Responsive Is Not a Shortcut
First of all, you never really have the choice to not make your website responsive. At some point, users will inevitably log onto your site through mobile or tablet and your business must provide for that. Having a mobile application, however, is a choice and not having one ready means missing out on a huge potential audience.
Unfortunately, a responsive website is many times deemed sufficient because deciding between this or a native app is more of a business call than a comparison of benefits.
Having both a responsive website and a mobile app is the ideal scenario, for this enables users to browse your site remotely and repeatedly. Additionally, the right app engages users and keeps them coming back to your brand for more...
Data & Facts
A responsive site was the answer given for the growing use of mobile in the past few years. As the user experience evolves, having a responsively-designed site is not enough anymore, and data shows that users overwhelming prefer to experience a native mobile app -- with 86% of their mobile time spent on apps.
A properly constructed native application will do more than just repackage existing content and functionality. The app takes the experience to the next level by presenting navigation, content, and functionality in a way specifically optimized for the different ways in which mobile devices are used. Features like push notifications and integration with platform and device capabilities otherwise unavailable with display-only sites are just some ways apps provide a more effective user experience than responsive-design sites.
Do not make the mistake of designing your entire mobile app to simply be a shell wrapper of your responsive site, for that does little to improve on a desktop experience. Doing this will also result in poor performance because websites can’t process data as efficiently as apps can and visuals quality will suffer.
Users who encounter mobile web experiences that force them to tap, copy, navigate and past many times will often get overwhelmed and give up on the task if its importance is not pressing. An app with deep-linking capabilities will keep users focused by allowing them to efficiently complete their goals. End-users also save time by using applications for native apps have capabilities that minimize the amount of data and information compared to what a responsive site would use.
The No App Way
Many Universities and organizations make the mistake of assuming that mobile apps are an area exclusively reserved for startups or large corporations. This is untrue. Integrating a native app will provide users with the curated and useful experience that they expect. The University of California, San Diego’s mobile app and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s mobile app are examples of apps that successfully offer a more curated experience to students. Features include the ability to schedule courses, shuttle routes and schedules, and even receive weather status updates.
eCommerce and retail are other areas that may shy away from the apps. This assumption could not be further from the truth. First of all, eCommerce has evolved into many diverse categories to which the same business model cannot be possibly applied to. Second, companies like Target and Amazon have had great responses to their new in-store applications -- even in their use of the Apple Watch Platform. Third, with Google Streaming and App Indexing, it is even easier than ever to create rich commerce experiences for native mobile that have the SEO benefits of a responsive site.
If you do decide to settle for a responsive site, at least make sure that it is actually responsive. Responsive design is not just about fitting on a mobile screen, but also about making sure that functionality works in contexts suitable to mobile. At minimum, this means making touch-friendly features, dial-able phone numbers and a site that can hook into geolocation APIs to offer easy access to directions (if your business is a restaurant for example).
If your site is not already responsive (or not truly so), just know that there will be costs for the upgrades that need to take place with its existing design, website backend or infrastructure.
iOS or Android
A responsive website is also the temporary solution for when you are not sure which mobile platform you want to build first. Building both platforms (or more) at the same time is costly and makes the iterative process more tedious.
If you do stick to a responsive site at first, make sure it has analytics integrated to get a sense of the traffic flowing in from different devices. A good starting point is to build a native app that suits the device the majority of your users are on. Responsive sites (or sites in general) are also a good way to showcase your brand.
Going for a Native App
When you are ready to further engage your customers through a mobile app, if you have a responsive site that you have spent much time setting up, take advantage of it by embedding some of its features into your native app.
Again, don’t simply make the native app a shell for your site. Include core resources and only the most relevant web pages. Ideally, an established development firm will work with you to hone the User Experience and layout of your app. Remember the final app should keep users focused on their task while providing them a rich and unified mobile experience.
Make sure that the native app improves on desktop experience. Don’t just repackage content and functionality. Your users will be able to tell if your app is of poor quality as it will be featured in the App Store as well as appear on their home screens. Adding a mobile app to your repertoire of tools will:
Promote products or services
Expand your customer base
All of the above will most certainly not take place if your app is not well planned. Almost any business, regardless of size can benefit from a mobile app designed to be helpful and interactive.
In the worst of cases, brand damage is a risk your business can incur with a hybrid app. For example, users will expect the hybrid app to behave like a native app and will find the hybrid app limiting. The user will perhaps immediately uninstall the hybrid app and may associate your brand with low quality in the future. Unfair, yes.
There do exist arguments in favor of hybrid apps. In fact, some of the most famous apps in the world fall into this category. It is difficult to tell which apps are hybrid and which are not though.
Mobile users want to find things quickly and get something useful out of using your app. If users don’t feel like your app is worth the time or memory space, they will simply uninstall it. Prevent this scenario from occurring and make your investments worth it. Plan ahead and keep up with the ever changing mobile landscape.
When done right, investing in mobile apps will always mean reaching out to a larger audience. Maybe you will even find that your market expands and reaches younger/older generations through the social media content that you embed in your app. The decision to invest in either a native or hybrid app, or to simply start off with a site will depend on your business model and market analytics.