This is part 4 of a five-part series covering the issues in the mobile web vs app debate. In this article I talk about how the type of content, either static or dynamic, can influence your mobile presence choice.
When planning your mobile presence, the type of content is something that needs to be considered, at least today. An app can have significant advantages when using dynamic content – things like video, audio and motion graphics. When using content that is static in nature, like photos and text, the mobile web shines. Let’s take a deeper look at how the content affects the mobile web and apps.
Dynamic content – video, audio, and motion graphics
Apps have the advantage when it comes to dynamic content. In fact, one of the key reasons apps were developed was to enable dynamic content on mobile devices. Here are the three key reasons why apps beat the mobile web on dynamic content:
1. Access to local resources
The graphics and imaging used in games is a great example of dynamic content that needs access to the local resources. Furthermore, when designing graphic intensive apps like games, the developer often needs to know the specific hardware specifications and designs the content (and app) around them. Generally, it is not possible, or very difficult, to pull-off these types of games on a desktop PC connected to the web, let alone a mobile device connected to the mobile internet.
2. Instant response
Games are another great example of an app that needs instant response. If user interaction is subject to the delays of the mobile internet, the game may be unplayable. Content where instant response to user input is required are better served with an app than the mobile web, although upcoming improvements in mobile network speeds will effectively negate this advantage.
3. Browser technology
Unlike the internet, browser technology in the mobile internet is far from standard. Some browsers are great at displaying dynamic content, some are not. This issue will pass as mobile browsers become more standard, but for now, apps permit the developer to make sure the user can view dynamic content properly.
Static content – text and images
While both the mobile web and an app can handle static content such as text and images, the mobile web is the better choice. Since static content does not require heavy interaction with local resources on the mobile device and the bandwidth requirements are low, the mobile web is more than capable of providing a robust experience to the user. The three key benefits of using the mobile web to display static content:
The mobile web allows you to update content in real-time with no restrictions placed on your content (i.e. approval requirements). Updating an app requires going through the release and approval process, creating delays in access to new content. Plus, apps are subject to approval criteria, and it is not unheard of for apps to be removed from a store after they have been approved.
2. Simplified support and maintenance
The mobile web does not require you to support multiple versions of content since users always access the latest content when using your site. With an app, when you change or update content, you have to support multiple versions of the app as not all users will upgrade.
The mobile web extends to all phones that have access to the mobile internet, which is not limited to smartphones. Apps only reach those phones where the app is installed and those phones for which you have designed an app. For example, if you design your app only for the iPhone, you will reach less than 10% of the US mobile audience. Even if you design for every smartphone platform, you will only reach about a third of the mobile user population, and that requires that every smartphone user download your app.
In summary, an app is a better choice if the mobile presence you are designing requires dedicated, direct access to specific system resources, such as specialized graphics resources on the device. Otherwise, the mobile web is a better choice regardless of the content. Granted, there are some limitations with browser standards and bandwidth speeds today, but these issues are being addressed meaning dynamic content will only get better on the mobile web. So while there are clear advantages to each type of mobile presence based on content type today, the mobile web will win out in the long run making it the choice for a mobile presence for all but a few select applications.
Tomorrow, I will wrap-up the series by taking a look at what the future holds for the mobile web and apps.