Mobile App vs. Mobile Web Part II: Building For The Future of Devices

By Wednesday March 21st, 2012

Before thinking about your "mobile strategy," step back and thing bigger: device strategy. How will you launch great experiences on all current desktops, tablets and mobile devices, while preparing yourself for devices that will hit the market over the next 5 years?

Jacob Nielsen recently wrote about mobile sites vs. mobile apps and what the future holds for both. It brought me back to my post from March 2011, Mobile Site vs. Mobile App: What You Need To Know About Going Mobile, except Jacob wasn’t outlining when and why to choose one over the other. Instead, he leaves the reader with a simple but thought-provoking message: In the next five years or so, broadband and mobile technology will become dramatically faster, more powerful and more accessible, which will make the mobile web and responsive design much more attractive than native apps and traditional pixel-based web design. I agree wholeheartedly.

Before I get you thinking that native mobile and tablet apps are becoming obsolete, let me explain the current state of mobile a bit more. Native apps (the kind that need to be downloaded from an app store) utilize device-specific features and can offer a better user experience and better means of payment than a mobile website. While this is true, there is potential for this to slowly change over time based on technology advances and the launch of different and new devices. Jacob notes that, “In the future, the cost-benefit trade-off for apps vs. mobile sites will change.” I agree with this.

To put it simply, there will be more and more mobile devices and operating systems and these variations will only continue to branch out. That means you’ll be building native apps for not only iPhone iOS, iPad iOS and Android, but likely 10 other devices and platforms if you want reach a large majority of your userbase.

When will this happen? Not sure. For now, if you can afford a native app (minimally, it’s all three: iOS, iOS, Android) and your app requires mobile device features, then by all means, develop it. Develop a mobile web experience, too. And while you’re at it, consider developing using responsive design. In case you don’t know what responsive design is, it’s when you code once and that code allows your website content to adapt to fit any device or screen size.

Aside from your native app initiatives, I want to give you a bigger picture approach to your mobile strategy; one that is optimal for today, but will be even more appropriate and rewarding years from now. First, let’s replace “mobile strategy” with device strategy. If you’re thinking mobile, you’re starting too narrow. Consider the future of the web and technology and realize that a few years from now we might be carrying around devices of all different shapes and sizes, and we’ll probably have smart TVs that span our entire living room and office walls. Maybe that’s a bit extreme and probably not very cost-effective for most of us, but you need to think about what’s possible, not what’s right in front of you. No matter how you cut it, in the near future responsive web design will go from smart design to indispensable, necessary design.

Now again, let’s think about device strategy and entertain my prediction that in five years there will be 10 new devices, of varying shapes, sizes and operating systems, each holding a chunk of market share. Responsive web design techniques that you use today will prepare you for these new devices.

Now, think about the native applications that you are considering building right now. You may be building and upgrading for 3 operating systems now, but imagine what the investment will be when you’re building for 10 or more separate devices in 5 years. Do the benefits outweigh the cost? It’s hard to answer yes.

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About the Author

Jason is co-founder and CEO of Brolik, a digital agency in Philadelphia. As an entrepreneur, Jason is passionate about helping other business owners navigate the complicated journey of owning a business and developing marketing strategies to grow their brand.
Follow @jaybrew on Twitter or connect with Jason on LinkedIn or Google+