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Is your app really just a website?

Written by Mukandi Siame

It all started in 1973, Martin Cooper of Motorola and Dr. Joel S. Engel of Bell Labs assembled in their respective labs to make the first ever mobile phone call. The instrument weighed 1.1 kilograms and was nothing like the mobile phones we know today. It took two decades to fine tune but at last, IBM Simon was born – the world’s first phone that run mobile apps! Still, the word ‘smartphone’ wasn’t used until much later when Apple launched their line of devices.

Apps emerged from the early PDAs like IBM Simon, through the addictive Snake game on Nokia, to the first 500 apps in the Apple App Store when it debuted. Today, there are over 30 billion iPhone app downloads and 15 billion Android app downloads. According to a report cited here, in 2014, there were 19 million software developers across the globe and the number is steadily growing towards 25 million by 2020.

We are not complaining!

There are things we do with ease and speed today that may have been difficult or impossible a few years ago. Apps have taken mobile technology from basic telephone functions to gaming and utility. The attention to detail and techniques that go into the user experience of mobile applications is incredible.

Apps are creating a world of seamless connectivity. We can pay bills, track our health, order dinner, catch up on television shows all while sneaking in a few minutes of fun with Candy Crush. Some people swipe right and experience the luck of meeting their soul mate without ever leaving their house.

The benefits of Mobile Applications extend beyond personal needs.  Multinational corporations, start-ups and SMEs alike are seeing the lucrative opportunities that Apps present and they are seizing them.

Apps present a chance for smart businesses to connect with their clients and offer a more personal service. Clients can personalise their experience, receive relevant, direct notifications, make quicker transactions and get work done even when other systems are offline. On a more visual angle, Apps give more freedom with design which offers a whole new branding experience. Mobile phone users spend more time on their apps than anywhere else so what better way to reach them than right where they are. Nobody can forget a brand they see every day.

The future of App is here and some businesses may be wondering where that leaves them. Developing both a mobile website and a mobile app could be costly, labour intensive and time-consuming. When it comes to deciding whether to build a native app or a mobile website, the most appropriate choice depends on your budget and goals.

If your goal is to offer mobile friendly content to the widest possible audience then a mobile website is better. A mobile friendly website is the natural first step in developing a mobile web presence and it will give immediacy to all – regardless of their phone models. Websites are compatible across devices. Mobile websites need less specialised support and maintenance so they can be updated instantly. Content on websites can be found and shared easily, as a result this content has a broader reach. Another upside is that mobile sites cannot be deleted by their user so your presence is dependent on you.

When does an App make sense?

Yes! Websites are handy but there a number of specific scenarios where an app will be your best choice. If you need interactivity and engagement or are offering a gaming experience, apps are currently the best choice. If you want to offer your clients a platform with more personalisation, complex calculations, reporting and processing, an app can be built to handle such processes. Mobile apps are evolving to be better at accessing mobile specific functions and can boost the functionality of your phone. Other than enhancing selfies and sending recipes, some apps help users get personal tasks done more effectively. Mobile apps can be used without a connection and can store large volumes of data for your users.

Whichever path you take, you have to ensure that you are getting optimal return on investment. Your app should offer both you and your prospective users more than just information. App users often hope for better engagement, speed or an enhanced experience from the usual. What you want to avoid at all costs is building an expensive app to do something basic that can be achieved with a simple mobile website.

There is nothing as annoying as using an app that should have been a website.