Villing & Company

Hearsay and Statistics: Smartphone Apps May Get the Press, But a Recent Survey Suggests Many Consumers Prefer the Mobile Web

As human beings, we radically overestimate our intuitive understanding of probabilities and statistics. Our brains are wired to overestimate the importance of things we hear about frequently and underestimate the importance of the "other stuff." The comic below clearly illustrates a common way we do this in ordinary life. We overestimate the danger of things like terrorists and shark attacks, while underestimating the danger of mundane activities like commuting to work or failing to exercise.

smbc As marketers, it's our job to try and overcome these cognitive hiccups so we can make informed recommendations to our clients. Often, the hot, new marketing trends are given all the press, so it could be easy to overlook some of the more mundane tactics.

In my opinion, that is what is currently happening with mobile websites. With the media putting so much of their emphasis on mobile apps these days, it seems like mobile-friendly websites are barely being mentioned. However, according to an October 2010 Adobe study, 66% of mobile consumers prefer mobile-friendly websites for accessing content, compared to 34% who prefer downloadable apps.

These statistics make a lot of sense when you think about it. There are probably many websites that you visit that you’d never consider important enough to warrant a specific app. I know that every company wants to have a permanent icon on my smartphone home screen, but that usually isn’t realistic.

Because the marketing media, blogs and smartphone advertising concentrate so much on apps, I think many companies are overlooking the larger potential of the smartphone audience: the mobile web.

Unless you have a special situation, customizing your website to work well on mobile devices may well be more valuable than putting that same content into an app. Apps are good for functional and self-contained experiences, but a mobile-friendly website is usually the more effective way to reach the growing mobile audience for several reasons:

  • Compatibility: Mobile websites are compatible with every smartphone. You don’t have to build separate sites for the iPhone, Android, Blackberry and every other device out there.
  • Easy to Build: Your current web developer probably has all the skills needed to build a good mobile website. App development requires special training and software for each type of device.
  • Lower Barrier to Entry: Your customers might be reluctant to download an app, but they will likely have no problem visiting your mobile website. Why make it more difficult for them?

I'm not saying that apps are irrelevant; we've recommended and built several apps ourselves. An app might be your best option when you need access to some of the more advanced features of the smartphone, like the camera, accelerometer or GPS. However, don't hurl yourself blindly down the app route without considering the alternatives. And just because an app doesn't make sense, doesn’t mean that you should ignore mobile completely. A mobile-friendly website is probably your best next move.

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