Web vs Mobile: What's Right for You?

How to use empathy to drive decisions around the platform for your future application.

Brian Adams on 28 June 2019

Laptop and Phone; Two of many Devices

Businesses looking to innovate are often faced with many challenges regarding the platform and overall result of the solution they desire. Software is an obvious choice for innovation; it’s used all day, every day, throughout every aspect of our lives. However, there’s an ever-growing number of platforms which can run software applications. What was once just computers has now become phones, computers, tablets, TV’s, cars, etc. To best narrow down the scope of platforms that your software should run on, put yourself in the shoes of your users, and truly try to understand their state of mind and desires when using your solution. This is what we call an empathic solution and it is the key to creating high usage software. Determining an empathic solution is key when attempting to determine the correct platform(s) for your solution.

Mobile: General Consumers and On-the-go

Smartphones and apps have dramatically changed the way we operate and communicate. B2C as well as B2B businesses have seen a major uptick in sales and engagement via mobile devices. 63% of all US online traffic comes from smartphones and tablets, according to Tech Jury. Online ads have hit an all time high and mobile compatibility/mobile-first design has now become a critical sticking point for many applications. Take a moment to reflect and ask yourself what avenues you will use to market and sell your product. If you’re going to use marketing channels that have heavy mobile usage, a mobile app may be the best platform. The phrase “you only get one first impression” has never rang more true. Whichever platform your users are using when they first register for your software is going to be the most important.

A major challenge with mobile apps has always been the “duplicate” cost of development. While web pages behave mostly the same on any modern web browser, creating immersive apps for both Android and iOS comes at a cost. Different code has to be written for each platform, which can lead to significant increases in cost. Depending on the situation, you may be able to get away with using a cross-platform framework such as React-Native or Xamarin. These tools create excellent apps that are written once and run on both Android and iOS, however they don’t have quite the flexibility that you can achieve by creating two native apps.

Key indicators of mobile-preferred software:

Examples

Uber/Lyft/Rideshare Services

Ridesharing applications such as Uber and Lyft are incredible examples of the impact of empathic software. The target audience is people needing to get short distances on demand. These apps are particularly useful when people are in an area without easily accessible public transportation or when they may not have any other means of transportation. Mobile apps are the perfect choice here, as their primary users aren’t going to have their computers available as they go to leave a concert, bar, or airport.

Snapchat

Snapchat took over the smartphone world and quickly became one of the most popular ways to quickly share photos and videos with friends. The creators of Snapchat saw that there wasn’t any easy way to efficiently share photos with friends or groups of people on multiple platforms. They chose mobile in particular as that’s the platform where the majority of their user base takes photos and videos, and is the most accessible way to view media wherever you may be.

Fitness Tracking Apps

Fitness tracking apps such as Apple Health are empathic in their use as they collect data on your smartphone while you maneuver about your day. These applications will never find as much traction in a desktop environment because desktop and laptop computers don’t live in your pocket throughout the entire day.

Web: Complex tasks and ultra-productive work

When we use the term web application, we are purposefully making a distinction from websites. Web applications are data-driven by nature, and generally involve some amount of meaningful interaction from their users. Many businesses rely on various web applications every day in order to operate efficiently. Think of software such as Salesforce, HubSpot, or Xero. These web applications are empathically designed for users sitting at a laptop or desktop all day. B2B software tends to lean more towards web applications for that reason specifically.

Web applications have long been a common choice for business owners and stakeholders due to their ability to work on a number of devices without any major changes needed. Windows, macOS, Android, and iOS all have capable web browsers of running modern web applications. However the drawback to building web applications is the lack of low-level control such as directly interacting with other devices on a network.

Key indicators of web-preferred software:

Examples

Salesforce

Salesforce is one of the most popular web applications in the world. The ultimate digital sales tool, Salesforce was designed specifically for the use case of salespeople working at a desk. With the amount of data, workflows, and options, Salesforce could not have grown into the product it is today if it were to have been primarily a mobile app.

Google Docs

Yes, you can edit Google Docs on a mobile device. However the primary usage of Google Docs is on a computer. Document editing is 99% typing, and everyone knows the pain of autocomplete on mobile devices and just how difficult it is to type a massive amount of text on a virtual keyboard. The employees at Google who first came up with the concept of Google Docs were focused on building a solution around empathy.

Recap

tl;dr: Have empathy towards your users. Use that to guide your platform and solution decisions.

The number of software platforms has become substantial and will likely continue to increase. Having empathy for your users will allow you to make quality decisions regarding your application, platform, and solution as a whole. Use some of the examples above to guide you on finding different opportunities to practice empathy with your users. Picking a platform doesn’t require rocket science, it only requires compassion and the ability to put yourself in your users’ shoes.

What about Hybrid Applications?

A “hybrid” application would be either a PWA (Progressive Web App) or a mobile-friendly web application. These options are becoming more and more viable as web browsers continue to increase in capability. While hybrid applications sound like the best route, they have their own drawbacks as well. Be on the lookout in the coming weeks for our post comparing PWA’s to mobile apps and web applications!

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