App vs. Responsive Web Design: When do I need what?

Mobile apps are here to stay. But what significance do they have for online marketing and for a mobile app development company‘s communication strategy? Do you really have to have an app, even if you don’t know what it’s supposed to be for? To put it the other way round: should a company really build an app just because the boss says he wants one now?

The answer is yes and no. Mobile apps and mobile websites each have their right to exist. In order to maximize their potential, they have to be used strategically. This also includes an understanding of how users use mobile apps and mobile websites. Here we reveal the biggest differences between mobile websites and mobile apps, and when which tactic is worthwhile.

1. Growth and reach

The mobile website has clear advantages here. Mobile websites are accessible to everyone without barriers, which means that their content can also be easily shared without the recipient needing an app.

Mobile websites are visible in the results of a Google search. Despite new deep crawling technologies, apps are still only minimally visible.

Mobile websites have an average of almost three times more monthly traffic than apps. So if the KPI is reach, the mobile website is the right strategy.

2. Cost

Apps are more expensive. That’s the hard truth. While the mobile optimization of a website is of course not free, it is comparatively cheap, especially when it comes to a page or app with clearly defined functionalities. Because the more complex the app, the higher the costs. Actually logical.

According to an iBusiness survey, the average development of an average app costs around € 16,000. The maximum cost of developing a very complex app can run up to € 520,000. Such a project should therefore only be tackled if there is also a strategic planning behind it.

 Hybrid apps are less expensive to develop, but important usability questions need to be clarified here. Due to the fact that hybrid apps run via the browser of the mobile device, the speed, performance and offline availability of the app can be severely limited. Therefore, they are rather unsuitable for games, for example. For less memory-heavy apps, however, they can be a real compromise.

3. Targeted benefits

While mobile websites are very versatile (just like normal websites), apps should serve a specific purpose. They are intended to satisfy a need or to facilitate a specific action. An app that wants to be too many at once – and maybe even replace the mobile website – will be meaningless.

However, once an app has found the right niche in which it can meet a specific need particularly well, there is a decisive advantage here over a website: an app can access the native functions and services of the mobile device as well as offline content provide.

4. Behavioral tracking

Apps are better suited to features based on location and real-time activity. If user input is required, an app is often the best choice. Because users do not want to and cannot remember everything that the app wants to know. Such services work best of all via an app with separate permissions, which automatically records the required information.

The British car insurance company Aviva has developed an app that checks the user’s ability to drive. It records journeys via GPS and evaluates predetermined criteria – very good drivers can save a lot of money with car insurance.

Normal input such as the current location can of course also be entered (or determined) via the website.

5. Navigation

If you offer a service that requires many clicks, an app might be more suitable than a mobile website. Navigation elements are an extremely important part of mobile usability, and it is not always easy to optimize them for the many different mobile devices.

In addition, apps usually use less data volume than mobile web browsers. In this way they usually work better even with a bad network, especially if the user is required to click many clicks. Apps for services such as (apartment or job) search engines, public transport connections and e-commerce portals make a lot of sense.

6. Commitment

While mobile websites are accessible to everyone and thus have a larger pool of users, app users are the more loyal souls. Users spend an average of 18 times more time in apps than on mobile websites, i.e. 201.8 minutes per month in apps compared to 10.9 minutes on mobile websites.

7. Testing

Apps usually only do one thing really well – they have to do this thing well anytime, anywhere. But there are thousands of different mobile devices and mobile operating systems are constantly evolving. These factors often affect app performance, so an app must be constantly tested, updated and maintained even after launch. This can be both time consuming and costly.

Mobile websites also need maintenance, but this is often easier and, above all, cheaper.


Apps and mobile websites are less in competition with each other, but rather complement each other as options in strategic marketing planning.

Every company should now have a mobile web presence. But this is only the beginning. The above-mentioned aspects are intended to serve as a guide when deciding whether the mobile website should be expanded further or whether certain features should be outsourced to an app. In short:

  • Websites promote growth and bring reach
  • Apps enable intense, convincing experiences
  • Both are to be used strategically and can offer an advantage in the right situation
  • Hybrid apps can help to combine the best of both worlds and reduce development and maintenance costs

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