When it makes sense to build a Mobile Website:
– Good for email newsletter embed links. You can embed links that direct to your mobile website in emails and newsletters. This way when the user opens the email on their mobile device, they get taken directly to your mobile website.
– Good for mobile search, you cannot easily search for mobile apps in your mobile browser. Most mobile web traffic originates from a search engine, and 71 percent of smartphone users who sees an ad on TV/radio/print will search for the company/product on their mobile phones
– Reduced barrier to entry: users don’t need to download mobile websites
– If you require frequent feature updates. In this case mobile web is easier than apps as you don’t need to go through approvals/app submission every time you change something.
– If you don’t want to worry about developing on different platforms. Most technologies for building mobile websites are supported by majority of smart phone browsers.
When it makes sense to build a Mobile App:
– If you want to access content off-line, unless most of your content is feed-based.
– Utilize a phone’s native features: camera, storage, calling, contacts, etc.
– Daily updates and when the user is expected to use the app on a consistent basis
– Contain highly personalized features: shopping cart, saved favorites, some kind of usage tracking such as mobile fitness apps: RunKeeper, CardioTrainer, etc. and reading apps: Kindle, Audible, etc.
– Need to produce calculation results, charts and graphs based on users’ input
Generally building a native app costs more than building a mobile website. It’s good to keep in mind that there should be good reasons for creating an app, reasons you cannot already accomplish with a mobile website.
Here is a chart of mobile app vs. mobile web usage in the US: