When planning to establish a mobile presence for your business one of the first considerations that will likely come to mind is whether you want to create a mobile app or mobile website, or perhaps both? But before you even establish which is right for you and your business it is important to understand the differences between the two as mobile websites and apps can look very similar at first.

Native mobile apps are accessed via the internet or stored locally and built for a specific platform, such as iOS for the Apple iPhone or Android for a Samsung device. They are downloaded and installed via an app store and can use a device’s native features, such as GPS and the camera function, which allows developers to create better, more intuitive and faster user experiences for customers. Mobile apps live and run on the device itself. Snapchat, Instagram, Google Maps are some examples of popular mobile apps.

A mobile website, also known as a Web app, is a website, accessed via an internet browser and optimized, scaled and adapted to whichever mobile device you’re viewing them on. They are not native to a particular system, and don’t need to be downloaded or installed. Due to their responsive nature, they do indeed look and function a lot like mobile apps — and this is where the confusion arises. But, which is better? Or is there a preference?

In 2017 ComScore data showed that time spend on mobile apps were leading at 87%, with web browsing only scoring the remaining 13%. Last year, eMarketer followed up on this research and their data found that the average person in 2019 spent 90% of their mobile time in apps vs. the mobile web. Stats like these would lean heavily towards creating a native app over a web app, conversely though, it is thought that mobile websites are not completely redundant as of yet. It seems many users do start out using a website (or web app) but once a certain level of engagement has been built, users switch to the app. In other words, mobile websites are useful for driving initial awareness and engagement – but latter funnel stages are best served by apps.

The choice between mobile apps and websites depends on their cost, usability, required features and the audience they serve. That being said however, research and studies show that users prefer mobile apps more than mobile websites making for a strong reason to create a mobile app for reaching out to potential (and existing) customers. Here’s why.

  • More Features: Mobile apps can make use of all the different functions on your phone, such as GPS, camera and notifications, whereas a mobile website is far more limited. What this means is that a mobile app is able to offer a level of interaction far beyond the capabilities of a website.

  • Faster: Because mobile apps are downloaded and installed on your device, consumers find them significantly quicker to run. Rather than having to load up all the different images and functions — as you would with a mobile website — the app simply pulls everything up from files that already exist on the device. Not only that but users don’t necessarily need an Internet connection to use your app — in fact, download enough content and your app can be 100% functional offline.

  • User Friendly: In general, mobile apps are far more user-friendly, as the interface has been specifically designed with mobile-users in mind. In contrast, some mobile websites can be rather confusing; if a site isn’t optimized for your device, it can feel like you’re navigating a minefield.

  • Convenience: With the ability to make use of the different features on your phone, an app offers the potential to centralize a number of different functions in one place, something that the mobile web doesn’t offer effectively. An app can store your details, your usage history and your settings behind one convenient little button on your home screen. Research done by Criteo shows that offering this level of user experience simplicity and convenience, pushes more consumers down the purchase funnel, with 3x higher conversion rates compared to mobile sites and even 1.5 times more conversions per session than via desktop. Why? Customers abandon their shopping cart if they have to fill out their credentials during checkout but mobile apps solve this problem, due to saving user data. The good news is that many apps are, in fact, hybrids. These apps use a company’s mobile website content and put it into an app wrapper. This means that sign-in credentials can be transmitted from App to Website, thereby taking advantage of the benefits of the app while leveraging website content that has already been built.

In summary, consumers prefer apps over mobile sites as they offer a better user experience, speed and extra features. However, even with all the above in mind, a mobile-optimized site or excellent mobile app will continue to be an important asset for the foreseeable future, as anecdotally speaking, most users still find stores by using their browser. Regardless of which you choose, all businesses, if they haven’t already done so, should optimize their mobile presence in order to capitalize on the huge potential that mobile usage has to offer.