High Noon Shoot Out: Mobile Apps versus Mobile Sites


Tombstone and the OK Corral, circa 1908, Retrieved from Wikipedia




Every year, we hear that this is the year that mobile commerce will be coming of age. And then that year passes.

While I’m not stating that 2010 will be the year, we are certainly getting closer. However, obstacles remain. One of the issues that marketers are still grappling with is the decision on whether to enter mobile marketing using a specifically designed mobile site or rather, to enter using a mobile application program (mobile app).

This “either or” decision is often based on costs and risk aversion; marketers entering the fray want to do so with limited expenditure, yet in such as way as to not injure the brand they are seeking to promote. For those dipping their toe for the first time, there are distinct advantages inherent in both options.

Advantages of m-sites

The overall biggie: short term flexibility to adjust and more open access generally favor mobile sites.

  • The market can be entered more quickly: Mobile sites can be built to using some technology and content from the parent site. A mobile app requires a higher degree of coding and more development time and cost.
  • Mobile sites are typically entered by a phone containing a browser using the same URL as a company’s traditional site, and redirected to the mobile optimized version. Apps can only be used on the newer generations of smartphones, and only in those instances where the app has been built to coexist with the phone operating system in question.
  • Needed changes can be made on the fly to a mobile site, however, the consumer must be made aware of changes to an app and then go through actions needed to download those changes.

Advantages of apps

On the other hand, mobile apps are not without their advantages. While they can only be installed on the newest generation of smartphone, they use the full computing capabilities of these phones.

  • Integration with other apps available for that phone and operating system.
  • Better, richer graphics with higher resolutions.
  • Apps yield higher performance, more like the expectations that consumers expect from their laptop computers. Because much of the “under the hood” technology resides of the mobile device itself, the app only needs to reach out for specific information such as price.

The ideal solution of course would be for a marketer to support customers making either choice. And many do, recognizing the synergy that can be developed by having both a mobile site and an installed app.

 The largest entry barrier for many potential players is dealing with requirements of writing and maintaining different versions of your message for different operating systems. With either option, this potential incompatibility can be an issue; it is just more pronounced with apps.

This is a real hurdle for companies seeking to go mobile to overcome. For example, looking at the Target site, we can see they have both a m-site and a downloadable app.  However, even a retailer as large as Target is only willing to make a bet on the iPhone at this point. Motorola, Palm and Blackberry users need not apply.

This limitation is one of the reasons that the Mobile Marketing Association (MMA) is striving mightily to establish common base technical standards for mobile. Here’s to hoping they can have some measure of success in this effort.

Then, maybe we won’t have to fight after all. Instead, let’s go have lunch and celebrate the year of the mobile ad at the Capital Saloon.

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3 Responses to “High Noon Shoot Out: Mobile Apps versus Mobile Sites”

  1. John Ferraro Says:

    Mark, this is interesting from a marketing prospective. This may not address the market segment of older consumers. As an older consumer, I’m in a position that many older consumers are in: I have an old Motorola cell phone (> 5 years old) thru Verizon that I’d like to change out. I’m doing away with my house phone but have a laptop so I don’t need a “smart” phone. I can’t get a clear answer on how to change this out with a clear understanding of how to minimize any cost change to the cell phone contract. Can you give me any advice on this?

    • mtietbohl Says:

      Hi John,

      I may not be the best person to give you advice. I think this stuff is pretty cool, but like you, I’m somewhat of a phone curmudgeon, as I had indicated in a post a few weeks back. I still miss my old analog Motorola clamshell from several years back which was the best reception phone I ever owned.

      That said, I do text, as many of the people I communicate with (particularly younger ones) prefer that method of interaction to voice. Deb and I both recently got new phones, Samsung’s with a keyboard that we picked for the ability to more easily text. Deb does email, I don’t. I live with enough email throughout my day. And like you, I think my wireless laptop gives me enough access. If you’re going to ditch the landline, the service provider you choose is even more key than the phone. We stay with Verizon because I seem to get remarkably consistent coverage everywhere I go (which is mainly continental US).

      Hope this helps, but the best thing to do is think on what you really want, and ask a few people you know who have similar needs.

      Regards, Mark

  2. sonuparashar Says:

    All you need is a mobile site expert who can guide you and create a meaningful and useful mobile sites for your customers.

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