Mobile Apps vs Websites

In a previous blog Responsive Design vs Mobile Websites we explored the differences between dedicated mobile sites and responsive design.

These days, either a dedicated or a responsive website is a given, but where do native mobile apps fit in if we are developing for Financial Markets?

While a mobile site or responsively designed site is intended to be viewed in a mobile internet browser (such as Safari on the iPhone), a mobile app provides a different experience, with the trader or investor downloading and installing software directly to their phone via the Apple or Google Play stores, or directly from the developer in the case of an App for corporate in-house use.

Mobile apps are generally designed to provide a specific functionality, with a more narrow focus than a mobile website. Mobile apps should not be viewed in opposition to mobile sites but as a complimentary part of your online strategy.

Mobile apps are able to take advantage of native functions of the phone such as geo-location and notification systems to deliver information to its users. Mobile apps can also interact with other software on the phone. Mobile sites, on the other hand, are restricted to the phone’s internet browser and will not be able to provide notifications to users if that browser app is closed. Hence mobile apps providing market data feeds and charting functionality are a better solution as they will utilise specific features of the mobile device.

Examples of this are Bloomberg and Yahoo Finance apps, and various Twitter client apps that exist for iOS and Android phones. These apps will remember your login credentials and allow you to track portfolios, financial news and market data, or send messages and post tweets to follow other users.

They are able to run in the background and provide notifications to your phone when market conditions change, receive messages, or connect to new followers through the system. The apps can also use your phone’s geo-location data and access other data such as the camera or photo library. While these organisations’ mobile sites could be used through your phone’s web browser as well, a mobile site would be unable to provide this level of interactivity.

Native mobile apps are able to provide a fully tailored experience, without the constraints that browser-based apps or sites can suffer from. Particularly in the case of iPhones where there is minimal deviation in the hardware, mobile apps can be designed with the best User Experience practices in mind without much concern for cross-device or cross-browser compatibility.

So what’s a good use case for a mobile app?

Think about a core feature of your website or business that is utilised on a regular basis by you, your clients or potential clients.

In the case of a stock trading app, creating an app that delivers your online database of previous trades and portfolio holdings would be a great choice. The app would then be able to notify investors about trading opportunities directly via their phone’s notifications. Users won’t need to remember URLs or rely on browser Bookmarks to reach your service – they simply load up the app from the phone’s home screen.

An App may also be of benefit when a user has no access to the Internet. This is not often the case these days with plenty of free Wi-Fi available, but it does happen!

In these two examples, the same functionality will probably exist on your desktop and mobile site as well, but of course, mobile apps can also provide exclusive functionality not found elsewhere. For example users of an app will benefit from location based services.

What’s involved in mobile app development?

There are two main approaches to mobile app development.

Best practice is to develop apps directly in the native language of their intended delivery device. Apps for Apple smartphones and tablets use Objective-C and, more recently, the Swift programming language. Android apps are written in Java.

By utilising native code and functionality, these apps will provide the best performance and usability. The downside of this approach is that you will require two apps for the main mobile platforms (more if you wish to include Microsoft and BlackBerry), each with different code bases and distribution methods.

The other approach is to use mobile “wrapper frameworks” such as PhoneGap or Trigger.IO that will allow the use of HTML5 and JavaScript to create the app. The app is then bundled up inside a “wrapper” compatible with iOS and/or Android.

This has the advantage of being able to use one HTML5 codebase for your app, with only the third party wrapper system requiring additional code and updates. This also means your app will be much faster to develop. The major downsides are that, these apps tend to run slower than those written in native code and because of the “one-size-fits-all” approach, will not be able to make the best use of all the phone’s hardware features.

So do I need one?

While a mobile website is essential for your business, mobile apps are a case-by-case consideration. For many businesses, a mobile/responsive website is all that is necessary but where a suitable use case exists to deliver a service to your customers via an app, then it should definitely be a part of your mobile strategy. Mobile users spend around 30% of their time in apps as opposed to the browser, so these can be a great way to keep customers engaged with your business.

It’s also common for Apps to be the front-end of a business model in themselves. Users are used to paying for a downloaded App, or for an upgrade to a free version. If this is your intention, then of course you will need to assess the business opportunity vs costs etc. as you would with any other venture.

If you’d like to discuss your mobile app or site development options with The Bridge at no cost or obligation, feel free to call Lawrence on 02 9993 3300 or email