This topic has been covered time and time again. Typically, these articles cover a mix of technology, performance, ROI, look and feel, and other such metrics.
Today I’m going to suggest that the end user’s ownership of an app (as opposed to a website) is one criteria that businesses should consider when making the decision to build a Native App. I’m also proposing that building a Responsive Website is no longer an option, but an expectation.
In 2014, even the cheapest smartphones come with HTML5 capable browsers! End users do not and should not have to understand why a website is different, and sometimes even feels alien, when viewed on a mobile device. The time when we had to compromise on mobile because of technical reasons is long gone. Let’s leave this here.
If the mobile browsing experience is in the same class as the browser experience then why should you even consider an app?
Unless you’re planning to build an amazing app that you plan to support long term, keep up to date with the fast evolving mobile UI/UX, in which you utilise the mobile platform paradigms to the point that the user feels like it was built in collaboration with the designers of the first party apps, then you probably shouldn’t build an app.
The subtlety here is that it all boils down to the fact that you own your website, but the end user owns your app.
If the user has a bad experience on your site, they can’t get rid of your mobile optimised (hopefully responsive) website. Your links will always work, even if they remove all shortcuts or bookmarks. A short url, a web search result or an ad will always be able to bring them back. When they’re back you’ll have a chance to make them change their mind and convince them to return in the future.
On the other hand, if the user has a bad experience with your app, they can simply forget the app ever existed on their device. They will delete it and they’ll do that almost as a punishment for your failure to delight them. Deleting the app will close all the communication channels once provided by that medium: all extensions and widgets will be gone, all URL schemes will seize to function. The reality is your app is competing with potential photos of their friends and family, or with another app that is more in fashion than yours.
The end user owns your app because they install it, they dedicate disk space to it, and they can get rid of it if they choose to. They are in complete control of this lifecycle and, you may not realise this, this lifecycle has financial and psychological implications.
Unlike accessing your website, when installing your app the user is likely to be asked for their password (or fingerprint for Touch ID). Even if your app is free, the psychological connection is made: they acquired your app. They are now using disk space just to have your app around.
Your app must be delightful, it must add value every time it’s used, otherwise the user will eventually run out of patience and delete it. Once they do, you will face a big uphill battle to convince them to give your app another try.
There is no such psychological attachment to your website because the user is not involved in the site’s lifecycle. They usually just “ask” a search engine for it. When they run out of space for their next photo they won’t think which sites they can remove…
If you can’t build a delightful mobile app, then you’d better have an amazing responsive website. The reality is though, that if you don’t have both, then it’s likely that you’ll never be the first port of call for a mobile user.