Praveen Ramanathan

President & CEO

Mobile Apps vs. Mobile Web – I don’t care how you get here, but get here if you can!

President & CEO

The mobile web is blowing up. If you’re alive and breathing air you know this – you see it all around you. We use our smart phones and devices constantly. Now for more than just games and personal productivity, more than 50%[1] of us are using our smart phones to make our lives easier by connecting to the web in real time. We look up store locations and compare prices at the point of purchase. We download coupons, view product information and videos. We interact with retailers and then share about it socially. We Google. We Skype. We Tweet. We like. We Shop.

According to a report by IDC[2], m- commerce showed an 86% year-over-year growth from 2010 to 2011, and by 2015, it is predicted that mobile shopping will account for 12% of global ecommerce[3]. With these and other explosive prognostications for the future of the mobile web as a driver of commerce and information-hunting, it’s not surprising that 74% of online retailers already have, or are developing, a mobile strategy[4] including mobile sites, mobile ad delivery and dedicated apps.

Needless to say, such intense growth has bred competition in the marketplace that is fierce and fragmented. With the popularity of the iPhone and iPad, developing an app for iOS is a no-brainer if you’re looking to reach deeper into the online market by developing an app. Starting this year with a stunning 53% share of the mobile market, iOS is constantly under siege by a sloo of contenders, most notably Google’s Android OS which is swiftly gobbling up market share (Currently just under 20% and growing)[5].

So how can the savvy marketer who’s on the never-ending hunt for ROI manage her investment in the mobile marketplace in a way that maximizes reach and impact while minimizing cost?

Platform-specific mobile development

Many retailers and businesses looking to cash in on the mobile craze think that developing an app for the iPhone or iPad is the way to go (and with the success of the platform they may not be wrong!). Some great advantages of developing an app that runs native are that they will have access to the built in UI sensors of the phone. Being able to use the accelerometer, gyroscope, camera or microphone adds fun and interactivity to a customer experience, and might be necessary if you need to scan a code or perform an action as part of a game. Downloaded apps are also self-contained, meaning that unless the app depends on remote data to function, it can operate without the presence of a wireless network.

But it’s important to understand that building a native app has some pretty hefty down sides as well. Investments in platform-specific development will have to be duplicated in order to deliver the same content to a different platform which effectively DOUBLES your development costs if you want an app to run on both iOS and Andriod, with additional costs if you go into Windows Phone, Blackberry etc. In addition to this, each marketplace has certain standards that must be met in order for the app to be listed, which might inhibit your creative freedom. You could work for months and spend tens of thousands of dollars, only to have the AppStore send you back to the drawing board.

Example of a branded app: Toys “R” Us Shopping. Use the barcode scanner to instantly get product details, reviews and video reviews, particularly helpful for parents. Sort by relevance, price, ratings in search, and also browse. App also features a store locator. Enter your mobile number and receive special deals and alerts on your phone. Available for iPhone.

Web-Based Mobile Development

If you don’t require access to the native functions of the phone, you’ll probably be much better off developing a web-based mobile site that will be accessed through the browser of your mobile device. In many cases (and especially now with the growing access to 4G networks) you can deliver a user experience equivalent to that offered by a natively-running application. What’s more, since the site is accessed via a browser you don’t have to develop ten different versions, though you still need to pay attention to how the site will render on a variety of screen sizes. For many brands who demand a pixel-perfect graphic experience, this option may not be tolerable – but for the business who values ease and scalability, browser-based mobile experiences may be the way to go.

This is not to say that developing web-based apps is a process that’s free from bureaucracy; Apple’s iOS is (intentionally) not compatible with Adobe Flash which is one of the web’s most prevalent deliverers of interactive content. This has led to a growing debate as to the relative strengths of Flash vs. HTML5 development (The main purpose for creating HTML5 is to minimize the use for, “plug-in-based rich internet application (RIA) technologies such as Adobe Flash, Microsoft Silverlight, Apache Pivot and Sun JavaFX.) This is a topic that is outside the scope of this post but definitely worth some research – especially if you’re trying to deliver a gaming or video experience.

Determining which alternative may be more appropriate in your own specific case will require careful thought as to your marketing goals and your budget. But don’t take too long deciding, because I can guarantee you your competitor is already out there developing his mobile strategy and you don’t want to be caught trying to play catch-up!

[2] Source: Appcelerator and IDC as reported by Mobile Commerce Daily

[3] Source: ABI Research, 2010

[4] Source: Forrester Research study produced in conjunction with, 2010