Mobile websites vs. apps – what's right for you? | npENGAGE

Mobile websites vs. apps – what’s right for you?

By on May 5, 2011

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36% of U.S. mobile consumers now have smartphones, says The Nielsen Company.  There is also some nice information in the article about app usage and how it varies by type of phone/operating system (OS).

Combine that with this nugget:  by 2014 more people will view web pages using a mobile device than a computer.

The smartphone revolution is already here.  Does your organization have a strategy?

What about mobile websites versus apps?  Should you invest your time and money in building a mobile version of your site, or developing an app?  There are advantages to both, some drawbacks, and specific factors to consider.

Here are some advantages of mobile websites.  First, they will load regardless of which OS the phone is running on, whereas some apps aren’t compatible with older versions of the OS.  And second, you don’t have to count on users to upgrade their apps to see your new content.  Once you update your mobile website content, you can be confident that’s what people are seeing.

Perhaps most compelling is the pervasive nature of the web and web browsers – a web browser comes built into a smartphone.  The user doesn’t have to go to an app store, search for your app, and download it.

These are some good examples of nonprofit mobile sites.  Obviously, best viewed using a mobile device!

NetSquared has a useful presentation available that speaks more about the mobile landscape and what it means for nonprofits.  Check it out as you develop your strategy.

Okay, let’s move on to discussing apps.  The advantages of apps are:  they are good at helping the user focus on one thing that you want to highlight, and lend themselves well to location-based services like self-guided tours, for example.  They are also generally faster at lookup functions – depending on the speed of the internet connection, looking something up via 3G or wireless could take longer.

But consider this:  when developing an app, iPhone and Android operating systems have the majority of market share, so in order to reach as wide an audience as possible, you’ll really be developing two apps, one for each OS.  There’s also Blackberry, Palm, Windows Mobile, and Symbian.  Market share is changing with every quarter – while 22% of mobile phone users have a Blackberry right now, recent acquisitions of smartphones are dominated by Android, and more people intend to buy either iPhone or Android for their next phone purchase.  Check out this Nielsen blog post for a full rundown.

Here’s a smattering of apps for you to check out:

  • Human Rights Campaign’s Buying for Equality app helps you support companies that support equal rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people (scroll down on the right to find the app link)
  • PETA’s Be Nice to Bunnies app is a buying guide that helps you choose cruelty-free products
  • National Parks Conservation Association’s app features field guides for national parks – a great use of location-based services
  • Audubon Society offers field guides that will help you identify life in the natural world – no more lugging around a book!
  • Greenpeace has a Recycled Tissue and Toilet Paper Guide – to help you reduce and recycle (but perhaps not reuse, in this case)
  • The Central Park Conservancy offers a guide to Central Park in New York City

Convio even has an iPhone app for our Summit!  (Right now the 2010 version is available, and the 2011 version is coming soon.  This app was really convenient for me at the 2010 Summit, especially the schedule feature, because I don’t like carrying around a large program book and inevitably leave it in my hotel room anyway.

So it’s not really about mobile websites VERSUS apps.  Rather, you should definitely have a mobile version of your website.  You should consider investing in an app if there is a specific use case it will work well for.  And if you can only invest in one right now, let it be a mobile website.  If you need help getting started, Convio offers a mobile website starter package (PDF) so give us a jingle!

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