The whole web is confused by mobile

App, web app, native app, mobile site, mobile app, adaptive design, reactive design, responsive design. What!?!
There seems to be a lot of confusion out there. What do all of these seemingly interchangeable terms mean for me?

We know that we need make our content and services available to the mobile consumer. But how? What is the right approach for me?

The web is confused by mobile

Follow the path

Let’s start by asking some very simple questions.

1. Do I need to consider mobile?

The answer to this is yes and there are lots of reasons why.

2. Do I need an app?

This is the first real question to consider. Believe it or not, not everybody needs an iPhone app.

  • Is your online presence largely content driven? (i.e. most cooperate websites)
    If yes, then you do not need an app.
  • Is your online presence task orientated? (i.e. does it do something?)
    If yes, then you do need an app.

3. You do not need an app. So what do you need?

To optimise your website for a mobile audience you should add a responsive design layer.

4. You need an app. iPhone here we come?

As much as you would like to build an iPhone app it might not be the right solution for you. At this point there are yet more options.

  • A native app?
    Native apps are the little pieces of software that you find in app stores and market places. You can download these to your device.
  • A web app?
    Web apps, much like websites, are accessed through the browser

Whether or not you go for a web app or a native app is dependent on your audience, what you are trying to achieve, and your budget. Both options have their place in the right context.

Some graphical help

Web app or native app?

This infographic was developed by  Leigh Howells. He is one of our UX experts at Headscape. Leigh loves to share the new and exciting things that he is working on so it’s worth checking out his blog and following him on Twitter (@leigh).

If you recognise that the mobile web is important and you need help deciding on a strategy, then book a mobile consultancy clinic.

Book a consultancy clinic or contact Rob about a more in-depth review.

  • Anonymous

    While I largely agree about the confusion in how to cope with mobile, I’m skeptical that Responsive Design is The One Anwser for mobile websites. 

    • Thanks Jamie, what other approaches would you recommend in which circumstances?

      • Anonymous

        Well I’d argue that some sites, dare I say many, by their very nature do not attract mobile traffic of any real significance, and are unlikely to do so in the future, even given the growth of the mobile web. Their context is perennially desktop or laptop, with mobiles as edge cases. As such, is the ROI of any mobile strategy worth it? Especially if this is compounded with relatively little traffic. I ruminated over this in a recent blog, if you are interested ( )

        As for what approach in what circumstance, sorry to cop out, but it would really depend on the specific project. I like your distinction between task and content based sites as a rule of thumb, but I fear the distinction is often not so clear. I’d say there is a much larger grey area than this lumping and splitting allows. What you call a Web App, I’d may call a mobile site with a different focus.  In other cases, the Information Architecture of the site – even a content based site – needs to be different based on the goals of the user. 

        I think we’re perhaps a little too trigger happy to use RWD because its cool and new and all the grown ups tell us to do it. But I think we haven’t thought it through in some cases. For instance, this week it occurred to me that Responsive sites do not play well with Heatmap analytics (the software I am aware of at least), hobbling refinement of UX on any version of the site, desktop or mobile.  

        • I would have to disagree that there are some that do not need a mobile strategy. I do agree that it’s early days and that there are some who do not need to be in a rush, but we need to consider the rise of tablet use, and the impact that this will have on the way that we interact with the web. There is more to mobile than the phone and there is a real possibility that tablets will become more significant; even more than desktops / laptops. Time will tell on that I suppose. We shall have to wait and see.

          We do need to take each situation on its merits and there are areas of grey where the best solution doesn’t immediately present itself, but I would also be wary of not taking an approach because of the support of tools; whether that’s heatmaps or anything else. The tools will catch-up and this does not stop RWD being the correct solution; if it is the correct solution.

          • Anonymous

            For me, telling a client with 4% mobile traffic they need a mobile strategy is like telling someone in Shetland they need an outdoor pool because it is sunny 2 or 3 days of the year. Ideally, yes, everyone should have a well thought out mobile strategy, but not everyone has the time and resources to justify it for such a small benefit. That can be reviewed if the mobile traffic picks up, but until then…. 

            I completely agree about tablets, and I mentioned them in my blog above as an argument *against* RWD ;-) They are so good at showing desktop sites that it largely negates the need for responsive sites. When iPad users are shown sites optimised for the device, they usually react negatively because the UI is different (sometimes radically so) and things not where they expect, missing and so forth. There is a danger of us forgetting consistency is a foundation stone of UI design, and unless there is compelling reasons to the contrary, should not also be between devices as well as pages?  

          • Yes, I saw that in your post. Again, I think it’s in the context of the project. This site, for example, really benefits from the RWD approach to tablets. Who wants to see a picture of Paul anyway? *smile* 

            There is a real design challenge in not leaving users of smaller screens feeling short changed or like they are using a lesser version. They are not second class citizens after all. The idea is to optimize for such users; meeting there needs. Not to just remove things because they are in way.

            Is it possible for users of each device to feel special?

  • Rob, I Like and  I agree you are right here that Mobile is confusing everything.  The reason is that things have changed from a pre-smartphone world to a smartphone world so quickly.  Apps have been around for many years prior to Apple ( I actually worked on some of the first J2ME apps in the 2000 at Nokia).   They serve a purpose, but that purpose has been a bit lost in translation.

    Many of the mobile web companies are embrancing separate CMS’s that are like native Apps. There is a role to play with those solutions but for the non-tech media industry….. the the simple thought of an App has cleared the way.  Things are going to get more messier with Apps ( Compatibility hell and costs) for developers as we have new Win7, new Blackberries and Android and iPhone battling it out.  

    The best thought is to think 3 years in the future and think when browsers catch-up to the API stack as they are today.  That should help answer the question.

    Warm Regards,
    Matthew Snyder,
    ADObjects, Inc ( ADO)
    *Just launched

  • Chris Pineda

    People are confused because it has always been PC driven and now that mobile takes it by storm they have no other option but to get a mobile website.

     I found a free tool that help businesses create mobile sites. Its cheap and it works. They have a cool tool that allows you to see how it looks on a mobile phone before it goes live.

  • Anonymous

    I guess where my confusion comes in is the need to build anything different for mobile.  The majority of the sites I build are tabelless css and they seem to render well in the tablets, iPhones and netbooks I’ve looked at them with so why is it that tableless css is not enough?