Any practice trying to broaden their audience will face this dilemma: should we create a mobile site, or would our needs be better met with a mobile app? This is not an easy decision as each option has its benefits and drawbacks. Mobile sites are capable of doing things that apps are not, and vice versa. There are a number of other factors that go into making a decision aside from the functions each option is capable of, but today we will stick with the technical capabilities of each option.
Sometimes the decision is as easy as which option can actually get the job done. For example, if you want your mobile users to be able to make phone calls, your will need to develop a standalone mobile app. Other functionalities that would necessitate creating a mobile app: taking pictures, using your contacts, or utilizing Bluetooth. As a rule of thumb, using functionalities built into your phone, called native API calls, are usually used in more advanced apps where interactivity is the key feature. In general, if the requirements for your mobile app or site don’t require any usage of the phone features and are tailored toward the patients as an information source (mostly read-only app) then having a mobile version of your site makes more sense.
Why you should use a Mobile Site:
- Availability and Reach – There is no need to convince anybody to install a mobile site. You just head over to the website in question on your smartphone and—voilà—there it is! All smartphones come with pre-installed browsers and an internet connection, making your mobile site instantly available for viewing.
- Ease of Use – Your mobile site exists as an interpretation of your website rather than as an external application someone has to open separately. You navigate to it just like any other website. Since it works this way, you can share pages with colleagues by copying the URL or bookmarking them for yourself. This is not possible with a mobile app. To “share a page” within a mobile app, you would have to provide someone with the exact step-by-step instructions along with screenshots of how you got there.
- Upgradability – With a mobile site, you have the freedom to upgrade whenever you want. With mobile apps, users must allow automatic updates or choose to manually keep their app updated, creating the confusion of having old versions of the app existing. This might not sound all that important, but usually with any major changes, it is very beneficial to have the ability to roll the whole thing out once to everyone instead of having a slow trickle of updating their app.
- Development – When developing a mobile site, you are designing it to be interpreted by a browser. An app, on the other hand, is designed to be interpreted by the operating system on your smartphone. Some smartphones run on Android, some on iOS, and some on Windows 8. Each of these operating systems requires a different app. As you can imagine, developing a mobile site cuts down significantly on this development redundancy.
Why you should use a Mobile App:
- Functionality – Mobile apps are capable of working with features on your phone that mobile sites are not. You can make calls through a mobile app, take pictures, or use any other functionality that is native to your phone. Mobile sites just do not have the flexibility of functionality that an app has.
- Speed – Applications run faster than a mobile site. Basically it works like this: if you are running an app, it runs directly on your phone. If you are running a mobile site, it runs on your browser, which runs on your phone, adding an extra layer that slows you down. If you have very simple functionality on your mobile app or site, you probably won’t notice this speed difference, but with more demanding functionality, the difference is very noticeable.
- No Connection Required – Apps do not require an internet connection to work. Some have functionalities that will only work when you have an internet connection and some have login pages that will block you from accessing the app when you don’t have a connection, but you do not actually need an internet connection to run your app. In comparison, every mobile site requires an internet connection.
Technology is always changing. As HTML5 continues to be rolled out, more functionalities become available on mobile sites that once required an app. Also, keep your eye on new responsive web designs. These allow your regular website to be interpreted by mobile browsers without even having to create a mobile site. They are not even close to perfect yet, but can be a viable solution for some simple websites already.