Should You Build A Mobile App or A Responsive Web App

John walks into a mobile development shop and meets Jane, the sales person.
John: “I want to build a mobile app”.
Jane: “Great, which devices do you want your app on?”
John: “Android, iOS and Windows. We obviously want to cover the whole market.”
Jane: “Okay, we can do all three. Features?”
John: “We are looking for an ecommerce app, what do you suggest?”

Jane pulls out a menu card, much like the ones you see in a restaurant, with features and their costs mentioned next to it. “These are the features that come with an ecommerce app, choose what you want – and we’ll build it for you.”

Welcome to the world of commoditized software, where everyone talks features and what an app can do even before answering a much bigger question, “Why”?

Deciding on a device to deliver your software on needs to be a carefully thought out process. Certain applications work better as a mobile app, while some of them are meant to be used on a laptop.


1. Complexity

One of the first questions you need to answer, when deciding on the devices is how complex your application will be.

Take the hugely popular photo sharing app, Instagram, for example. The founders did not originally launch Instagram as a photo sharing app on iOS. It was born out of another location based check – in app called Burbn, the founder created based on the success of Foursquare. Burbn allowed users to check in, tag friends they’re hanging with and post pictures of the meets. The app wasn’t very successful, owing to its overly complicated interface. Churning the data, the founders realized that people were only using Burbn for sharing pics, and thus Instagram was born. Simplicity was and has since been the focus – users could post an image with 3 taps.

Apps like Instagram are mobile specific – they are born because mobile devices exist.

Mobile applications are supposed to be simple. The more complex they are, the lower are the chances of success.

Compare this to an online education platform like Udemy. Udemy is a course creation platform and a marketplace for courses, catering to two types of users – the instructors who create courses and students who consume courses. A course creation platform is a complicated software. It includes creating and editing multiple content types, managing students, managing billing and whatnot. This side of the platform thus, cannot be built as a mobile app – owing to its vastness and complexity. Instructors will need to login in to the web app and create their course.

The students, however, only consume a course. Because the flow and complexity gets greatly reduced, it’s easier to adapt the learning platform into a mobile app.

The general rule of thumb when deciding to build a mobile app is that the user should be able to reach the intended goal of the application with minimum number of clicks (no more than 3).


2. Location and Time Sensitivity

Taxi apps like Uber allow users to book and call a cab right at their location. There are multiple things that work in tandem and give an extremely seamless experience to the user. Let’s look at the app’s flow:

Alice is shopping around the streets of New Delhi and wants to meet friends for dinner. She opens the app, which automatically fetches her location and shows that there are 4 cabs near her.

The app also shows the approximate ETA for the nearest cab is 5 mins. Alice books the cab, which arrives at her exact location within 5 minutes. Cab drops Alice to her destination, Uber charges her card which she has pre-authorized.

There are multiple things going on in the flow that makes booking a cab so much easier, but Alice being able to book the cab instantly and call it at her exact location without feeding in an address is what makes the experience so amazing.

Imagine having to do the exact same flow via a web browser. Open the browser – navigate to the website – login – book a cab. Again open the browser to check if cab is on its way. Open the browser again to check how far you’re from your drop off location. If you navigate away by mistake, repeat the login procedure again to get to the right screen. You get the gist.

Software applications that primarily work with location and time sensitivity need to be a mobile app and not a web app.

3. Frequency of Use

Last year, the American clothing company Patagonia bid farewell to their native mobile app, urging users to use the website on their mobile web browsers.

What was that about websites being irrelevant and this being an app only future?

— Adam Kmiec (@adamkmiec) June 1, 2016

Modern mobile web browsers have seriously notched up their technical capabilities to handle heavy websites. They’re also getting increasingly good at their mobile specific functions, including push notifications. An average person doesn’t need to shop for clothes every day, or even every other day for that matter. So why would she want to install a native app of an apparel company.

Closer home, Myntra – an online fashion store disabled their website and went app only to encourage retention and frequency of use. This move did not fare well as they saw a lot of their web users moving to competition. Their numbers started dropping and they eventually had to bring back their website.

Applications that warrant a frequent use deserve the effort of creating an app. Otherwise a mobile web app would do just fine.

We, at Codebrahma are passionate about building solutions and not just apps. If you have something in mind that you want to build, we’d be more than happy to have a word with you. Drop us a line here.

Written by
Anand Narayan
Published at
Feb 08, 2017
Posted in
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