The following white paper, written by me, was originally published at Netsoft-USA.
Thinking of going mobile? If so, there are some important things you should consider. First and foremost, does going mobile make sense for your business? If so, should you build a mobile application (or app) or simply offer a mobile-optimized version of your website?
Netsoft's HealthMobile app puts vital information where it belongs: in the hands of users.
Is Mobile the Right Move?
As always, the answer begins — and ends — with your target audience. If they’re not mobile, you shouldn’t be either. For example, if your target audience spends all day tethered to a computer, a mobile version of your offering might be superfluous.
If your target audience is mobile, then it’s time to ask some questions that will help determine the best course of action:
- What services, products, or information can you provide that your audience would find useful and engaging?
- What devices or mobile platforms does your mobile audience use?
- Would a mobile offering support your overall business efforts or contradict them?
- What, if anything, is your competition doing, and how can you do it better, or at least as well?
- Is there awareness and appetite within your organization for a mobile offering, or will you need to educate key decision makers?
- Do you have internal resources capable of delivering a mobile initiative? If not, how will you identify the right partner?
- Do you have support and budget to raise awareness of your mobile offering?
If the answers above indicate that you can and should go mobile, then you’ll need to determine which platforms to target and whether or not you should build an app or a mobile-optimized website.
It's like the browser wars of the late 90s all over again.
Which Platforms Should You Target?
With such a wide variety of mobile platforms available today — including iPhone, Android, Blackberry, Palm, and so on — you might feel overwhelmed in deciding how to approach your customers. However, it’s not as confusing as it sounds.
Most importantly, you need to find out which platforms your target audience is using. If, for example, they are corporate clients who use Blackberry devices, targeting iPhone or Android platforms would not be a wise choice. If, on the other hand, they use a mixture of devices, then you should determine which platforms are most prevalent and target them first.
To start, interview a representative sampling of potential users to determine which devices they use. Next, if you’re building a mobile website, review your current site’s analytics, if available, to see which devices are being used to view your site.
Mobile App or Mobile Website?
Mobile apps and mobile websites are not the same thing, so understanding each is critical in determining which to build.
A mobile app is really just software designed to run on a mobile device. Apps are often one-trick ponies, but they do their one trick very well. They’re so useful and engaging that they’re fueling the explosive growth of the smart phone market.
Like traditional software applications, mobile apps are often platform-specific, so if you want an application to run on multiple platforms (e.g., Blackberry, iPhone, Android), you need to develop multiple versions of your app and market it through the appropriate channels. This can add significant expense, so knowing your target platforms is critical.
In addition, as tablet computing grows in popularity, as it looks likely to do with the runaway success of Apple’s iPad, it may be worth considering an application that takes advantage of the tablet platform’s larger display and unique capabilities. But, as always, you should only go down this route if your audience is already there or will be there very soon.
Do you know if your users are mobile?
A mobile website is similar to a non-mobile website, except that it has been optimized for the more limited experience of accessing the Web on a mobile device. For example:
- Extraneous graphics and other heavy download items are removed so pages load more quickly.
- Navigation is usually simplified and prioritized to only the items a user would actually need when out and about.
- Large blocks of information are broken into more digestible chunks.
- The user interface is composed to take advantage of the much smaller screen real estate of mobile devices.
- It’s important to note that some sites don’t need to be optimized for mobile delivery; their current format may actually translate without modification. However, this is the exception and not the rule, and you should test your site before assuming no changes need to be made.
If you do decide to build a mobile version of your site, it’s important to understand that this effort is more involved than simply “screen scraping,” or pulling your existing site’s content into a mobile format. You should prioritize and skinny down your site to the items your mobile users will want, and ditch the rest.
In addition, there are a wide variety of mobile browsers — some better than others — which means that there may need to be multiple formats of your mobile website designed to work with each browser. That said, there is a move toward standardization, and both the iPhone and Android platforms use the WebKit browser as a common platform, and soon Blackberry devices will use the WebKit browser as well.
Apps vs. Websites: A Head-to-Head Comparison
The Best of Both Worlds
Many companies and organizations provide both a mobile app and website to their users, ensuring all their bases are covered. For example, Facebook has an app available for the major mobile platforms, and they offer a mobile version of their website for users who choose not to download and install the free app. For technical reasons, the Facebook app and mobile websites are slightly different in the experiences they provide; however, by having a mobile website and an application, Facebook avoids losing any users who prefer one technology over the other.
By providing similar features and functions on both its mobile app and website, Amazon lets users choose how they want to shop.
Alternatively, you might find that some of your information is best presented via a mobile website, while other information is better suited to an application. For example, some companies have a mobile website for their public Web presence but a feature-rich app for their corporate intranet. Likewise, some financial institutions have mobile websites for public content and an app that provides transactional capabilities for their account holders.
Don't be afraid to listen to your users before, during, and after lanuch of your mobile site or app.
Launch, Learn, Revise
Once you put your mobile website or app in the hands of your users, the fun really begins. By keeping an open line of dialogue between your team and your audience, you will learn what works, what doesn’t work, what you should improve, and what you shouldn’t touch.
Don’t be afraid to take an iterative approach. Launch with a few features you know work well, and only add new features once they’re ready for prime time. Like any technology endeavor, embrace the concept of permanent beta. It doesn’t mean you’re never done; it means you’re always on a journey.
Going mobile needn’t be a daunting undertaking. All you have to do is stick to the basics:
- Identify your business objectives
- Know your audience
- Find the best resources or partners
- Choose the right technology
- Launch, learn, and revise