Hyde Park, Kingston, Woodstock, Poughkeepsie, Newburgh, website and mobile design.

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Mobile and You -- Part 2: What is a Mobile Website? What is a Mobile App?
March 3, 2015

Let me try to explain the difference between a mobile website and a mobile app. Really, there is not much difference that you as users care about...

  • A mobile website is reached using the web browser on your smart phone or tablet. The mobile website runs within the web browser. To go to a mobile website you start the browser on your mobile device and enter the website address to go to, just like you do on your desktop or laptop computer.  A mobile website can use some features of your smart phone, like geolocation.
  • A mobile app is reached using an icon on your smart phone or tablet. You install the app from an app store, and that places the icon on your mobile device. To go to the mobile app you just click the icon and the app starts. A mobile app can use all the features of your smart phone, like geolocation, the camera, the accelerometer, etc.

Notice that these differences are mostly about how you start the mobile app or website. Not about the content or how that content is displayed. Many times, the same company will have both a mobile website and a mobile app, and both look almost identical once you are using them. You simply reach them using different methods.

Look at these screen shots from Amazon.com.

Amazon.com mobile website

Amazon Mobile app

So again, to the user there is not much difference. But to the person building the mobile website or app (us!), there is a big difference in the work required to build a mobile app vs. a mobile website.

  • Mobile websites are much simpler and lower cost to build. They are built using the same HTML that is used to build a desktop website.
  • Mobile apps require special programs and programming languages that are very different from website development. Apple (iOS) mobile apps require different tools and programming languages than do Android apps.

There are also big differences in the way mobile apps and websites are distributed and updated.

  • Mobile websites are updated just like your website is now. We make changes to the website files on our server, and those changes are immediately available to the world as soon as anyone looks at those pages on your website.
  • Mobile apps must be packaged and sent to the Apple and Android app stores, where they are made available in about a week. Users must download and install the new version of the app to get your changes. This process is very similar to the way the software on your desktop or laptop computer is updated and sent to you.

So should you build a mobile app or a mobile website?

For the overwhelming majority of website owners, a mobile website suits their purposes. Only very specialized applications need to do those things that can only be done in an app -- like use the smart phone's camera or accelerometer, or use special touch controls. For everyone else a mobile website is the way to go.

Continue Reading Part 3 -- How does my current website look on a mobile device?


Steve Wehr