option has its own place within the realm of mobile content. If the primary user function is accessing information, a responsive website may be the way to go. However, if the user’s experience should be more task-oriented, then a web app or native app could be the better option.

Overall, you must weigh the pros and cons of each avenue and match those with your ideal user experience to gauge the best choice for your mobile presence. Understanding your business and your customer are key to making this decision and yielding the best possible results.

Resources:
http://vandelaydesign.com/blog/web-development/responsive-mobile-native/
http://www.hswsolutions.com/services/mobile-web-development/mobile-website-vs-apps/

July 10, 2013
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