The original iPhone brought the full web onto our phones for the first time, but as more and more people consume content through their smartphones and tablets, the question is: Do you need an app for your website, or are you better off with a mobile website or a responsive website design?
Ever since Apple came out with the App Store, websites have been producing apps to display their content within Apple’s walled garden. Device-specific apps can be more responsive than web services based on HTML5 and fit in beautifully with the device’s aesthetics.
However, apps are expensive to build and you will need separate apps for iPhones, iPads, Android smartphones, Android tablets, and also possibly Windows or BlackBerry devices. Yes the end experience may be the best for users, and your web property may gain extra exposure by being available in the various App Stores, but for most small-to-medium websites having an app built for each platform can be prohibitively expensive.
Some websites like The Guardian offer a full mobile website with a completely different design to their main site, with the website using a user’s browser string to determine what device they are using, and then serve the specific design for that sized screen to them. This way you can have a great-looking design for every device, but it can be a bit of a headache keeping up more than one design.
The trend for site designs these days is to make the main design responsive so it looks great on whatever size screen you are using. We use just such a technique here on TechFruit – the design looks different on a laptop, tablet, or smartphone as it dynamically re-adjusts to the screen size.
A responsive design may be more complicated to produce in the first place, but it does mean that you only have a single site being shown to users, and so keeping everything up-to-date is an easier task.
Image by Cristiano Betta