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Why mobile web app development is a stopgap solution

Ben Obear
May 5, 2015

Like its name suggests, a mobile website is a version of a business's website that is meant to be shown on phones and other mobile devices. Given the smaller size of a mobile device's screen, it should come as no surprise to learn that a mobile website shows less compared to the counterpart that is meant for desktop users. In fact, some mobile websites are known to be simplified and stripped-down versions of their desktop counterparts, meaning that they offer less to their intended users. Something that should be counted as a serious strike against them, though it should be noted that mobile websites have their uses under the right circumstances.

What Are the Advantages and Disadvantages of the Mobile Website?

In brief, a mobile website is useful in the sense that it is simple and straightforward. After all, the business already has something to work with in the form of its desktop counterpart, meaning that all that has to be done is to cut and trim the desktop website before stitching up the tattered remainder to come up with something that is presentable if perhaps not pleasing to the senses. As a result, coming up with a mobile website takes less time and effort than other similar solutions to the same problem, which makes it suitable for use as a stopgap solution.

In contrast, the successful implementation of something like responsive design needs a lot more expertise and experience, which in turn, means that it needs the commitment of a lot more resources from the business. In part, this is because most businesses lack the expertise and experience needed to implement responsive design on their own, thus creating the need to outsource such tasks to IT specialists instead of handling them in-house. However, there is also the fact that responsive design is much more complicated and time-consuming, which means a need for more time and effort. Still, it should be noted that there is a reason that responsive design is seen as the superior choice to mobile websites in spite of its increased costs.

How Do Mobile Websites Compare with Responsive Design?

Speaking bluntly, mobile websites do not fare well when compared with responsive design. It still has its uses, but a comparison makes it even clearer that mobile websites should never be regarded as more than stopgap solutions:

  • First and foremost, a mobile website is separate from its desktop counterpart. This is a serious problem because websites are similar to other assets in that they perform best when they receive their care and maintenance on a regular basis. Unfortunately, care and maintenance for websites need time and effort from skilled and experienced personnel just like care and maintenance for other assets, meaning that having separate mobile and desktop websites costs businesses more than what they could be paying by using responsive design. After all, a responsive website can accommodate both mobile and desktop users, which is why it is called a responsive website.
  • On a related note, businesses interested in optimizing the performance of their websites need to monitor their web statistics. This is because monitoring web statistics provide businesses with a way of telling what is working and what is not working, thus enabling them to make small changes over time so as to engage in the process of continuous improvement that is so essential to ensuring business success. Once again, since a mobile website is separate from its desktop counterpart, its continuing use means that the business needs to commit more of its limited resources to looking after them when it could be cutting its costs in the long run by choosing to go with a responsive website.
  • Responsive websites can accommodate more users than either their mobile or their desktop counterparts. After all, responsive websites read the specifications of the computing devices being used to access them before rearranging their content in order to come up with the optimal viewing experience, thus enabling them to accommodate a wider range of users on a wider range of computing devices than otherwise possible. In contrast, both mobile and desktop websites are limited to the computing devices for which they were intended, which is particularly problematic because of the rapid pace at which new techniques and technologies are introduced into this particular field. Since businesses need to be able to reach the greatest number of potential customers possible for their marketing to have the maximum effect, this provides responsive websites with a significant advantage relative to their mobile and desktop counterparts.
  • Viewing experience is critical. After all, consumers have a lot of choices when it comes to the providers of their products and services, meaning that businesses need to avoid giving them cause to click away instead of investigating their marketing promises in further detail. Unfortunately, one of the biggest complaints about mobile websites is their fundamental nature as simplified and stripped-down versions of their desktop counterparts, meaning that they cannot hope to provide as much usefulness. Even worse, the haste with which mobile websites are adopted means that there is often insufficient thought put into their layouts, meaning that they offer a poor viewing experience relative to what is possible with a responsive website. As a result, responsive websites tend to be more efficient and more effective when it comes to convincing interested individuals to become paying customers, which is perhaps unsurprising considering the increased amount of resources that go into them.
  • Finally, having a single website by using responsive design makes it that much easier to incorporate it into the rest of a business's online marketing. For example, imagine the hassle of having to link to a mobile website as well as a desktop website when redirecting interested individuals from a social media page. In contrast, imagine how much simpler it would be linking them to a responsive website that could accommodate all potential customers out there without issue. This has become particularly important because the best online marketing is reliant on the synergies between its separate components, thus making them more than the sum of its parts. For example, while a website is a powerful way to inform potential customers on its own, it becomes that much more persuasive when it is channeled potential customers by social media pages, which can be used to make a business seem that much more reliable by establishing its expertise and experience in its chosen field of specialization over time.

How Should Businesses Use Mobile Websites?

Based on these facts, it is clear that businesses should use mobile websites as stopgap solutions. In short, this means using mobile websites to accommodate those of their potential customers that prefer using mobile devices rather than desktop computers, which has become more and more important because the increasing convenience of mobile devices means that there has been a corresponding increase in the number of their users. However, businesses with mobile devices should also be planning to make the transition to a responsive website as soon as possible, both to improve the experience for their potential customers and to cut down on their costs in the long run.

Further Considerations

With that said, it is important to remember that different businesses are operating under different circumstances, meaning that what is true under most circumstances might not be true in specific situations. This is the reason that businesses interested in making the transition from mobile websites to responsive websites should make sure to consult someone with the right expertise and experience before they take that step, thus ensuring that they will be able to make a fully-informed decision that will maximize their chances of getting the results that they want.

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Ben Obear
San Francisco