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To App or Not to App

January 6, 2011 Digital Media Solutions

iPhone ScreenA recent survey by Pew Internet & American Life Project shows that more than half of mobile Internet users access the Internet daily from the mobile devices — over 35 million a daily. And another article by eMarketer about the recent Keynote Systems poll for Adobe shows that for certain categories like product reviews, blogs, and news, users overwhelmingly like to use the mobile browser on their phone rather than a native mobile application.

These and others stats from comScore keep reinforcing the strong emergence, adoption, and growth of the mobile web, but an important question still remains relevant in today’s digital marketing world.. Do I need to create a smart phone app to reach and engage my audience or can a mobile website suffice?

This decision is based on the overall mobile marketing strategy and the feature set required within that strategy. Multiple factors will be in play including the reach and the type of devices used among the target demographics, the goals of the product or campaign, and the functionality required.

For example, a game that requires direct access to the SDK and device specific native features is likely to be an App while a database search based product can be satisfied with a mobile website. Many mobile native apps today can easily be replaced with a mobile web version without losing much.

So how strong is the mobile web traffic today? As an example, we are generating thousands of mobile inquiries daily through a combination of mobile web and native Apps traffic, but the majority of the traffic is coming from the mobile web.

Let’s take a look at some of the factors that can be taken into consideration in the decision process:

  1. Only 23 percent of the mobile subscribers today have Smartphone, the remaining 77 percent of the mobile market today are still on feature phones with regular WAP browsers. Those users can be reached by SMS, WAP-optimized mobile sites, and mobile search but not through native apps. This will change as smartphones overtake feature phones in the U.S. by 2011 according to Neilsen. Feature phones in general provide a better deal for people and families that value affordable data and family plans from a cost standpoint.
  2. The iPhone constitutes only about 5 to 6 percent of the US population today.
  3. When it comes to usage vs. reach on smartphones, mobile apps and the mobile web are neck and neck according to comScore.
  4. Any app in the iTunes store is under the mercy of Apple. It also takes longer time to update apps because of the review and approval process by Apple.
  5. The mobile Internet provides universal access to reach all mobile devices regardless of their manufacturer.
  6. In terms of the business model, if we are charging for content or the app, the 70/30 revenue share model from Apple is not bad compared to the 50/50 premium SMS model of the carriers, but a mobile website with credit card micro payments is a 100 percent revenue after 2.5-5 percent merchant account fees.
  7. There are now over 250,000 mobile apps on the iTunes app store. To make an app noticeable and discoverable, it requires a marketing effort and advertising spend. Same thing for a mobile website. This can be accomplished fairly simply with an ad display campaign on AdMob with a moderate daily spend.
  8. Mobile apps in general do provide better performance as they have direct access to the device resources and processor.
  9. XHTML and front-end scripting is limiting on many devices but many tasks can be accomplished by server-side coding which can enhance the experiences for WAP browsers.
  10. If you are going the native app route, which platform / OS are you going for? The current distribution of the mobile market share per device, which one needs to consider, which shows that at an app needs to be at least on 2 or 3 platforms to make it relevant.

Apps are great, but with the expansion of the mobile web, and the advancements in HTML5, the future will consists of smartphones with HTML browsers that will be able to render any web page and provide better, richer media experiences for mobile users. Limitations on screen size and the challenge will be how to provide a full website experience resized to a phone screen, something that should give birth to a new breed of mobile web developers.

About the Author

Digital Media Solutions

Founded by a team of lifelong athletes, Digital Media Solutions (DMS), the fastest-growing independent digital performance marketing company. The company’s set of proprietary assets and capabilities in the world of performance marketing and marketing technology allow clients to meticulously target and acquire the right customers. DMS relentlessly pursues flawless execution for top brands within highly complex and competitive industries including mortgage, education, insurance, consumer brands, careers and automotive.

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