Planning an app - App, website or both? - Smile Machine
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Planning an app – App, website or both?

Planning an app – App, website or both?

It seems like everyone wants to build an app these days. With around 2.2 million apps in the App Store this year and over 100,000,000,000 downloads, you’d be forgiven for immediately thinking it’s the only answer…

Before you begin building an app, there’s a whole host of questions you should be asking yourself – where is my service used? Does our audience interact more with us by logging in on a desktop browser, or could we provide at-a-glance information to them without forcing them to use the website?

Why Would You Even Want an App?

Apps can be a marvellous tool, and they really come into their own when you want to share content personal to your users.

A smartphone contains a wealth of information about each person, and although not all of it’s accessible to an app, in our experience people tend to be more willing to share their data with an app they’ve downloaded than with a website.

But it boils down to one simple fact – your app has to be worth the space it takes up on someone’s phone.

Both the Guardian and BBC News apps provide real-time news notifications for breaking stories. It’s a clear benefit and reason for downloading the app. Through the web, you’d need to substitute this for email notifications.

This would leave a real risk of those updates being sent to a separate folder and ignored, or people unsubscribing as their inboxes become cluttered.

An app can also function offline by syncing content in advance – an invaluable feature when you’re on the train, the tube or in the country. Not many websites hold up to that standard.

Your Phone Knows You Best

Phones can track so much of our lives now – the steps we take, our heart rates, where we are, where we’re going. If there’s potential for your business to tap into this data to give value back to your audience, it’s an app you should be thinking about.

Take Strava for example, an app dedicated to mapping your runs, cycles and swimming activities, simultaneously tracking the distance you’ve travelled as well as health information from any other devices attached to your phone.

Building an app for this service allows Strava easy access to the features they need to give the most benefits to their audience.

However, they also built a website to allow users to view their data on desktop too – allowing them to display richer, more complex data in a larger screen format, as well as from within the app.

What If You Could Have the Best of Both Worlds?

If you have an even split of visitors coming from both mobile and larger screens, there’s an opportunity to go forward with both.

Online retail has exploded on mobile over the past couple of years. Retailers saw mobile traffic increasing dramatically and focused on their mobile platforms to create a better experience for those users and ensure they weren’t missing out on sales from that demographic.

Their native apps give easy access to their catalogues and the ability to buy products from their phones, while the website allows them to switch to a large-screen experience if they prefer and track their orders while at their desk.

Sounds like the perfect combination, right?

Facing the Reality of It

The problem you’ll then face is that the complexity of your offering and the cost will both go up. There’s no way around it.

Instagram didn’t have a web presence for several years after they launched, relying solely on their mobile app.

This worked for them – their users were posting and consuming content through the app. At some point, though, there must have been a realisation about the amount of traffic coming from the web, especially with users sharing their posts to those who didn’t own the app.

Very few services these days only have access via one platform. If you have a business website for your customers or potential customers to browse it may not be worth turning it into an app.

However, if you have a service which is going to be used a lot, is personalised for the user and is something a user could benefit from easy access to, an app will be your best choice, leaving potential for subset of functionality available on the web.

Make sure you track where your traffic is coming from, and your development choices should become clearer from there.