What's The Difference Between a Mobile App, Mobile Web App & A Mobile Website?

Tuesday May 24, 2011

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What's the difference?

We get this question a lot. Let's go through a short definition of each.

Mobile App(lication): A piece of software which is written using one of many programming languages, compiled into software and distributed freely or sold through marketplaces provided by mobile device vendors, such as the Android Market, iOS Apple Store, Windows Marketplace for Mobile and the BlackBerry App World. For example, Twitter for iPhone.

Mobile Web App(lication): A website which is accessible via a mobile device on the Internet and is designed to perform a set of functions. For example, Google's Mobile GMail or Twitter Mobile.

Mobile Website: A version of your website which has been optimized to be accessed on mobile devices and contains content which can also be found on the normal version of the website. For example, CNN Mobile.

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Which is best for you?

Let's dive into each a bit more. When trying to decide which is the best for you, there are a few things to consider.

  • Do you want your mobile product to be downloaded to the user's device?
  • Would you like your mobile product to be used when the Internet is not accessible?
  • Do you want your mobile product to be purchased by users?

If the answer to the above questions is yes, then you will need a mobile app. Mobile apps allow the user to download, and possibly purchase, the application to their device. Depending on the design of the application, the user can even access features and content when an Internet connection is not available.

  • Do you need users to log into your mobile product in order to use a service or access data?

If the answer to the above question is yes, your project could fall into two categories: mobile app or mobile web app. Both of these products allow users to log into your website or server to retrieve and store information. Your developer should be able to determine which would be the best fit for your project. In some cases, if an API (application programming interface) is not available, you may be limited to a mobile web app since mobile apps require you to interface with the server directly via an API. (Don't worry. Your developer will be able to tell you if that is the case or not.)

  • Do you simply want the information that is available on your website to be accessible via popular mobile devices?

If the answer to the above is yes, then you are most likely looking for a mobile website, a mobile-friendly version of your existing content. For example, if your website features any Flash (a type of programming often used for animated slideshows and graphic-intense websites), anyone attempting to access your site using an Apple product such as the iPhone or iPad will not be able to see all of your content. In some cases, they might not even be able to see your website at all.

  • Is there a difference in price?

The short answer is yes. Each of these products requires a different level of development. Traditionally, the least expensive option is a mobile website. This, of course, depends on how your current website was developed and how tightly integrated your would like the two sites. In some cases, your current site can be easily adapted to display correctly on mobile devices.

Mobile apps and mobile web apps vary greatly in price depending on what features you would like, if an API is required (or even needed), how many screens (or pages) are required and which mobile devices you would like to support. It is best to contact your developer and develop a wishlist of features. They can then provide you with a full proposal for development. From here, you can both decide if it is best to take a phased approach and start with just a few features or if it will be easier to simply build a full-featured mobile app.

Ready to get started?

Whatever your level of need, the Pleth team can help you decide which product is best for you and help you get your own mobile project started today!

Have an idea for the next big mobile app? Also check out our mobile app DIY design kit to get your ideas down on paper.

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