Today, mobile is everything. More and more, people are accessing services primarily through their phones and tablets rather than their desktops. As a result, mobile strategies are now a vital part of running a business. But with so many different ways to deliver information and services via mobile, how do you choose the right mobile strategy? How do you best maximize your impact? Should you use websites, apps, or a combination?

Here’s a simple guide to mobile strategy for a variety of scenarios, and a sampling of the pros and cons that come with them.

Always a website, never a…
Bottom line, every business should have a mobile-enabled website. The website-versus-app distinction is not a Capulet/Montague, Jets/Sharks, never-the-twain-shall-meet kind of divide. Instead, it’s entirely possible to develop both a website and app (or apps) at the same time, and every mobile strategy should begin with a website.

Websites have broad reach because virtually every Web-enabled device has browser capabilities, and because customers have a higher chance of encountering your business first through a website.

Each website (even if your business already has one built) needs to be mobile-optimized. There are two primary options: building responsive websites or building dedicated websites.

Responsive websites are usually a great first approach for developing mobile-ready websites. These websites adapt content depending on the screen size of the device. They tend to be easier and faster to develop because there’s a single codebase for all devices: just write your code once and you can be done. However, while the single codebase makes developing the website easier, it’s more difficult to optimize the website to every device.

The alternative would be to develop a dedicated website. These websites are optimized for each family of devices because a separate architecture is created for each family. If your business wants greater specialization for each kind of device, or if your business knows that a high volume of your traffic comes from a specific kind of device, dedicated websites ensure that your customers sees exactly what you want them to see. 

So websites are where every business should start their mobile strategy, but who should only have websites? If what you’re attempting to deliver to your customers requires constant content updates, websites may be the ideal format that you stick to. A major disadvantage of websites is that they cannot be accessed offline. However, with the wide range of cellular coverage, that is largely not an issue. Another disadvantage is that the user experience on websites is worse than on mobile apps. 

But there’s an app for that
You have your website. It’s doing great. Why should you make an app? Maybe your product is something that needs to be accessed in places where Internet connectivity is a problem: on airplanes or in remote areas. Maybe you need to provide a very specific kind of mobile user experience for your customers. Or maybe you want access to native device capabilities like the GPS, the accelerometer, the camera, or other device features. In that case, an app may be for you.

There are two types of apps that can be developed: hybrid or native.

Hybrid apps use Web technology to deliver information to users. They are usually developed using standard programming languages such as HTML, JavaScript and CSS so that it’s easy to find Web developers to build your apps for you, which translates to lower costs and a potentially faster development cycle. In addition, only a single codebase is needed for every system in the mobile world; you don’t need to develop a different app for each operating system. The caveat to this easier development is that the user experience is often sacrificed. You won’t be able to tailor the app to each device to ensure full functionality.

With these advantages and disadvantages, these apps are great for when you want to get access to native device capabilities, but user experience is not critical to the success of the app. These apps are also great for disposable apps that are used only for a discrete event or a limited period of time, such as wedding apps or sales apps.
Native apps are apps that are written specifically for each platform (such as iOS, Android, Windows, BlackBerry, etc.), which require a completely different codebase for each platform you want to develop your app. These restrictions mean a slow release cycle, a steep learning curve of the specific programming languages and peculiarities, and the need to maintain several codebases.

Since these apps are that much harder to make, what are the advantages of going native? Developing one of these apps is important for those who may rely on apps for their businesses (such as businesses that are apps), for apps that have intensive use of native device capabilities, and for apps that need be completely accessible offline. These apps deliver the best mobile user experience for customers, and if that’s worth investing in for your company, then the native app is an option you will want to explore.

This plan, that plan, every plan
Ultimately, there’s no silver bullet to mobile strategy. Instead, you need to know your company and what would be the best fit for your business. With that information, you should be able to develop the right mobile experience for your customers.

Juan Fernandez is a Product Manager (with a particular focus on mobile) at Liferay, an enterprise open source portal and collaboration software company.

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