Pros and Cons of Responsive Design vs. Developing Mobile Apps

In my last post last month about designing your store’s websites, I mentioned that you should provide something unique for your store’s mobile app or else just enhance the overall general website itself. This point bears some further discussion as to when should you choose between the two approaches. It isn’t cut and dried, as I found out after examining dozens of different chain restaurants’ sites and mobile apps for a report that I co-wrote last month.

Most modern websites should implement responsive design techniques today. This means that they can automatically adjust how they place content in the browser window, and move column sizes and illustrations around as the window gets smaller for dealing with mobile devices, or larger for desktop screens. If you don’t know anything about this concept, I suggest reading up here. Nick Pettit, who wrote that blog entry for Treehouse Island, says, “Screen sizes and resolutions [are] widening every day, and creating a different version of a website that targets each individual device is not a practical way forward. This is the problem that responsive web design addresses head on.”

Here are two compelling reasons to choose to develop a specialized mobile app:

  • One is that your general website still uses Flash, and you don’t want to redo it. As you know, all iOS devices don’t do Flash, so they won’t be able to manipulate your content. Of course, that Flash-based site is getting pretty long in the tooth, so you might want to schedule when you are going to update your code and get rid of it once and for all. You know it is just a matter of time. I still come across numerous Flash-based sites that are just frustrating and want to make me toss my tablet across the table.
  • You can concentrate on features that mobile users need most, such as store locators or hours of operation. Or test market something new that isn’t on your general site and see if it is worth adding for all visitors. This is what Starbucks does for its mobile app, which is packed with features such as offers for free music tracks and the ability to pay for your drinks (which is hard to implement on a general website).

And here are two reasons to make your site more responsive:

  • You don’t have to maintain two different code bases, and can add features that will instantly benefit all of your visitors. This is by far the biggest advantage of using responsive design, and also has the added benefit that you don’t have to worry about image placement, column widths and other things that date back to the Cretaceous Period of the Web (say, 1996).
  • Your site will appear more attractive to more visitors, and become more engaging too. There is something just more snappy and clean about responsive design and how the text flows around the windows and images that just make it more appealing, at least IMHO.

Obviously, it is a balancing act between mobile-first and responsive design, but perhaps your situation will gravitate towards one or the other method. The important thing to keep in mind is what is the app or the site trying to communicate, and how can you be the most effective?

Want to learn more about what I found in my restaurant research of what the top chains are doing with their digital strategies? You can download a portion of our executive summary of the report here.

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