Mobile Apps – Do you really need them?

Would you like to take your business website mobile? or are you planning to build a mobile app?

Native mobile apps for Android and Apple iOS are one way to do this, but do you really need to spend the money to develop mobile apps for both Apple iOS or Google Android, or would a less expensive, responsive, mobile friendly website be a better fit for what you are trying to achieve?

It’s been said that, in the long term, mobile apps are an intermediate ‘bridging’ technology that will only be really popular until the responsive, mobile web catches up with what the mobile web can do. However, in the meantime, which is the best to choose?

What is a Responsive Website?

Responsive websites are specifically created so they automatically resize to display correctly across all mobile devices, such as smart phones and iPads.

Without a responsive design your website will be too wide for a mobile screen and users will have to continually pan sideways to read the contents – which is very frustrating to people. In these cases potential customers tend to get fed up trying to read your content and simply click out of your site or ecommerce store. This is a big reason why mobile apps were so popular. Apps were specifically designed to run on the phone they are downloaded for. However, responsive design has caught up and now provides users with a rich experience, directly from the web, without the app download.

You might be surprised how much these behave like native mobile apps.

Native Mobile Apps

On the other hand, a native mobile app is a piece of software you download from the App Store, or Android Market – not a website – that has been designed to help users access information, games and services on mobile devices. There are hundreds of thousands of apps available – from Gmail for mobile, Facebook, LinkedIn, QR codes to travel or game apps, social networking, entertainment, horoscopes and shopping apps.

Which should you choose?

It all comes down to two factors – how much do you want to spend and what are you trying to achieve?

As far as costs are concerned, mobile apps take a lot more time to design and implement than responsive design and need more regular updating and maintenance – costs for simple apps range between $5,000 and upwards of $50,000. You also need to factor in the time dealing with Apple iTunes connect and the Android Market. Android is pretty good, but Apple can be a real pain to deal with. With Apple, each and every change, must be approved by them before it is published. This is time you will be paying your developer for, for every update.

As for what you are trying to achieve – if you need functionality that is specifically only available on the phone, you really need an app. Examples of this are if you require your solution to work offline, if you need access to the camera or access the movement sensors. Otherwise, if you’re app is simply providing information, or even uses the GPS, this can most likely be achieved with a responsive website.

So to help you decide between mobile apps and responsive designs – here are some factors to consider:

  1. Responsive designs are immediately available to the viewer across numerous platforms without previous download. Apps have to be downloaded from an app marketplace before content can be viewed. And people need a good reason to download an app.
  2. Mobile apps are designed for specific devices and each device requires an app to be specifically created for that device.
  3. Responsive designs can be updated in minutes whereas apps have to be re-submitted to Apple and Google, then downloaded again by users.
  4. If SEO is important – choose a responsive design as search engines cannot read apps.
  5. The usable life of a mobile is often much shorter than a responsive site, as new phones and their systems come out regularly which require you to re-develop and re-submit to Apple and Google to keep your app working.
  6. Apps are great for interactive games, and complex user interfaces and functionality that requires the phone camera, GPS and motion sensors.
  7. Responsive designs are great for ecommerce sites and sites where the content is important and needs to be updated regularly.


In most cases, for small to medium business, responsive web design will be the most effective solution. However, if you require phone specific functionality, you may need to consider a mobile app.

A wise approach may be to start out with a responsive design, then if you want to expand upon the interface and provide a more interactive experience, look into a mobile app.

If you are looking into a mobile app, it’s definitely also worth finding out which type of phone most of your users use and start out with that phone. There does definitely seem to be separate iPhone and Android demographics… but more on that in a future article.
For more information on whether a responsive website, or mobile app is suited to your business, please feel free to contact us and have a chat

Snapfrozen – digital experts who make the web work for you.