Mobile Trends at Work: Mobile Sites or Mobile Apps

Whether your business has a formal mobile strategy or more of a mobile direction, what often is a tough choice is whether you should invest in mobile app or mobile site.

Image source: http://www.nydailynews.com

Image source: http://www.nydailynews.com

To keep things clear, let's focus on mobile use by business internally, not a public consumer scenario.

So, which one will it be Mobile App or Mobile Site? and what's a Pseudo-Mobile App?

Here is how the Internet feels in a short poll hosted just few days ago:

mobile at work.PNG

In early days of mobile, "mobile" sites dominated the web, both within organizations and consumer facing. Main reason: too many types of mobile devices to cover all the bases, plus websites were the most organic, easy, and thus first option. With arrival of iPhone, the pendulum swang the other direction - everyone went the apps route.

Where are we now

We are in a pretty stable spot right now, we have clear leaders in mobile platform space with iPhone and Android dominating the market. Relative maturity of those platforms allows for stable and cheaper development and improvement of tools to build apps. This means we can make a conscious choice which direction to chose when it comes to the mobile strategy.

Let's take a look at the pros and cons of each as they relate to an enterprise business scenario:

Mobile App - Pros

-Push notifications to users (blinking light and stacked messages)
-Offline mode (get some part of work done with or without internet)
-Device storage (save and process data before uploading to the server)
-Faster performance (take advantage of phone hardware)
-Faster graphical interaction (user perceived performance)
-Quick access to the app (login info stored, launch app quickly)
-Native device feature (GPS, Camera, touch etc)
-Better AI integration (less data entry may be required since device knows more: ex.: location)

Mobile App - Cons

-Requires dedicated development team
-Requires testing on multiple platforms
-Native functions are harder to troubleshoot ('works for me' scenario)
-Upgrades and patches are highly visible

Mobile Site - Pros

-Shared use of code base (no new skills required)
-Pretty easy to adapt to any screen size
-Upgrades and patches are easy and instant

Mobile Site - Cons

-Slower performance
-Slower graphical interaction (user perceived performance)
-No quick access (can bookmark the site but that's about it)
-No access to native features (GPS, storage etc)
-Rudimentary offline experience (limited to filling in forms)

Pseudo-Mobile Apps

This is a new category of apps emerging, example of which is Microsoft's PowerApps. It has some characteristics of a mobile app but at the same time breaking the rules of a typical mobile app.

For example, you can run the app offline on the device but you can't store local data (apart from the form data). Strict limit to what native features you can use (camera and touch screen).

Of course, these come at a significant advantage of:
-Being easy to build (in fact, PowerApps require no code knowledge at all)
-Upgrades are fairly automatic
-No need for public app store

The Verdict

You have pros and cons, so what's missing - well, where do you want to be?

Whichever is your choice, mobile is a strategy. Determine your users' true needs to do their jobs, the bottlenecks they face, and convert that data into desired features which fall under home-runs, nice-to-have's or side-dish.

Mobile app clearly is far more usable; However, unless you're planning to take advantage of the features such as mobile hardware, offline access, push notifications, storage, there is no point in investing in a dedicated team to build and continuously maintain the mobile app.

Pseudo-mobile apps are too new and the development tools are still too much in flux to recommend them as successful strategy at this time. Time and market will tell whether pseudo-mobile will be a new trend or just turn into just mobile.

Would love to hear your thoughts and comments!

Yaroslav Pentsarskyy has been a Microsoft MVP for 8 years and speaker at many local and worldwide tech events. Several of Yaroslav's books include: Rapid SharePoint 2013 development, Top 60 custom solutions built on SharePoint 2010, SharePoint 2010 branding in practice, and SharePoint and PowerShell Expert Cookbook.

@spentsarsky