What’s Your Mobile Browsing Solution? A Minimalist Guide to Apps, Redirects, and RWD

We’re living in the era of mobile browsing. In the recent past it might have been acceptable to have a website with no answer for mobile users, but that’s rapidly become a completely dissatisfactory state of affairs for any serious business. The amount of money you leave on the table by ignoring the increasing numbers of mobile shoppers, browsers, and consumers of online media/content in general is far too great.


That leaves today’s entrepreneurs with one of three options:

  1. Develop a native mobile application
  2. Create a separate website optimized for mobile usage
  3. Or create a responsive website

Each path has its own unique pitfalls and prizes at the end of implementation, but which is the direction that best benefits you? To answer this question, let’s take a look at some of the relevant statistics concerning mobile browsing, user preference, and overall feasibility.

Mobile Apps

Mobile applications are faster loading than mobile sites, they perform better, and are usually quite pleasing to the eye. Apps are designed specifically for mobile users according to the platforms with which they’re already familiar, so usability is seldom a pressing concern. In fact, the main goal in application development is to make things easier for end users.

Beyond a high level of familiarity, applications also breed greater devotion among users. Having a dedicated app on your smartphone is an important point of contact and indicates a greater degree of brand awareness and loyalty.

On the other hand, developing a mobile application is its own project, completely separate from your website. You’ll need to make a new one for every platform upon which you want to make it available. That means a new app for Android, Apple, Windows, and any other entrant into the smartphone game you wish to accommodate.

Maintenance for apps is no picnic either. Expect it to be manifold and continuous. And if you were hoping mobile applications would be inexpensive, you’re in for a letdown. Simple apps might not break the bank, but developing a simple app would be missing the point, as apps are made to give a deeper experience of your company and its offerings.

Unfortunately, the costs don’t stop there. You’ve also got to market the application to your customers. That could just be the tipping point. It will depend on the loyalty of your customers. If you have an engaged and active community that’s grown around your brand, then a mobile app won’t be too hard a sell. Take these points into consideration when deciding upon your preferred mobile solution.

Mobile Redirects:

This solution is implemented by using either HTTP or JavaScript redirects to a separate, dedicated mobile URL. Both of these redirects use detection agents, originating either in the user’s device or from the website’s source code, respectively. HTTP is the preferred method as it’s a bit faster and doesn’t require the user’s device to support it.

Mobile redirects are extremely easy to optimize and implement. Your mobile users shouldn’t have any navigation difficulties whatsoever, as the site is designed specifically for smaller screens and increased accessibility to the most important content. You can actually see a boost in your SEO due to this. Many times search engines tend to rank mobile sites higher as a result of their improved UX.

Increased speed is also a big benefit of a dedicated mobile site. It will run and load just like a regular site, so it should be business as usual. They’re also relatively inexpensive compared to the other solutions.

Though in most circumstances, responsive design is the least expensive, unless the RWD (responsive web design) you’re implementing is really complex. Furthermore, if your visitors are going to your regular site and being redirected to your mobile site, then you lose a bit of that speed advantage I mentioned.

And just as with native applications, you’ll be spending a lot of time on maintenance. No software updates, but you’ll have two sites to keep up and running, as well as consistently refreshed with new content.
Overall though, they’re just an outdated solution. Two URLs makes sharing and SEO more difficult. At this point you’re much better going with RWD.

Responsive Web Design

RWD is certainly the trendy mobile solution right now. It’s accomplished by making your site adjust to whatever viewport it’s being viewed on. This is a complex and difficult development process, but it’s the only one that offers a single URL for desktop and mobile users alike. It also happens to be Google’s preferred method of serving mobile visitors, so that does give it somewhat of an edge on the other two nominees.

All the benefits of RWD revolve around ease of use. It’s easy to optimize for search engines, easy to find a single URL, easy to run, and easy to keep updated with fresh content. Additionally, it’s usually the cheapest option because you’re only paying for one website that’s much easier to maintain.

To expound upon that last point, RWD will remain less expensive as you won’t have to update it when the “next big thing” comes out. Every time a new device is designed and “revolutionizes” the way we see smartphones, mobile sites and apps have to be updated to accommodate.

Since properly implemented RWD goes by ratios (ems) rather than resolutions (pixels), you don’t have to worry about the new device sizes. Your site will respond to the viewport as per usual.

RWD isn’t, however, as performant as mobile apps are. Nor is it always the least expensive, or most profitable option. Implementing RWD correctly is indeed difficult, and it can take a long time, especially if you’re adding responsiveness to an existing website, rather than building an RWD site from scratch. And even it is the least expensive, that doesn’t mean it’s the right choice.

An m-commerce application often has much higher conversion rates than a website, responsive or otherwise. So it’s often a good plan to weigh all the costs involved with developing the different solutions against the potential benefits.

The Stats

While some might say that statistics are nothing more than mathematically sanctioned propaganda, I still find them pretty helpful in situations where you’re trying to determine the best course of action. That’s why I’ve compiled for you, dear reader a few select numbers and symbols that have a bit of bearing on the subject matter at hand.

Companies Prefer Responsive Web Design

According to a study performed by Codeitdown.com, responsive web design is by far the prevalent choice for the worlds most visited websites. From their case study of the top 100 most popular websites (as defined by Alexa.com), 88.5% of the websites in question utilized a Responsive mobile solution.

Another stat in RWD’s favor is the fact that approximately ninety percent of searches performed on smartphones conclude in either a purchase or a visit to a business website. With RWD being Google’s go-to mobile solution, this is pretty intriguing.

These are telling statistics to be sure, but it doesn’t tell the whole story.

Mobile Apps Aren’t Going Anywhere

Total global revenues from mobile application purchases reached $26.68 billion last year, and are slated to hit $35 billion this year. In 2017, that number is projected to reach more than $76.5 billion.

Unfortunately, Amazon is rather tight lipped about their sales statistics, so there’s no way of knowing how much of 2013’s mobile revenue belonged to them, but one would imagine it’s a sizable slice of the pie.

Flurry.com, an analytics aggregator, reports that 86% of the total time users spend mobile browsing is done on native apps, compared to 14% on the mobile web. However, it’s pretty important to note that gaming and social media take up a significant chunk of that percentage. Moreover, 50% of mobile applications lose 50% of their maximum number of users within 3 months.

Frankly, people tend to get tired of mobile applications. They’re just new toys to be enjoyed and then discarded in favor of the next novelty. Though that doesn’t at all disqualify their potential profitability—even if it’s just short term.

What’s The Best Solution for You?

The conclusions to take here are that you need a mobile solution that makes the most sense for you. If you’re main objective with your web design is to deliver content to your visitors, then you’re good with either responsive web design or a mobile redirect, but better off with responsive web design. You won’t really need all the added performance and depth offered by a mobile application. All you need is to concentrate on implementation and maintenance.

If, however, you’re running an ecommerce site with a large catalog and a sizable customer base, a native application might make more sense for you, as the conversion rates are better, and it encourages a deeper level of engagement. Just beware the maintenance costs, the consistent device updates, and so on.
What’s your preferred mobile solution? Let us know in the comments.