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Responsive, Mobile Only, App? What should I do?

Jan 19 '14

Are you just a bit confused with mobile? It seems that the mobile platform and general trends change faster than you can mobilize your solution (pun intended). I am frequently asked how to approach mobile:

  • Should I build an app?
  • Should I go with a responsive design?
  • What about a mobile HTML 5 design?

The answer depends. Here are some guidelines that should help.

You need to commit to mobile

Can you commit a dedicated budget and resources to making mobile work? If not then you need to be careful how far you go. A successful mobile strategy and implementation requires you to think mobile, design for mobile, and build for mobile. Bottom line – you need more money to make mobile happen.

Responsive is a good start but is not for everyone

A responsive design may be a good start but realize that you will need to spend an additional 30% in design time and cost to make it work. If you have a so-so web presence and you do not consider your site to be great experience then a responsive design that both improves your web presence and introduces a usable mobile presence is the way to go.

Do realize that responsive is a compromise where a common ground is designed to support both web and mobile. If you have a highly optimized web presence then your decisions to go responsive requires a little more thought. If your site is “killing” it then moving to a responsive design may compromise your web experience and may not be the way to go.

You may be ready for a mobile only solution

The next step up from a responsive design is to design a HTML5 interface for mobile only. The interface can be highly customized for the mobile interface and look and work significantly different than the web version. The plus side is that you should have a highly usable experience and higher conversion. The negative – you now have two sets of interfaces to maintain so every time you make a change to web you will need make it in mobile. Should you do it? It really comes down to that great business term “ROI”. Heck, if you are selling more through a mobile only design than the extra cost should be worth it.

How about an app?

If you are replicating a web experience on mobile then you should strongly consider HTML5 first. Building an app has its pros (slick, fun, engaging, highly usable) and has its of cons (way more expensive, requires users to download the app, requires multiple versions for android/ios). For online retailers with physical stores I would consider apps to deliver new features. I would also lean the goals towards lead generation and customer acquisition. Examples of apps I would consider:

  • Allow shoppers to scan a product and get addition detail
  • Offer a deal of the day that is available in app
  • Store product finder that enables shoppers to find a product in the store (wouldn’t you love this one when you are in Home Depot?)

Should I skip the web altogether?

I think this question warrants a whole separate discussion. There are cases where you may want to just go mobile. Stay tuned for discussion on this topic.