To App or Not?
Part of my role as a consultant and is to make sure people understand the reason I am asking them to shell out money. In our current environment, I feel many people are misinformed about mobile. In particular, should you build an app or should you update your site to become a responsive, mobile friendly experience? Most people feel they need an app because of the buzz and it seems to be the current direction companies are headed. However, I would caution my clients from jumping into that stream. A better built web presence can tackle most of what they are really after, and save some money.
Mobile ready sites might make more sense than mobile apps. Here are some things to consider before making a decision.
Many company apps of today are the static sites of the early 2000s. People are just shelling out dollars without knowing what or why. They only hear that everyone has an app, so think they must get one as well. Ultimately it comes down to what benefits you see your app providing the user.
Games are clearly the leading motivator. Flash does not work on almost all mobile devices and tablets. By creating an app, you can deploy Flash based games on those devices. However, depending on what the game entails you might be able to achieve a similar experience with HTML5 / CSS3 / jQuery. They are not as robust as Flash, but you might still get a close experience, plus it will be one game for all platforms and devices.
Offline usage is the only definite reason to build an app. Sometimes, you want to give people the chance to interact with the app when they are not connected to the internet, but still deliver the data once they are connected. Obviously you could not do that with an online only presence.
The cost behind building apps is far higher than most people know ahead of time. If you need a game, offline content access or have a scenario where user interface is paramount an app might make perfect sense. Most of the time the apps I see are not really necessary. They are interfaces to data found online. If that is the case, build your site in a smart fashion and it will benefit all visitors.
A key benefit of a responsive site is that you have an easier way to manage the experience. Web sites work reasonably well across platforms. With the use of responsive design, you can maintain the user experience across devices. By keeping things online, you are able to deploy your new offering to all phones with a modern web browser. No need to build a specific app for each platform.
I tend to lean toward the well built site. In my opinion, it is more cost effective and updates to the site flow out to the mobile experience. Plus, as device technology changes, it adds a bit of future proof to your investment. In the end, the most important thing is to be mobile ready one way or the other.