User , Startups , Scaleups — 06.12.2024

Native Apps or Responsive Websites: Which Mobile Solution is Best for Your Product?

Kate Harrison, Senior Product Manager

According to Statista, in 2023, mobile phones generated nearly 60% of all global website traffic. Mobile experiences are often last or an afterthought even with that much demand. Whether you have a fully native mobile app or a responsive website, your product experience is not complete without thoughtful consideration to the user’s journey on a phone or tablet.

We’ve identified some of the differences between mobile and web and key considerations product managers can apply to ensure the best experience for their end users. 

This framework should serve as a guide. These principles are not strict rules, but they can inform how to make decisions when designing mobile products.  

Mobile Users Are Not Web Users

At least, not when they’re on their phones. 

When a user is on their phone, they have distinctly different goals in mind compared to when they’re using a browser on a desktop. On the web, it’s important to be immersed in an experience and to spend time exploring on a site. The opposite is true for a mobile user: they’re looking for the ability to accomplish something quickly.

How to Support Your Mobile Users

While it might seem optional to create a mobile experience, it’s not. Your users will use your web application on a mobile device, and it’s up to you to decide what that experience will be like. Will you mobile-optimize your responsive site? Or will you devote extra time and resources to create a native mobile app?

Start by considering the pros and cons of each to understand which option is best for your customers. 

Mobile Apps

While building and maintaining a mobile app can be costly and time-consuming, it offers the highest potential for delivering a top-notch, memorable and engaging user experience.

Native mobile apps prioritize users’ time, enabling easy engagement with streamlined processing and dedicated experiences. Users are fully immersed within the mobile app without distractions like browser navigation and search, which are inherent in browsers and beyond your control. Additionally, native apps can leverage unique features such as push notifications and location-based services to deliver experiences that only they can fully activate.

The main challenge for mobile apps is persuading users to download them. However, effective App and Play Store marketing campaigns can capture users’ attention and highlight the benefits of your app. Once they download the app, reward them with a seamless user experience. Utilizing user interface (UI) patterns and navigational structures standardized by Apple and Google helps users quickly recognize these interactions and access the app’s value faster, increasing its stickiness.

Responsive Websites

While native mobile apps offer unique benefits, responsive web applications accessed through the browser have their own benefits. 

A well-designed responsive site is always beneficial, even when paired with a native mobile app in the App Store. Offering an excellent responsive experience can serve as an initial step to understanding your mobile audience better while the native app is being developed.

A responsive site’s greatest advantage is its low barrier to entry. Users can easily access a website, and without the cumbersome App Store review process, a responsive site can be deployed quickly. Additionally, it ensures consistent features across different devices with minimal issues.

Depending on how often you expect users to access your product via a mobile device, a great responsive website can be more cost-effective than maintaining an app in the App Store. For products users don’t need often, proving enough value for an app download can be challenging. Well-designed responsive websites take a page from standardized native mobile app UI elements to be as useful as possible, as quickly as possible.

Considerations for your Mobile App Product Roadmap

If you decide it’s time for a mobile app, know that the app world is is constantly evolving. One of a mobile product manager’s primary roles is to stay updated on changes in app capabilities, both to benefit mobile users with new features and to remain informed about new restrictions imposed on app developers.

Companies building a native mobile app for the first time quickly learn that they must adhere to App and Play Store rules and regulations. These rules apply to all companies, regardless of size or influence. These rules can determine the difference between a successful, on-time app release and a late one. 

Mobile Feature Set Philosophy

When designing a mobile experience, represent the product accurately without limiting the app. Simply building a native app to recreate web functionality on a phone can be shortsighted; this is where responsive websites excel.

Native mobile apps create a dedicated user experience that mobile browser sites cannot match. Native-specific functionality creates an immersive experience, and by using familiar UI patterns, users can understand and expect interactions, building trust and confidence.

Progressive Web Apps (PWAs) are a third option that’s becoming increasingly popular. PWAs mimic the look and feel of an app while offering benefits like speed and the ability to save to a phone’s home screen. However, they require additional development for specific screen sizes. They can be a good middle ground, offering the best of both worlds.

Maximize Your Mobile Experience

Having a mobile solution for an online product is essential. Products that don’t adapt to mobile users’ needs won’t survive. The real question is whether to use responsive web solutions or invest in a native app. By evaluating what users need to accomplish quickly and how often, you can ensure your product delivers the best mobile experience possible.

Curious to know how your product should translate to mobile? Connect with our product experts to evaluate and access your options.