August 26, 2013 | Maria Talley

Mobile App or a Responsive Website: Which Is Right for You?

Responsive Website

Here's a question many small business owners are wondering these days: to best reach the rapidly expanding mobile web market, do you need a mobile app or a responsive website?

In today’s world of instant communication, consumers use handheld devices to play games, organize their day to day activities, read news, and make online purchases. Creating a responsive website or mobile app that is just right for your type of business means reaching potential customers faster, regardless of their physical location.

The question is: which one? Responsive site or mobile app? Or should you do both? Following are a few points to consider.

The cost of mobile apps vs responsive website design

The bottom line is, well, the bottom line. So first, we're going to discuss costs. According to Mashable, you reach approximately 5X as many people per dollar spent with a mobile/responsive website as you do with a mobile app. Here's a breakdown of some of the cost considerations.

Initial Development: While the cost of responsive design can be high if you're building a complicated website with advanced functionality, and the cost of mobile apps can be low if you're not using advanced functionality, in general mobile apps are more expensive than responsive websites to build.

One main reason for the difference in costs is that one app doesn't work for every platform. You have to develop separate apps for iPhone, iPad, Android, Kindle, Windows, and other mobile platforms. In other words, you can only reach users of the mobile operating systems for which you've developed an app.

According to this article on appmuse, the average cost to develop an iPhone app is $6,453, and more complex apps cost from $50,000 to $150,000 or more. The article went on to say that iPad app costs range from $15,000 to $150,000. Add to that the cost of developing for Android and the other major platforms, and you can see how app development expenses can quickly add up to big bucks.

Conversely, the average cost to develop a responsive website is between $10,000 and $15,000. To be sure, the price can go up from there into the $150,000+ range, but once you've developed your responsive website, you're going to get great-looking results on every mobile platform; not just one. That's the whole point of responsive design.

Ongoing Maintenance: another cost consideration is the cost for keeping your responsive website or mobile application up to date. Both can become out of date as operating systems and browsers are updated, or as design trends change and evolve. But re-designing a responsive website vs a mobile app is going to have the same cost differentials: one re-design for responsive website vs. multiple updates for mobile apps.

To put this in perspective, the general consensus is that you need to re-design a website once every 2 or 3 years. Adding new features to your mobile apps, however, is more frequent - because updating the app keeps it secure, and keeps it fresh in the minds of users.

So you're going to have smaller, more constant development costs for app updates, and bigger, less-frequent development costs for responsive websites.

Other considerations for mobile apps vs responsive website design

Accessibility: Mobile apps can be available offline as well as online, which is an advantage over responsive websites. But with 3G, 4G and ubiquitous wireless hotspots, this advantage for apps is diminishing.

Interactivity: Mobile apps typically have greater interactivity than your average responsive website. But this line is blurred as the available functions of modern agency-built (or even self-built, for technically savvy businesses) websites continue to expand. Today your responsive website can fulfill the vast majority of functions that apps offer, and typically less expensively. But there are some advanced interactive functions that remain the near-exclusive province of apps. Such features include use of your phone camera.

First Use: One big advantage of responsive design over mobile apps is that a mobile website can just be visited and used right away, whereas an app must be downloaded to be used.

Approval Process: Another big advantage of a responsive website over an app is that there's no one (other than your team) who must approve your website before it can be use. Conversely, a mobile app must be approved by the app market for which it is built. Which means that you can invest time and money developing your app, only to wind up being denied the ability to offer it through a particular market. This is most frequently an issue for Apple's App Store for iPhone and iPad.

Needs vs Discretional Spending: The final advantage of a responsive website is that it's truly a need for your business. You need to offer a website that works appropriately on every sized screen, that continues to feature your all-important calls to action which make your website a successful marketing tool, vs an online business card. Unless your business is one that is both popular enough to justify the app expense, and well suited to the extra interactivity offered by apps, it's truly a discretionary spend.

To learn more about mobile options, read our What Is Responsive Website Design post, or if you are looking for a comprehensive website redesign checklist, enjoy our FREE website redesign ebook below!

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Maria Talley

Maria Talley

Maria Chueva Talley is a long-time friend of VIEO and guest contributor to our blog. She was VIEO's Internet Marketing Manager for several years, and has recently moved on new internet and marketing adventures.

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