Have you tried to view your site on your smartphone? What does the design look like on a 4 x 2.5 inch screen? What kind of interaction can you offer with your visitor? When it comes to reaching and engaging smartphone users, there are quite a few options to wade through. Mobile marketing is an investment, costing time, resources and dollars. What will be worth the investment? Consider the return on your investment (ROI) and ensure your dollars are not wasted.
Over half of smartphone users agree that a bad mobile experience will make them less likely to engage with a company. Word-of-mouth is affected by a bad mobile experience as 57 percent of users say they won't recommend a business with a poorly designed site, according to Google. Mobile can no longer be ignored. The question becomes: How can you fit it into your marketing budget? Well, let's break down your options to reach mobile users:
Native Applications: These applications are specifically designed to run a certain device's operating system and typically need updates or adaptations to work properly for different devices.
Web Applications: Each time one of these applications runs, it needs to have all or some of the software downloaded from the Web. The type of device doesn't matter, as long as it is a Web-capable mobile or tablet.
Hybrid Application: Exactly what you think these applications would be - these are a hybrid between native and Web applications. Most applications on smartphones are considered hybrid applications, there is an element of integration with the device's file system and Web-based services, and it can function properly whether or not the device is connected.
Responsive Website: Building your website to be usable and aesthetically pleasing across a wide range of devices. No matter what device these users are accessing your site on, the design will cater to them.
Start With Responsive Design
Being in an agency/client model, we make the choice on a client-by-client basis. Our preference, though, is for a responsive design. Specialized sites and native apps tend to be far more expensive over the lifecycle of the application. Responsive makes the most sense for our business, as it allows us to put in more time and effort upfront, while only having one site to maintain long term. In such a quick-moving market, you don't have to panic every time a new device hits the market. Since responsive design is typically geared toward device width, it really only needs to be revisited when there's a major market change in devices. If you just want people to have the same experience on your website, this is the answer.
Understanding Web and Hybrid Applications
These methods are often chosen as a compromise. They give you some of the features at a reduced cost, but it is not without sacrifice. You lose a lot of the fluidity and feel of a native application, while still saddling your users with the need to open their browsers and remember a URL. If you're going this route, you should have a clear understanding of why you're doing it, and do a significant cost vs. benefit analysis on it. You'll often find either a responsive site or a native application is a better solution.
If You Have the Resources, Go Native
For the clients we've gone responsive on, I don't regret it. With each site, you learn more tricks and more methods to do better work and make it a better solution. However, I think this really only applies to the Web-browsing experience. Nothing beats native applications for customized and memorable mobile experiences. That carries a price tag. Native applications require maintaining code in as many as four different languages, and constantly updating to stay current with the devices. This can increase your cost by tens and even hundreds of thousands of dollars. Even if you choose to focus on the big two (iOS and Android) you run the risk of excluding a significant percentage of your audience. Windows and BlackBerry devices see low usage overall, but they see significant usage amongst enterprise-level clients, so you may be excluding a small but important portion of your audience.
In the end, I don't think you can doggedly adhere to one of the four. Before deciding on your mobile strategy, assess your business need, your ultimate goal, the project at hand and the infrastructure of the current site to determine the best solution.