Shifting Trends: Mobile Apps vs. Mobile-Optimized Websites

Dr. Jakob Nielsen, often called the “father of Web usability,” remains a thought leader today as he continues to research emerging trends. Today we focus on Nielsen’s new findings on mobile usage — do people prefer using mobile apps, or visiting websites from their smartphones?

This report asserts that as of early 2012, the experience of receiving information from a mobile app is superior to visiting a website from a smartphone.

Why? Apps are flat-out easier for everybody now. Designers only need consider a few devices during app development, and all user experiences can be tested easily. The issue of hundreds of Internet browser versions and screen resolutions — making a website appear different on nearly every screen — is irrelevant. Apps are fully branded around your company, they load quickly on phones, are colorful and sound great, and require no scrolling or squinting to read.

For these reasons, today’s user prefers using mobile apps versus surfin’ from their smartphone. However, the trend is switching towards mobile websites as a preferred portal of on-the-go information. I’d recommend that you read Dr. Nielsen’s entire report for the reasons why.

Good News for You?
As mobile apps become more expensive to develop and mobile websites become faster and easier to use, the small business owner will win.

Currently, many popular apps are produced by large corporations with millions of American customers. For these app creators, the hefty pricetag of mobile app development sees an immediate return in downloads and new customers earned. But for the average business owner — with a smaller mobile market or a less consumer-focused product — an app is not beneficial, forcing the business owner to struggle to present website information for smartphone users in a universal, user-friendly format.

I look forward to the day when mobile website experiences can be simplified and sped up. Websites are accessed by all — anytime, and for free. Apps sometimes cost, require search and download time, and must release updated versions to remain useful over time. A company’s own website is still their richest, most dynamic marketing tool and the hope is that mobile technology will streamline so every user experiences a website on their smartphone in the way the web developer intended.