Apps and mobile web: which strategy will lead the future?

social media appsEvery business today needs a mobile presence to effectively reach and engage their audiences. Many brands are seeing mobile (both smartphone and tablet) visitors now constituting between a third and half of their overall digital interactions, yet a lot still struggle to embrace this omni-channel world and to create the best experiences across multiple platforms.

Consumers move between multiple screens throughout their daily lives – smartphone, tablet, TV or laptop, not to mention any wearable tech – and this fragmentation of different device touch points drives a fundamental question as to whether companies should develop a different native application for each screen or build a web presence that is responsive adapting to each unique screen?

The answer to this question is not an ‘either/or’, but a resounding ‘both’. There are distinct roles for web presence and for apps that address different parts of the customer journey and different levels of engagement. The question that needs to be asked should not be based on the platform to deliver services, but what services a company wants to deliver to which audience segment, which naturally drives an investment case for mobile web and native/hybrid apps.

Mobile web is a hygiene factor, but mobile apps are where real magic can happen.

Content and service discovery and consumption are increasingly taking place on mobile devices, and the behaviours we have created within the world of ‘desktop-only’ are being ported to these mobile devices. Thus when a user searches, or clicks a display banner or an affiliate link on a mobile device, they expect to receive the same service as they would in desktop. Clearly this experience needs to be optimised for a mobile device – no one can argue that providing a desktop site on a mobile device is creating an engaging experience for a user.

So mobile web is a hygiene factor – no web presence should be built today without understanding delivery across screen sizes and the ensuing prioritisation of core user journeys on a mobile device. Mobile web is a baseline for any mobile strategy. In particular, mobile web is often seen as a start of a customer journey; mass market based engagement, reaching large numbers of people through the same user behaviour as desktop, ported to mobile and as such is particularly related to acquisition or first sale activity for an audience.

Mobile apps on the other hand, provide unique opportunities to offer richer deeper experiences for users, but require a new behaviour of discovery, downloading and installing. This necessitates a level of engagement that needs to be deeper with customers than a casual engagement that will normally be met by mobile web and this set of user behaviours. Apps provide us with unique access to the mobile’s native features. (Camera, accelerometer, gyroscope etc), offline access to stored data, a more fluid and engaging user interface, and discoverability via app stores, as well as a permanent presence on the device screen. Apps also offer the ability to directly engage with users via in-app and push messaging opening up new, more personal, dialogue channels.

Apps provide us with the interface between the physical and digital worlds, through the interaction of mobile with physical triggers – be that QR, image recognition, augmented reality or bluetooth low energy (such as Apple’s iBeacons). Due to this depth of engagement and services, apps are often the preferred option for consistent usage by customers and are ideal for appealing to regular and loyal users of brands.

Apps will become the remote control for our lives.

Yet the role of apps does not stop at the augmentation of the physical world. The world of connected devices is driven by mobile as the central remote control to interact directly with physical objects loaded with sensors. The mobile as remote control is completely powered by apps. Today, our different connected devices which report data back to the mobile device are all app driven, be they the connected home of heating, security and lighting, or the connected car with telematics, navigation and entertainment, or connected health with wearables measuring fitness, diet and sleep. Mobile web has not yet developed to provide the support to the connected devices, so if a brands strategy has a focus in this connected world, then apps are central to the development of this strategy

Apps are here to stay.

Apps are crucial in unlocking the potential of mobile, not simply in the delivery of deeper and richer content and services to a mobile device, but also in providing the gateway to augmenting the physical world with the digital world through triggers, and providing the platform as the remote control for the very near future of connected devices.

Mobile web will continue to play a vital role in transitioning traditional desktop behaviour and acquisition channels towards mobile but needs to be considered as a baseline denominator for a mass audience in comparison to the deeper engagement that apps can provide for loyal users of a brand.

Ross Sleight is chief strategy officer at Somo