By Wendy Eichenbaum
Your company has decided that it’s time to go. And it’s critical to have a mobile solution. According to the latest KPCB mobile technology trends report, users consume 51% of digital media on mobile devices.
But the decision about the technology can be overwhelming. You hear so many terms regarding your choices: responsive design, content management system, native applications, web applications, and the list goes on. No one technology is the holy grail of solutions. So how do you determine which solution will be the best decision for your business and the best experience for your customers?
Let’s start by defining the terms. A website is displayed on a browser, whether the browser resides on a computer, tablet, or phone. If a company develops a version of the site that is optimized for a mobile browser, then it’s often referred to as a mobile website (or mobile app). All websites are operating system (OS) agnostic, so they’ll run on browsers on iOS (Apple’s operating system) or Android (Google’s operating system).
If you want these websites to reformat automatically to fit any screen size, that’s Responsive design. There is quite a range of solutions on this spectrum, from hiring a company to develop your solution to using a drag-and-drop website builder tool.
Somewhere in the middle of the spectrum is a Content Management System (CMS). It has a bunch of layers of code, but one layer is the presentation layer, which displays your content based on a responsive template. The most popular CMS tool is WordPress, accounting for 25% of ALL websites, and 59% of all CMS-based websites.
On the flip side of websites, you have the native applications. These are apps you download to your mobile device from iTunes or Google Play. Each one is designed for a specific operating system. If you want to make the majority of your customers happy, you’ll have to develop your application twice, once for iOS and once for Android.
So which technology makes for a better user experience? The answer depends upon the type of content you are providing and what the users hope to accomplish while on your website or native app. Let’s explore a few key questions you should ask in order to head down the right technology path for your company and your customers.
Is your solution targeted for customer acquisition or retention? The rule of thumb is that you acquire customers via websites and you retain customers via native apps. Potential customers will run an Internet search on a browser. If you’re in the results, you’ll be one click away, even if the customers didn’t know that you existed. In an app store, customers will be hunting for a specific app. They won’t be in research mode, so they’ll be less likely to find you. And it’s much faster to update the content in a website than in a native app.
But once you have loyal customers who want to access your service on a regular basis, then a native app is a great solution. A 2014 study from Flurry showed that users spent 86% of their time on native apps to just 14% of their time on mobile apps.
Native apps are a far better user experience for application-intensive services and account management. The user interface is designed for a specific OS and device. The app can access a number of phone features that a mobile website cannot. Native apps don’t always need Wi-Fi to run. The designers have selected controls that are suited for a mobile device rather than a keyboard and monitor. They’ve included only the most important features to avoid clogging a small screen. And native apps run faster than web apps.
Will your customers’ needs change when they are on-the-go? Often companies develop two sites. They provide a traditional website full of features and content. And then they create a mobile site with a subset of tasks, carefully selected for users who are “on the go.” If you design only one site that is responsive, the site is exactly the same regardless of the user’s location or device. You can’t show or hide content, only reformat it. So you can’t construct an ideal solution for users in different use case scenarios.
Who will maintain the content on this solution? Are you going to send all of the content changes to a web master? Or will non-technical people be responsible for updating content? A CMS system is a good choice for the latter. Once the site is developed, there is a simple interface that makes it very easy to add, edit, and remove content. Non-coders will have the ease and agility to deliver new and updated content to customers.
As you can see, there is no one ideal solution for all use cases. But when you consider your business and customer needs, you can prioritize the features that are most important to you. And then you can begin to make the technology choices for your mobile solution.
About the Author
Wendy Eichenbaum has been a UX professional since the early-1990’s. She began her career as a technical writer. She then earned a Master of Arts in Professional Writing at Carnegie Mellon University, studying both writing and UI design. Over the years, she has worked across verticals, from start-ups to multi-national firms, in many areas of UX including research & strategy, Information Architecture, usability testing, and focus groups. She started her own UX consulting firm in 2008, Ucentric Design. And she is an adjunct professor at Cal State University, Fullerton. There she teaches a class that she created, User-Centered Design for Web and Mobile Interfaces.