Mobile website vs Native App

A mobile web site or mobile friendly web site is not the same as a native android app or a native iPhone app or a native Windows mobile app. The mobile web site VS Native app is not exactly a debate as to which one is the best, but these are technologies that can (and should be) used as part of your overall Internet Marketing strategy.

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Mobile Web Site:
The mobile web refers to access to the world wide web, i.e. the use of browser-based Internet services, from a handheld mobile device, such as a smartphone or a feature phone, connected to a mobile network or other wireless network.

Traditionally, access to the Web has been via fixed-line services on laptops and desktop computers. However, the Web is becoming more accessible by portable and wireless devices. An early 2010 ITU (International Telecommunication Union) report said that with the current growth rates, web access by people on the go — via laptops and smart mobile devices – is likely to exceed web access from desktop computers within the next five years.[1] The shift to mobile Web access has been accelerating with the rise since 2007 of larger multi touch smartphones, and of multi touch tablet computers since 2010. Both platforms provide better Internet access, screens, and mobile browsers- or application-based user Web experiences than previous generations of mobile devices have done. Web designers may work separately on such pages, or pages may be automatically converted as in Mobile Wikipedia.

The distinction between mobile Web applications and native applications is anticipated to become increasingly blurred, as mobile browsers gain direct access to the hardware of mobile devices (including accelerometers and GPS chips), and the speed and abilities of browser-based applications improve. Persistent storage and access to sophisticated user interface graphics functions may further reduce the need for the development of platform-specific native applications.

The Mobile Web has also been called Web 3.0, drawing parallels to the changes users were experiencing as Web 2.0 websites proliferated.

Mobile Web access today still suffers from interoperability and usability problems. Interoperability issues stem from the platform fragmentation of mobile devices, mobile operating systems, and browsers. Usability problems are centered on the small physical size of the mobile phone form factors (limits on display resolution and user input/operating). Despite these shortcomings, many mobile developers choose to create apps using mobile Web. A June 2011 research on mobile development found mobile Web the third most used platform, trailing Android and iOS.

Native App
A native application (native app) is an application program that has been developed for use on a particular platform or device. A native mobile app is a smartphone application that is coded in a specific programming language, such as Objective C for iOS and Java for Android operating systems. Native mobile apps provide fast performance and a high degree of reliability. They also have access to a phone’s various devices, such as its camera and address book. In addition, users can use some apps without an Internet connection. However, this type of app is expensive to develop because it is tied to one type of operating system, forcing the company that creates the app to make duplicate versions that work on other platforms.

Companies that are looking to promote themselves to the smartphone market have other options beyond native mobile apps:

  • Hybrid App: This type of application has cross-platform compatibility but can still access a phone’s hardware. It is developed using platforms such as Sencha, PhoneGap and Mosync.
  • Dedicated Web App: A website that is tailored to function on a mobile device. These are tailored to a specific platform and will not work on other smartphones or feature phones.
  • Generic Mobile App: A mobile website that will work with all mobile phones.

In the early stages of the smartphone market, most apps were tailored to the iPhone. However, the market share for Android phones grew, thus, the need for cross-platform functionality became an issue.

Why you should care?

As a webmaster you can use both these technologies to increase the traffic and exposure of your web site. I would say that besides search engine traffic and social media, mobile traffic (either through search on mobile or through the various mobile markets) is among the best ways to promote your web site.

How can a webmaster benefit from mobile markets?

You can develop a native app for your web site and make it available in those markets. The app can represent your content, products or services in a format optimized for mobile phones or tablets. By doing so you are bringing your brand in the hands of more users which will result in:

  • More visits to your mobile friendly web site and desktop site.
  • More sales (if you are selling a product)
  • More direct visits
  • Brand awareness
  • Additional revenue from advertising (if you choose to run ads on your native app)
  • Additional revenue from selling the app (if you choose to sell the app)
  • More subscribers
  • More social followers

How can you develop a mobile web site or a native app?

Depending on the platform you use for your site there are a number of free and paid tools you can use to develop a mobile friendly version. I use WordPress and a paid plugin (wptouch pro – has a free version as well) to easily and quickly create a version for smartphones and tablets.

Developing a native android app is a bit more complicated than just installing a plugin and it also depends on the kind of application you want to create. You can use odesk.com or any other freelancing service to hire a developer (or hire me – contact me for a quote) to do the work for you. I will cover this is in more depth in another post so stay tuned.

So what is the difference between a mobile web site and a native app?

Now that you know more details, it is easier to understand the differences between a mobile web site and native app. In summary:

A mobile web site is a version of the desktop web site that is optimized for viewing through a browser on a mobile device (or tablet). It cannot be published on the mobile markets and the only way for users to find your mobile web site is to type the address from their mobile browsers. You can monetize your mobile web site by running mobile ads.

A native app is an application developed for a particular platform (android, iPhone, Windows). The resulting application is a file that can be uploaded in the respective mobile market. Once published in the market it can be searched through the market and installed on the device. You can monetize your native app by either running ads on by setting a purchase price.

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