Developer

Responsive web design vs. mobile app development

Ryan Boudreaux lists the criteria to be evaluated if you are deciding between developing a mobile app or using RWD to optimize your website for mobile devices.

Most businesses and organizations have websites, and with the popularity and proliferation of all sizes of mobile devices, a mobile strategy for those websites is more important than ever. If you haven't already begun to make those decisions about your own organization's mobile website presence, the time is now.

If your challenge is deciding between a responsive web design (RWD) overhaul of your website or having a mobile application (MA) developed, there are many issues to consider. Each choice has its benefits and its each has its shortfalls; nevertheless, selecting which option works for you and your organization depends on your circumstances. I have included several specific considerations that you should evaluate before you decide which approach will bring you universal mobile device user interaction.

Criteria and considerations

The development dilemma catches up with just about every website stakeholder, ultimately asking yourself if you should you have your website optimized for mobile viewing, or should you start development into a mobile app? The basic principles, costs, implementation time frame, design approach, user experience, performance, and ongoing maintenance are concerns that need to be addressed before making the final decision. Recently, the MDG Blog put out a nice infographic, "Should You Build a Mobile App or Mobile Website", detailing most of the options and opportunities behind both mobile development methods. A screen capture of the infographic is displayed in Figure B.

The infographic details the benefits and basics of each design approach, the important differences between mobile websites and mobile applications, highlights some issues with user access in either design method, and also displays the time usages spend on both mobile designs.

The following table summarizes the twelve principles that define each of the associated mobile design approaches, comparing each method of use and implementation.

Principles Mobile App (MA) Responsive Web Design (RWD)
Access Speed Very fast Fast
App Store Available Not necessary
Approval Process Some are mandatory None
Content Versions Multiple URLs/versions for each page, i.e., content forking Same content regardless of device or platform
Development Cost Expensive to very expensive Moderate to reasonable
Features Phone features, location services, camera, etc... Limited phone features
Functionality Some functions may be omitted from the mobile application All functions of original site remain
Internet Connection Available offline Required
Monetization Easily monetized Not as easy to monetize
Navigation Interactive user interface Static but responsive user interface
Optimized to mobile device Best Good
User Access After installation and some user configuration/interaction Through browser with little to no user configuration/interaction

So many are quick to jump onto the mobile app bandwagon without giving it much thought; however, your current website, and your organizational needs and requirements will dictate which of the approaches to mobile interaction you choose. Native mobile applications typically have a special purpose or some sort of user interaction in mind, and if that is your purpose and intention then a mobile app might be the way to go. If, on the other hand, you want to display your current website as it exists and on all devices, then the responsive approach might be your option. Once you examine the defining principles with considerations for each design option, only then can you make an educated decision for you and your organization.

About

Ryan has performed in a broad range of technology support roles for electric-generation utilities, including nuclear power plants, and for the telecommunications industry. He has worked in web development for the restaurant industry and the Federal g...

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