The web is a complex place and with iPads, iPhones, Blackberries, NexusOnes–and a whole slew of new mobile phones that allow applications and web browsing–the question comes into play: Should we develop a mobile app or a mobile site?
If I were to tackle that question, I would strongly encourage starting with a mobile site to get your feet wet. Especially if you have a small budget and aren’t too sure what you are doing. I also firmly believe that content is NOT an app. This is such a core belief of mine that when I heard Jeff Jarvis say those exact words it in a podcast back in April, it made me shout and scream in agreement while driving down I-94, “Yes! Someone agrees with me! Content is NOT AN APP PEOPLE!”
Jeff Jarvis stated, “Content is not an app” (39:24) on This Week in Google (TWiG) for April 10, 2010. Listen to the whole discussion between 32:00 and 48:00 to put the quote into context.
Why a Mobile Site?
Web browsers are on all smart phones. Applications, however, are phone (platform) specific. In other words, what you develop for the iPhone won’t work on the Blackberry and, believe it or not, Apple does not have the majority of the mobile market share. According to the February 2010 comScore Mobile Subscriber report (it was the latest I found that showed platform (e.g. Apple vs RIM)), if you only developed an iPhone app, you would be missing out on 75% of your customers.
No matter what smart phone an individual is using, they can have access to your web content without downloading and installing an app. The purpose of a mobile site is to have a site that fits well on a smaller screen (less than 2 inches across) as well as download quickly without a lot of fluff and scripting that you can get by with on a larger desktop computer.
Why not an App?
App development takes time and money. Like all things technical, once you create an app you need to support it for updates, enhancements, and new phones. They will break and when they do you are forced to figure out whether you want to spend time and money on improving the app (which accounts for 1% of your traffic) or your web site (which takes care of the other 99%). Unless you have one or more people who can devote their time to the app in an ongoing manner, I would advise against it.
A mobile web site will always be around even if the user later decides her phone has suffered application bloat and starts deleting unused apps. Your app better be good and useful otherwise it will end up in the trash. Why try to win that battle when instead you can focus on your web site that delivers your content regardless of app install base?
Marketing a Mobile Site
Marketing is simple, right next to your icons for Facebook and Twitter, place a link to m.yoursite.com or mobile.yoursite.com. This signifies that you have a mobile enabled web site and will draw people there when they are standing in line at the grocery store. (FYI, you should have dropped http:// off of ALL of your marketing by now, and if you can’t yet drop the www. prefix, please talk to your web people about that. It is so turn of the century.)
I recorded a short 4 minute presentation using Jing explaining what a mobile site is. Also, just before publishing this (but after I had already written this post) a co-worker sent me an article from Mashable about mobile sites: Why You May Not Need a Mobile App. It goes along the same lines outlined here, but into greater detail. Plus it is always nice to have additional sources to refer to!