Dear Lifehacker, As a Symbian smartphone user, it makes my heart sink every time I see a business promoting that they now have an app for iPhone or Android (and possibly BlackBerry). What would be wrong with a mobile web app? I understand that iOS is one of the most popular mobile OSes in Australia and the world, but what's the reason for businesses to aim squarely and sometimes solely at that sector of the market to the detriment of everyone else?
Does developing for iOS have advantages over developing for the mobile web? And what advantage would there be in developing for iOS, Android or BlackBerry over just doing a good mobile web site? My next phone will probably be an Android but this question has interested me for years.
Sincerely Left Out
Dear Left Out,
This is a question we often ask ourselves. Companies fall over themselves to promote new mobile apps, yet all too often those apps don't do anything that couldn't also be accomplished in a browser. In some cases, the app does little more than act as a bookmark for an existing site, which seems even more pointless. Given the rates that many mobile developers charge, we'd always advise any business to develop a mobile site that works on a variety of handsets, rather than throwing all their eggs in one basket.
Having said that, there are a couple of obvious reasons why a mobile app might make sense over a mobile site:
- It can take advantage of phone-specific features, such as the GPS. (That said, some mobile sites do that too.)
- It means you'll have an icon for a specific company on your phone, which often appeals to marketing types as a concept.
But neither of those make a particularly compelling case for most sites. Modern mobiles do a pretty good job of rendering standard sites, but it's still good to have access to a version that's optimised for a smaller screen. That's our take -- if readers have a different view, we'd love to hear it in the comments.