A Responsive Website or a Native App? - Web Imp

A Responsive Website or a Native App?

Khairul Khairul • September 4, 2015
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a picture about responsive website

One of the popular topics of debate: Responsive website or native app?

No doubt about it, smartphone users are still increasing at a staggering rate. According to a statistic from Statista, in 2013, the number of smartphones sold to consumers stood at over 967 million units, an increase of over fifty percent on the figure from 2011.

You know your business needs a mobile presence, but to offer that experience — without breaking the bank — is something tons of companies, both big and small, continue to struggle with.

So how do you know which one to choose? The first is to focus on the actual need of your business.

Responsive design isn’t a cure-all

Having a responsive web design sounds like an awesome idea in terms of visibility, functionality, usability, etc. It sounds like a perfect solution to building mobile presence.

Usually a responsive website is so much easier and faster than that of a mobile app. So the obvious question comes in mind,” Then why not just create a very good responsive website?”

If only things were this simple.

The only downside comparing a responsive website to a native app is that a responsive website is not optimised to perform a certain task. Your responsive site isn’t able to access certain functionality of your smart devices.

Take for example, if Instagram is a responsive site, you cannot access to your mobile’s camera. You can only take the picture then later on upload it.

Your responsive site also could not access to your mobile’s GPS therefore unable to tag your location to your posted photo. Sad to say, there are just many things a responsive website can’t deliver, compared to a mobile app.

App or Website?

So the question to ask yourself is,” Do I even need a mobile app?” If you own an accounting firm that primarily interact with customers through in-person consultations or over the phone, then you don’t have the need for a mobile app. The same goes to restaurant owners with only a few outlets.

Per contra, if you offer online services with logins and account management, a native app is probably going to be a worthwhile investment, as it provides a tremendous performance benefit over using a mobile app.

Or here’s a little tool I’ve found useful when deciding whether to build a responsive site or a native app for different devices.

  1. Review the tasks that users want to perform on Device 1. If you don’t know these, start researching. List them in order of priority.
  2. Repeat for Device 2.
  3. Put the two lists next to each other, and draw lines connecting identical tasks.
  4. Then look at the diagram you just made.
Native app vs responsive web

If the lines are orderly or have shallow/gentle gradients – i.e. the tasks have similar priority on both devices – you have a good candidate for a responsive solution.

If the lines are messier than the other or have steep gradients, the user needs on each device differ strongly. This is probably a better candidate for a native app.

This a gradient chart. It’s really a neat tool to determine whether a responsive website or a native app is better for you.

It’s a nice technique for visualising something that can otherwise feel abstract. You can obviously extend the tool by doing a unique gradient chart for each persona, and so on.

Credits to Khairul in teaching me this!

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