What Mobile Device Support Does Your Web Application Need?

By Tim Archer| June 22, 2015

What mobile device support does your web application need? The answer is that it depends! As we develop web applications for our clients, part of the design process is to determine what types of mobile devices and optimizations the application needs to support.

Typically the choices include the following options, ranked in order from least to most costly:

  1. Desktop-only website
  2. Responsive website
  3. Mobile website
  4. Native app

The goal of this post is to help you understand what each choice means and the pros and cons of each.

Desktop-Only Website

This is the technology that has been around the longest, and it’s what most people first think of when they imagine their website. If not optimized for mobile, links may be harder to click on a mobile device, the text may be more difficult to read, and content may not display properly.

Responsive Website

With a responsive website, you leverage the investment already made in your desktop-only website by adding logic that allows this site to adjust itself based on the screen size of the device accessing it. Thus, it “responds” accordingly to the screen real estate.

A responsive website doesn’t scroll horizontally on a mobile device, has text large enough to read without zooming, has plenty of space around buttons and links, and avoids content unplayable on a mobile device. Additionally, Google awards mobile-friendly pages with better rankings in mobile search results..

Mobile Website

A mobile website is designed specifically for mobile devices and factors in the limitations of the platform. It is typically an entirely different website built and maintained separately from your main desktop website. For example, if your main web address is www.yourcompany.com, you may also develop touch.yourcompany.com or m.yourcompany.com and redirect to it from your main website when it detects a mobile device.

Mobile websites are optimized for fast loading on limited connection speeds, content is easily accessible through touch interactions and is usually laid out as a single, vertically scrolling column. Horizontal scrolling and pop-ups are bad practices on a mobile website. Furthermore, your mobile website is usually required to be responsive as well, due to the wide range of mobile devices, screen sizes and resolutions that must be supported.

Native App

A native app is developed specifically for an operating system such as iOS, Android or Windows Phone. Each platform requires a separate build of the software. This approach allows the application to take advantage of the capabilities of the device such as the GPS, camera, local storage or barcode scanning. This provides the user with an experience tailored for their device.

What Option Makes the Most Sense for You?
Is your site mobile friendly? Do you want to take your legacy website and make it responsive? Need a native app built? At BDO Digital, we can help you with any option. There is no single solution that is right for every company. Our team of user experience experts, digital designers and programmers take time to understand the ins and outs of your business so that we can design the perfect custom-tailored solution.

Mobile Device Support Pros Cons
Desktop-Only Website
  • Easiest to build
  • Best for certain types of web applications, such as internal data entry
  • User experience on mobile and tablet devices isn't as good
  • No mobile search SEO benefits
Responsive Website
  • A single website to maintain (leverage existing code)
  • Mobile search SEO benefits
  • One URL to access your site
  • Less expensive than a mobile website or native app
  • A single website to maintain (can make maintenance harder, more to consider for an update)
  • Older browser may have compatibility issues
  • Harder to get the user experience design right
  • Slower on mobile devices than a mobile website
Mobile Website
  • Site loads faster
  • User experience tailored to specific screen sizes
  • Users don't need to install an app
  • Can redirect here automatically from your main website
  • Mobile search SEO benefits
  • Two sites need to be maintained
  • Multiple URLs needed
  • Can't access device such as the  camera
  • Need to consider design tradeoffs for different types of mobile devices (tablet screen vs. phone screen)
  • Requires you to consider changes in screen sizes as new devices come out
Native App
  • Best user experience, tailored for the device
  • Access to device features such as GPS and camera
  • Speed and accessibility
  • Can work offline
  • Need to build a version for each device you support
  • More code to maintain
  • App store approvals required for deployment
  • Need to keep up with changes in devices

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