Does More Mobile Apps Mean Web Sites Are Less Relevant?

Apps have their place, but biz sites need long form information dissemination and complex sales decision not usually suitable from within a mobile app

The battle for relevance between mobile apps and web sites is officially “on”. There are those who believe that apps are the thing of the future and web sites have seen their best days. There are others who think that apps while useful don’t replace a commercial web site for useful presentation of complete information to visitors and sales prospects in an easily expandable manner.

Which view is correct?

Google-apps-ne-besplatenApp Complexity Issues
Some of the best apps out there are popular because they are simple. As is true with investment books where every additional formula included in the text reduces the readership by 50%, so is true for most apps. A mobile app can be handy, but it’s tough to get that much detailed functionality out of one.

This is particularly true when it comes to apps for business needs. Take a complex web site with many sections, sub sections and moving parts which update regularly. This is extremely difficult to deliver on a device the size of most smart phones and even a “phablet” will struggle to present the information in a coherent manner.

With a tablet it does admittedly get a bit easier but even then the content has to be made web-ready so media like Flash videos which cannot be viewed on many types of tablets will be converted to a more easily accessible format like HTML5 video instead.

Still the fact remains that it is difficult to deliver a similar user experience without drastically cutting out or pairing down the features of the web site in order to fit it into a mobile app experience.

Web Site Design For Mobile Devices
It is usually necessary to offer a different web site design for use with mobile devices. The device being used to access a web site can be determined through a scan of the web browser being used to access the site and then delivering either a different user experience or an alternative mobile-specific web address.

This much is clear if you’ve ever tried to get to a tiny search box on a page viewed on small to mid-size smart phone and tap on it with any success. The smaller the mobile device, the more finicky and frustrating it can be. A simplified web experience on smaller devices can get over this hurdle and make a web site extremely practical for use on the move whilst still retaining much of the original look and feel. This can make the development of a mobile app less necessary.

Responsive_Web_DesignThe Difference In Usefulness With Tablet App Design
Apps specifically designed for Android tablets and the iPad range have the potential to use the larger form factor well in order to present information in a clearer manner.

Adobe PDF files can be easily viewed and consumed and HD photos & video content can be seen without the need to keep zooming in to see the detail. The tablet whilst not all that convenient to walk around with in the street is still a very useful portable device rather than toting along with a laptop everywhere you go.

Apps that are custom designed for the tablet form factor often do provide a greater level of interaction through a modified design that makes best use of the additional screen real estate rather than the app being stretched to fit the larger screen. However, there are problems inherent with unfamiliar app interface design which can make it more difficult for busy business executives to be truly productive on mobile devices.

Consistency with interface design in iOS apps often makes then easier to get a handle on, but Google also recognises the issue. They have several internal projects aimed at helping external software developers create new Android-based apps with more visual consistency in the future.

Commercial Web Sites With Complete Information
An effective strategy is to offer a commercial web site which provides a gateway for all clients and customers to visit. The site should have all the important information about products and services offered by the business. Some services like software as a service (SaaS) ones may be hidden behind a pay-wall in the members’ area.

The destination web site can act as a complete information source, a way to purchase the products or service, and to directly receive many of the services purchased.

It is highly unlikely that a single mobile app can offer anything like this level of business solution. For large businesses, they may choose to offer apps for virtual markets targeting certain groups of customers. For small businesses it is difficult to see the benefit of providing an app in the first place unless their customers are clearly indicating that one is expected.

App Information Sharing
One of the real business benefits of offering an app is that it is necessary for the device owner to agree to share certain information with the developer when installing the app. This information goes far and beyond what is gathered when a potential or actual customer visits their web site.

It is customary for an app to request identifying information, access to Wi-Fi communication for the provision of updates, and collect statistical information that the company will find useful to data crunch later. Therefore, even for small businesses with limited budgets, the idea of developing an app for at least the iOS platform and perhaps the Android platform too shouldn’t be dismissed quite so quickly.

There may be some key tasks and information needs that customers would find useful when disseminated in app form, but who still return to the web site for more complete product information and to satisfy their research requirements. In this way, a mobile app can compliment an existing business web site rather than cannibalise its traffic.

To App Or Not To App?
The decision whether to move into the app arena is not an easy one. Rather than ordering an app development just because it’s what your competitors all seem to be doing, it’s best to consider the customer perspective. How would a mobile app help them? Are there some key expectations and needs that a mobile app from your company could meet which are difficult to do currently with your web site?

A web site survey or focus group might be useful to try to discover what the needs of your customers are while they’re away from their desktop or laptop PCs. Armed with this knowledge, it becomes much easier to see whether an app would be truly useful to them and what essential features it should offer.