As the number of users accessing the internet from their mobile phones continues to rise, companies are looking to their own online mobile presence. Before sketching ideas or discussing functionalities, one of the fundamental questions you should ask is:
Are we building a mobile phone website or application?
Mobile phone websites
Mobile websites are mobile-dedicated versions of websites. They are quicker to build than applications, more search engine friendly and do not need installing.
They are accessible on all phones, not only smart and touch phones, but cannot offer the same rich experience as a computer due to browser limitations, e.g. Flash is often unsupported. However, users “on the go” only want to carry out a few tasks so by offering a small number of simple, useful options, you can often offer a better user experience than many full sites.
Mobile websites are browsed in mobile contexts. Common issues of connectivity and download speed can seriously undermine the user experience of your site so you will need to explore preventative measures.
Mobile phone applications
Mobile applications are pieces of software designed and developed for mobile devices. They are quicker to access and do not always require internet connection. Mobile applications make use of the entire screen, as it works without the browser. This means that content and functionality can be given greater space. A mobile application can exploit a phone’s built-in functionalities to provide a greater user experience, such as GPS, camera and maps.
However, adoption and frequency of use are challenges for mobile applications. Downloading and using applications is not always the easiest, but there is something you can do to help users. Firstly, offer users what they really want – no one wants to fill in an application form for a mortgage on a mobile device – and keep it simple. Secondly, give potential users a flavour of the application. This will help them decide whether to download and keep using your application, e.g. provide descriptions, reviews and high-quality screenshots wherever your application is advertised.
You will need to conduct research with your users, the device they own and use, and the tasks they want to carry out on their mobile phones.
Broadly, if you have a strong customer base that regularly accesses your services and wants more from their mobile experience, build a mobile application. However, make sure you build software that is compatible with different phones or you will potentially exclude a good portion of your target audience (we are not all iPhone users). Check out Pete’s blog ‘I didn’t ask for a 1 star app’.
If this is not the case, a mobile-dedicated website will work appropriately. However, bear in mind the differences in screen size and input between feature, smart, and touch phones. Ideally, design different versions of your website giving priority to content for lower-end phones and offer a richer experience for higher-end phones. If you don’t have enough time and money for this, concentrate on building a scalable website.