What's the Difference Between a Mobile App and a Mobile Website?
Many small business owners who have yet to jump on board the mobile commerce express are a bit fuzzy on the finer points, like the difference between having a mobile app versus a mobile website. Our panelists aimed to bring the issue into focus. Mike Craig, co-founder and vice president of Ruxter.
"Very briefly, it's the difference between a program (app) downloaded to a phone, and a mobile-friendly website," said Mike Craig, co-founder and vice president of Ruxter. For example, if you have a mobile-friendly website, people can use a mobile device to access your site and they can easily see the content and navigate the site.
Another consideration is the size of the audience you're trying to reach. "Apps generally provide better experiences, but mobile websites have wider reach," said Aaron Maxwell. For example, "an iPhone app reaches about 7 percent of U.S. cell phone users; Android reaches 8 percent; a mobile website reaches about 35-40 percent; sms text reaches about 70 percent."
And for small businesses, cost is a major factor. According to Annette Tonti, a mobile-friendly website is a better option for cash-strapped SMBs. "Another big difference is the expense of implementing an app, and then the long-term upkeep of mobile app. A mobile website is far less expensive to build and manage," she said.
Melissa Vincent, vice president at UR Mobile agreed. "A mobile website gives you a broader audience, without the cost of developing for multiple platforms or handsets."
A mobile-friendly website offers benefits beyond the cost savings. Igor Faletski, CEO of Mobify put it this way, "A mobile website provides the unique benefits of being search, social and email-friendly, which is key for user acquisition."
Mobile Commerce is All About Your Customers
When it comes right down to it, mobile commerce works only if it benefits your customers. That means you need to determine how your customers find and shop at your site or store. Our panel of experts and small business owner Pamela O'Hara (CEO of BatchBlue software) agreed on this point.
Mike Craig: "Small businesses need to think about what's useful for their customer's mobile experience."
Aaron Maxwell: "I'd say ask (1) where your revenues are coming from now, and (2) how that can be augmented via mobile channels."
Pamela O'Hara: "A mobile app is important if there is a compelling business product or service you can offer. It's not necessary for every business.
Annette Tonti: "I agree. Apps are not necessary for every biz. A mobile-enable website is."
Aaron Maxwell: "So true. For some businesses an app can be immensely valuable; for some, little value at all."
Laurie McCabe: "Something else that's very valuable – you can use mobile marketing to send customers appointment reminders, e.g., dentists, salons, etc."
Mike Craig: "Exactly, mobile can be an amazing marketing and commerce tool, but don't just fall in love with technology."
Mobile Commerce First Steps
Like any new technology trend, small businesses are aware of mobile commerce, but that doesn't mean they’re signing on in droves…yet. Adopting new technology always involves a learning curve as SMBs sift through the hype to find whether or not there's real value for them.
"Our December 2010 survey found that most very small businesses see the importance of having a mobile website, but 43 percent have no plans [to get one]," said Laurie McCabe.
Educating SMBs on the value of mobile commerce may be the key, but it's a challenge when SMBs are often overwhelmed. But Annette Tonti remains optimistic. "I think mobile commerce will be what ignites small businesses to [invest in] mobile [technology]."
She also remains realistic and offered suggestions on what SMBs should ask any prospective mobile commerce vendor. "I just saw a panel of small business people at a BIA/Kelsey conference. They don't have time to think all of this thru. They need real help," she said. "Questions SMBs can ask about getting mobile include: How easy is it? What can I do with it, long term? How do I manage it affordably?"
McCabe added that SMBs should also ask vendors how much guidance and support they can expect.
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