Mobile Apps vs. Responsive Web Design


A critical IT dilemma that commercial businesses and federal organizations are facing today is the formulation of a Mobile Strategy.

Often, the question they are trying to answer is: do I need mobile app(s), or do I need to redesign my website to provide a mobile responsive experience? Mobile apps are an excellent way to connect with your customers, collect data on them, and provide them with both online and possibly, off-line services, on separate channels. Keeping in mind, you will have to provide your customers with apps for both Android and iOS platforms.

Here is where app development and IT support can get complicated and expensive, quickly. Apple, for example, releases a new iOS version annually; and has changed their iOS programming language from Objective C, to Swift, and now Swift 2. In addition, developed iOS apps often have to be regression tested against new devices such as the iPad mini, retina, iPhone 6 and 6 plus. Fixing iOS bugs as the result of migrating native code to new iOS versions can be complex and is not for the faint of heart. Whereas, the Android platform has both hardware and software fragmentation challenges. In less technical words, there are just too many versions of the Android operating system on the market. When it comes down to hardware fragmentation, it’s even worse. When developing iOS apps, you only need to test against roughly 5-6 different devices. On the Android side, you probably will have to deal with over 100 different devices currently in circulation, often with different keyboards, screens, and sizes. Another thing that drives me crazy with Android development is Google’s laissez-faire approach. I personally think it would be better if Google implements more rigorous standards and an app review process, like Apple. Google’s more hands-off attitude has also led to more proliferation of malware programs on the Android market, potentially resulting in Security issues.

Having said that, should we kill off all our mobile app development projects and pick the one size fits all responsive web design (RWD) solution?

Since RWD is web-based, this implementation is compatible with most smartphones, tablets, and desktop monitors, making it easier and (at times) more cost-effective to deliver your content to a larger (mobile) audience. However, while a well-designed responsive website allows you to reach out to your customers regardless of what technology or device they choose to use, implementing RWD for a large (think, enterprise-level) website comes with a caveat. Redesigning and reworking an existing website to become responsive in order to optimize the UI across different mobile devices can add complexity and requires an experienced developer with considerable knowledge on UI design and development and RWD.

So, what is the better mobile solution again?

That really depends on your business needs and mobile requirements. Comparing or deciding on Mobile Apps vs RWD is somewhat similar to comparing apples with oranges. Both have pros and cons and often require seasoned professional coders to get the job done. To complicate things even more, there are solid business and IT reasons why Mobile Apps and RWD can and should co-exist. So, before making any mobile investments, my advice would be to evaluate them both. Talk to a consulting company that has experience in implementing both technologies. Have them work on some wire-frames, comps, or a proof of concept to help you decide which mobile solution best suits your business requirements, budget, and mobile strategy.

Check back again for future blogs that break this dilemma down further and provide some approaches to consider implementing either solution while ensuring the overall user experience is not compromised. What do you think?