What’s the difference between an app and a mobile site?

December 16, 2014 Mobile Comment

“I want you to build an app for my site. It just needs to work on the mobile phone.”

This is something we hear often from some of our clients. Most of the time they just want their website to be mobile friendly. Rarely does their website need to be converted into a native mobile app.

Mobile Websites

A mobile website is a normal HTML structured site that is designed for hand held devices. The design of the mobile site would take into account how images are resized and how the elements of the page stack on top of each other. Another popular method is making the website responsive. This means you can design and develop your site with every size and width in mind.

Most newer sites use this method. To see if a site is responsive on your computer, you can take the browser window and slowly reduce its width to see where it starts to collapse. Other websites will designate a mobile.website.com version. This means it will only show in a mobile phone by using code that triggers when a phone accesses the URL.

Mobile Apps (Applications)

A mobile app is an actual application that you download and install on your mobile phone or tablet. At times, you can actually access the app without an internet connection. The two main app languages are Android and Apple iOS. Have you ever noticed some times you can’t find your favorite game on your iPad, but it’s available on your Android phone? This is because the app creator has decided to develop it for Android not to build it on iOS, for whatever reason. (Most likely the cost.)

When does a mobile app make sense?

This really depends on what you’re trying to achieve. Let’s use Facebook as an example. They obviously have both. If you pull up facebook.com on your phone you’ll notice the URL changes to m.facebook.com. This allows Facebook to provide you with a design that works best on your phone. The images stack nicely and the menu is reduced, etc.

If you download the Facebook app, you’ll notice a few differences. It will ask you for access to certain phone features that will allow the app to provide you with a better experience overall. The Facebook app can also provide you with push notifications and messages that alert you of new messages or posts. Very useful if you’re a social media addict.

Mobile apps use the built in functionality of your phone far beyond what a mobile site could do. Gaming is a perfect example. Angry Birds uses the touch screen of your phone or tablet as the main way in how you play the game. You pinch the screen and pull back. This is impossible on your computer. If your main goal is to provide information to your visitor and mobile site would probably be best. If you goal is to provide specific interactive engagement with your users, then an app is a way to go.

Written by Jake