Responsive website vs native apps – what’s best for your business?

September 1, 2014 10:13 am The UK Domain

Responsive design ultimately ensures mobile users are getting the same quality they would expect to see on their desktop version. However, it’s not simply a case of changing your website design to be more mobile friendly. You should carefully consider all the options that are available to you before making any decisions.

The question that many companies are now asking is, “Should we invest in ensuring our website is responsive to mobile and tablet devices, or should we use our budget on a native app instead?” Andy Doyle, director of creative digital design agency weheartdigital.uk, explains what the difference is between the two and gives his tips and advice on how to choose which would be best for you and your business.

What is a responsive website?

“A responsive website is a site which is designed to work on screens with different resolutions in order to give the optimal viewing experience. The design will automatically adapt to the layout of the site for easy navigation and reading. Some responsive designs will also format the website to hide features that are irrelevant to mobile devices or they can present entirely different information.”

Why is it important to have one?

“Most users these days access the internet from mobile touchscreen devices which require quite different user experiences versus the traditional desktop. There is a trend to just make a website ‘grid based’ and simply move things around and resize for different screens. However, you need to consider other elements such as website load times, large images and website copy which can all affect the users experience on mobile. People tend to use different functionality on mobile than desktop, such as uploading pictures. Your site needs to be able to cope with this.”

How is a native app different from a responsive website?

“A native app is an application program that has been developed for use on a particular platform or device. It is installed on that device via an app store (such as Google Play or Apple’s App store). Unlike a responsive website, a native app can access a lot more of the core functionality of a handset such as geolocation and push notifications.”

What are the benefits of each?

“Both options have their benefits. A responsive website allows you to give your visitors the best usability on their mobile with just a single website, so you don’t have to manage multiple channels. This means there is not much extra work you need to do to promote your website on mobile. However, while this might be easier for you, it may not necessarily make life easier for your users.

Mobile is a completely different experience to desktop. For a start, mobile devices have touch screen navigation so if you make changes to your design such as removing text and links to make the experience better for mobile, you may be removing helpful or important features for a desktop user. Therefore, if you do choose to go for a single responsive website there is the chance that in your attempts to please both mobile and desktop users with the same interface, you could fall short and end up pleasing neither.

A huge positive for a native app is the ability to access it on the move at the touch of a button. The app logo or icon is always at the user’s fingertips and ‘push’ notifications will continue to keep it at the forefront of their mind. On the flipside, an app requires users to find and install it in the first place, so it may require a bit more work on the marketing and promotional side of things. You will also find competition can be tough in the app stores. An app is also reliant on the operating system of the handset more heavily than browser-based software, so there is on-going cost associated with maintaining it.”

How do you know if you need a native app?

“There is no short answer here, it’s fully dependent on the business and your objectives. If you are unsure if it’s relevant to your business then I would suggest you do a basic check and ask yourself a few initial questions:

  • Do I need to push messages or reminders to a user? For example, if you run a dating site, and want to send users reminders or notifications about messages they have received, then an app can help you do this.
  • Do I need the user to upload pictures or videos? If your business relies heavily on user generated content such as sites like Pinterest then an app would significantly benefit your business as it will make this process much easier.
  • Do I need to monitor a user’s location or status? Take the local search and discovery company Foursquare for example. Their business relies heavily on users being able to update their status in real time and on the go so that they can post reviews on location whether it’s a new local restaurant in Soho or a cafe they’ve discovered on holiday in Scotland.

If you’re a small business working with a limited budget and not expecting a large portion of business via mobile, a responsive website should suffice. Larger operations with more budget and heavier reliance on mobile business should seriously consider utilising both.

Overall, as long as the decision you make supports your business goals and gives your users the best possible experience, then that’s the main thing.”

What 3 tips would you give to someone considering mobile optimisation?

“Firstly, if you’re hiring a web designer to do the job for you, make sure you do your research rather than go for the first company you find. There are lots of businesses out their offering their services so you need to find the one that’s right for your needs. Secondly, once you have hired your web designer, trust in their expertise. Don’t try to be a web designer yourself as it will tarnish the experience and you may not end up with the best results. Finally, don’t try and solve everything at once. Work out what the MLP (Minimum Loveable Product) is and focus on that. In other words, what is the very basic website or app you can offer your users that not only works for them but is something they will love.”

Whether you decide to go for a responsive web design or a native app, one fact remains: a strong mobile strategy is essential for your business in today’s modern world. Before you decide on what’s right for your business you should always ensure you research your options and speak to experts to work out what suits your overall strategy and your budget. What might be right for one business may not suit your own objectives and your users needs.

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(1) Source: http://www.clicky.co.uk