These days, if your company’s website isn’t accessible from mobile devices, you’re missing a huge opportunity. As we noted in our blog about digital trends, 2012 and beyond is only going to see an increase of mobile users and breadth of devices. 

eMarketer estimates that 2012 will see 81.3 million tablets sold worldwide, that's a more than 400% increase from 2010.

If you’re ready to make the mobile leap, though, you have a big decision to make: mobile-optimized website, native application, or both? Each have their advantages and disadvantages, and both can be costly in their own right, so sometimes one of each type right off the bat isn’t feasible. Here are some of the biggest pros and cons we see for each option.

Mobile-Optimized Websites

A website that is accessible from mobile devices doesn’t have to mean the tiny text and scrolling of the early days. Mobile-optimized sites are accessible from every platform, work with existing software on all devices, and are fairly easy to design. You get consistent branding from whatever device accesses the site: smartphone, tablet, computer, or game console.

Mobile-optimized sites offer consistent branding from whatever device accesses the site.

As devices change and update, your mobile-optimized site can easily grow with them. With a little planning and investment, it’s possible to design a site that looks nearly identical to native applications, but is less expensive and faster than designing an app from scratch.

Mobile-optimized websites do have some drawbacks, though. You could be missing opportunities to incorporate mobile-specific functionality like cameras, graphics, and added security. Plus you can’t charge for them in the iTunes store.

Native Mobile Applications

Mobile applications are great for added functionality and design in the mobile world. You can leverage those unique hardware features like cameras, touch-based controls, and motion sensors, as well as increased graphic and security capabilities, all without an internet connection.

Creativity has no limits with apps that you design specifically for existing mobile devices, but that’s part of the problem, too. As devices change and develop, your app has to grow as well or be declared obsolete. Native apps are also more expensive to create and upkeep and require more time in the planning and development stages.

The Overlap

Nothing’s to say that you can’t start with a mobile-optimized site and grow into a native app once the time is right. The most important thing is to listen to what your customers want and will use. Investing the time and resources into a native app will be for naught if no one uses it to its full capabilities. But, if your mobile site isn’t offering all of the functionality that your customers are begging for, perhaps it’s time to consider expanding into the native app realm. Consider designing a minimum viable product first to get something off the ground but allow for enough flexibility to change direction when need be.

​Listen to what your customers want and will use.

If you’re ready to go mobile but aren’t sure whether a mobile-optimized website or a full-on native app is right for your company, give us a call. We’ve got lots of experience designing and implementing both, and we’re happy to talk you through the pros and cons of your unique situation.