Usability expert Jakob Nielsen’s recent prediction that mobile-optimized web sites will have the edge over mobile apps in the long run, has some implications for news sites.
The mobile apps vs mobile sites or browser-based apps issue is a tricky one that all sites have to deal with. As Mr Nielsen observes, building device-specific apps are expensive. What’s worse is that they make the delivery of content a nightmare because of the complexity of content presentation associated with different device-specific environments.
But then, apps provide a better user experience overall, so they make sense now. "Mobile applications are more usable than mobile-optimized websites because only limited optimization is possible during website design. An app can target the specific limitations and abilities of each individual device much better than a website can while running inside a browser."
But some sites like the Financial Times have famously switched over to mobile web apps in recent times and have done fabulously well. But as Mr Nielsen notes the reasons have had more to do with business aspects than usability, "publishers are tired of having a huge share of subscription revenues confiscated by app store owners."
Mobile apps will become even more expensive to produce and sustain because of the diversity of emerging platforms.
But Web apps will triumph in the long run because "mobile sites will retain some cross-platform capabilities, so you won’t need as many different designs. High-end sites will need 3 mobile designs to target phones, mid-sized tablets (like Kindle Fire), and big tablets. Using ideas like responsive design will let you adapt each of these site versions to a range of screen sizes and capabilities. The same basic UI design will work for both a 6.8-inch tablet and a 7.5-inch tablet if you simply shrink or stretch things a bit."
He’s unsure when the shift will happen, though. "Today, if you are serious about creating the best possible mobile user experience, my advice is to develop apps," he says.
The Financial Times Web app was able garner over one million users from the time of its launch in June 2011 and November that year:
"The launch of the FT Web App has significantly boosted mobile and tablet traffic. FT.com now sees 20% of total page views and 15% of new B2C subscriptions each week coming directly from mobile and tablet devices. These readers are also more engaged, with FT.com users who register on mobiles and tablets 2.5 times more likely to subscribe, as well as being more active in giving feedback."
Source: FT.com; Link: FT Web App registers one million users