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Impact - A Blog by INM

Do you need a Responsive Site, Mobile Site or App?

May 8, 2012 by Kent Rahman
Desktop, Tablet, Smartphone connected

There’s no denying the impact that mobile has today on a business. A recent study by IDC predicts that mobile devices will outnumber laptops and desktops combined by 2015, and Forrester Research has stated that by 2014 mobile will influence more than 50% of retail transactions. Even with these figures, the majority of Canadian businesses don’t have a clear strategy of how they’ll address mobile.

Essentially there are three options for going mobile, you can make your current website optimized for mobile by implementing a responsive design, you can build a dedicated mobile website or you can create and deploy mobile applications.

The first option for businesses to consider is implementing a responsive design. This involves optimizing your website to work on a wide range of devices by designing it on a fluid grid. The site reformats to fit the size of the browser window. We have a great eGuide on this topic that you can download for more information. If your site was built using modern web standards, making it responsive is not a huge investment. It allows for your site to reach any user, on any device with a design that’s optimized for that size screen. Implementing a responsive design requires some careful planning but most sites only really need three core designs (a desktop, tablet and mobile phone version) and transition behaviors. A well-designed responsive site will save you the time and effort of having to maintain separate websites for every device you want to target.

The second way to support mobile is creating dedicated mobile website. With this option, organizations build a separate mobile version of the website with a different code base from the desktop version. User detection recognizes the visitor and delivers the right experience.  This approach allows businesses to streamline the mobile experience to the most common user tasks by mobile users. This can be beneficial for some businesses, but can be extremely limiting for users that want the full meat of a site. The key advantage with designing a separate mobile site is that you’re able to make it much more lightweight than the desktop version. Since mobile users generally have much slower connection speeds than desktop users, a difference of a few seconds to load your site can make or break their experience. However, be careful not to frustrate your mobile audience by removing important information from the mobile site.

While all businesses can benefit from a mobile web presence, those that directly interact with consumers have the most to gain. According to Google Canada, nearly 40 percent of all searches have local intent, meaning they are by people searching for things physically near them. Businesses with a site optimized for mobile, either via a responsive site or a dedicated mobile website will be able to capture this traffic and reap the benefits.

The third option for businesses is to create a mobile app. While this provides many benefits, such as exposure for your brand in the various app stores and better ability to leverage the unique features of each device, mobile apps only makes sense when there is a use case for frequent content access in a mobile context. In order for an app to be regularly used, it must provide value or unique functionality. While apps offer many benefits, they also create challenges, as they must be built for at least three platforms: iOS, Android and Windows Phone to reach the majority of the mobile population. And there is the added breakdown between mobile phone and tablet, which each require unique approaches for user interface design. There are tools such as Titanium and PhoneGap that make cross-platform development easier, but you still have to manage and update multiple apps, and the costs will add up quickly. With over 500,000 apps in the Apple App Store alone, there is a lot of competition for attention, making it challenging for your app to stand out.

Regardless of the path, it’s clear that businesses need to build and implement their mobile strategy now. If you are interested in more information about mobile design, I would encourage you to sign up for our free Demystifying Mobile Design webinar on June 6, 2011.