Having come across several articles in the press and magazines there often seems to be a confusion between responsive design, mobile site and mobile app – mobile site / mobile app in particular. At Red Flag before engaging in development we present the client with different options depending on the existing material, if any, what his/her goals are, what can be achieved and the type of experience they want to give to their mobile customers. In this article we’re going to briefly describe what a responsive design, a mobile site and a mobile app are and examine in which context a particular solution would eventually apply over another.
A mobile site is a special version of a (desktop) website optimised for smartphones. In a mobile site the content is readable without the necessity of pinching and zooming, the content – including media – is not broken so there’s no horizontal scrolling, buttons are thumb friendly. A mobile site also boasts unique features such as click-to-call buttons. .
A mobile app is a downloadable application installed on a smartphone. It can be HTML5 based e.g. HTML5 website packaged as a mobile app or native e.g. developed in a coding language supported by the targeted smartphone’s operating system (Android, iOS, etc.). Once it’s installed most apps don’t require an Internet connection to run making the content available even when there’s no Internet connection. For an example of native mobile app have look at SMS Loc8.
When the only changing factor in the Web experience is the user’s device and if your website analytics indicate a non-negligible incoming traffic from tablets of various screen sizes responsive design could be a useful solution. Responsive design works very well when all that matters is having the content formatted according to the screen resolution of the accessing device. On the other hand if you want to give your customers a different web experience based on whether the Internet visitor is behind a desktop or on the go e.g. smartphone then a mobile site may be more appropriate. Please note a well designed mobile site can look good on a tablet too. A mobile site – or a mobile app – is particularly relevant when the user’s goal is context driven. In “The Future of Mobile eBusiness is Context” Forrester Research analyst Julie A. Ask defines mobile context as “the sum total of what your customer has told you and is experiencing at his moment of engagement.” The mobile user’s level of interactivity is important here. Since a mobile app can access smartphone features – camera, geolocation, etc. – a mobile site can’t – or when it can it’s on a limited way – GPS for instance – a well developed mobile app would be more aware of the mobile context than a mobile site. As such a mobile app is particularly suited when a specific context is key. A mobile app can greatly assists brands increase customers social engagement and retention. Nevertheless regardless on whether you want to go for a mobile app or not having a mobile site should always be prioritized for the simple fact that there always will be customers trying to access your website from a mobile and they’d better have a nice experience.