In discussing a mobile app with a customer recently, I came to realize that people are having a difficult time in trying to develop a mobile presence. The huge increase in the smart phone market has left many trying to figure out how they can connect best to their mobile customers.
I can still remember looking at the Google Analytics report for one of our large clients and seeing big increases in mobile access to their website. We found that from Thursday through Sunday, there were huge increases in mobile traffic. Upon further investigation we found that people were browsing the pages with directions and pages that had their menus. The client had toyed with the idea of a mobile site for a while and after seeing this they were jumping at the chance to go mobile.
If you haven't found a need for a mobile presence, you probably aren't looking hard enough. Trust us, you need one but how should you reach your mobile customers? Will you build an app and if you do which platforms will you build it for? What about a mobile site? How much will all of this cost? There are many difficult questions that will come up and all of them will cost you money. There are seemingly endless options. A few years ago everyone would have told you to build an Iphone app. Iphones were trendy and much more consumer friendly than Blackberry devices. Mobile websites back then lacked substance and in many cases were more difficult to navigate and use than their full size counterparts. Today, mobile sites are much more versatile and in many cases rival the quality you can achieve with an app.
Modern mobile sites can have the same interfaces that apps use thanks to advanced html5 and CSS standards. You will often hear of mobile sites being referred to as "web apps". These are nothing more than mobile sites that look and operate in the same way that downloaded apps would. The big advantage of web apps is that they work across platforms. You design a single web app and it works on essentially everything. This is much more cost effective than having to develop an app for each of the major platforms. The market is no longer dominated by a single system and it's becoming increasingly diversified. Take a look at the latest ComScore rankings:
Top Smartphone Platforms
3 Month Avg. Ending Feb. 2012
Total U.S. Smartphone Subscribers Ages 13+
Source: comScore MobiLens
Share (%) of Smartphone Subscribers
Ultimately you need to know what your clients use and what is the most effective way to reach them and then weigh those factors against how much money you are willing to spend. There is no silver bullet at this point but mobile web pages are currently the best way to reach the most people for the least cost.