The Pros and Cons of Mobile Apps vs. Responsive Web Design

These days, developers face a dilemma when deciding on a format for their mobile and smartphone-based products: Create a native mobile app or stick with a responsive web-based platform?

Each offers its own benefits, and one isn’t necessarily better than the other, depending on your business needs.

Let’s dig into the details of each option.

Mobile App or Responsive Web?

There are a couple key differences between responsive web design and mobile apps.

Responsive mobile design generally means that your site is designed specifically for mobile use. It will often be housed under a different URL (usually something like m.yoursite.com) and will feature subsets of your desktop content that are appropriate for mobile viewing. These pages will adapt to whatever screen size the user desires.

Mobile apps, on the other hand, are specific applications customized to each Operating System (OS) that feature unique designs and codebases. In our mobile-crazed world, native mobile apps are becoming a popular choice for many sites that want to offer users a top-shelf experience.

The Pros of Responsive Web Design

Creating mobile responsive mobile websites is the older, and perhaps less fashionable, of the two options. In most cases, the benefits of responsive web design encompass two critical areas:

  • Time: Launching a mobile site is a faster process than designing an application. Nearly all businesses these days need mobile sites to stay competitive anyway, so creating a responsive mobile experience is the least that developers can do.
  • Cost: Responsive web design is comparatively cheap when measured against the costs of designing a native mobile app from the ground up.

And the Cons

As they say, you get what you pay for. Responsive mobile sites, while necessary in today’s business climate, aren’t as fast or as functional as native mobile apps. It takes a long time to navigate to a mobile site through a phone’s browser when compared with the convenience of an app, and once users are there, the platform usually performs slower.

The Pros of Mobile Apps

Mobile apps take longer to create and are more expensive, but they feature several advantages in other areas:

  • Functionality: Apps feature greater functionality than mobile-oriented sites can allow due to the way each is custom built into the device’s OS. This means that apps can easily integrate with other features and tools in a device as well as support functions that aren’t possible with web-based HTML5.
  • Speed: Mobile apps are designed top to bottom with efficiency in mind. Apps usually have faster loading times than web pages as they aren’t cluttered with unnecessary site elements. The user experience is optimized.
  • Brand Recognition: Nothing beats a native app for brand awareness and marketing. With handy desktop shortcuts, mobile apps put you front and center on each user’s phone, and the custom code used to create apps can relay information back to businesses about user behaviors to inform future development decisions.

And the Cons

Depending on who you have on your development team, designing mobile apps is tough. Building an application requires a different set of skills than modifying a site for mobile. When done poorly, the great brand awareness present in native apps can work against businesses: If consumers see a shoddy app, it makes the business seem amateur.

To combat this, most businesses pay top dollar for native app development that takes longer than building a mobile site. These are the two drawbacks of native app development: Investing the time and investing the money.

Which is Best?

Perhaps a better question would be, which is best for you?

Most businesses need, and already have, mobile-optimized pages these days. And while native apps generally perform more efficiently, not every business needs one to be successful. If cost is an issue, businesses can leverage their web platforms to feature as many mobile benefits as possible to avoid the financial investments of a native app.

But make no mistake, mobile apps can be powerful for brand awareness, marketing, and creating a quality user experience. Examine your budget and your business’s goals to determine whether the investment in mobile app infrastructure will pay off in the long run.