The most important question isn't if you should be thinking about mobile; it should be whether to have to a native mobile app, mobile responsive site, or dedicated mobile site.
Mobile applications come in 3 flavors: native app, web app, and hybrid
- Downloaded from a marketplace such as itunes, Google Play, etc
- Can access on your device at any time.
- Can potentially be used in an online or offline mode
- Coded for a specific device (iphone app, android app)
[caption id="attachment_1822" align="aligncenter" width="200"] Runkeeper Application (native)[/caption]
- Not downloaded
- Run in the browser window
- A mobile version of the full web application
[caption id="attachment_1817" align="aligncenter" width="266"] Amazon.com (web app)[/caption]
- 1 version can basically work for both iphone and android
- Can still use most functionality of a native app (camera, accelerometer, compass, notifications, etc)
[caption id="attachment_1820" align="aligncenter" width="200"] Twitter Application (hybrid)[/caption]
Dedicated Mobile Site:
A completely separate site from your regular website, designed for a mobile experience Users are directed here if they access your URL through a mobile device (via browser detection). Domain changes to something like: www.m.samplesite.com or www.samplesite.com/m.
[caption id="attachment_1815" align="aligncenter" width="263"] Architects LLP (separate mobile site)[/caption]
Your website layout changes according to the browser size (via browser detection), so if you view the site on a tiny iphone browser, the site would appear differently than if you visited the site with a large monitor.
Which one is right for you? It all depends on your needs as a business and the needs of your users.
A mobile applications are a great option if your users access and interact with your site from a tablet or phone. If they have a lot of personal data or will need to access phone features such as camera, this is the way to go. Your users will also benefit from faster load times and the ease of a customized mobile experience. Conversion optimized design plays a role since you can tailor for fast, easy interactions.
Within the mobile app category, you likely won't need a native mobile app unless your core business function revolves around mobile usage. A hybrid app is more than enough to get the job done and is lighter, easier, and cheaper to manage than a native app. It works on both iphone and android, uses the latest technologies, and is faster to get up and running.
If you find that your business isn't mobile-centric enough to merit a mobile app, consider a separate mobile site or a mobile responsive design. Separate mobile sites are better optimized for the mobile user experience, for instance if you're selling products or need quick action. Separate mobile sites typically load and respond faster than a responsive regular website. On the other hand, it can be a pain to update two separate websites if you find that your content often changes. Separate mobile sites can also be more costly to develop and take longer to implement.
Mobile responsive sites can sometimes be the easier option because you only have to manage one site. Updating content and managing bugs and breakdowns can be simpler when working in one place. Since the site is bigger it will be slower to load on a mobile device. The point of mobile responsiveness is to make the site content easier to understand for the user who would rather leave your site than fish around for information on a tiny screen. We've all been there- it's no fun.