The short answer might be no, as a number of website developers are beginning to think in terms of extending the core web apps to better handle mobile devices, such as iPads and other tablets. This flies in the face of current trends, so let's consider the pros and cons.
"We deal with all sorts of customers," says Amir Shah, the CEO of St. Louis-based Web developer AgilitySpeaks.com. "I find that when we introduce them to 'mobile' the first thing they think about, and usually the only thing they think about, is an app." But developing an app dedicated to tablets means forking into two or more different processes, and that can be complex and costly.
Apps have their utility, as Shah points out. "If a client has a product that is the app, or if they are generating revenue from an app or need something that leverages the internals of the iPad such as the camera or GPS, then yes, an app makes sense." Another model is something that requires regular consumption, such as a newspaper subscription or a game. How regular a usage pattern? Certainly more than once or twice: "If I'm buying a car, once I've bought it, I won't use your 'app' until I need another," Shah says.
Shah points out several misconceptions about the purported advantages of using apps, rather than building a better website that can handle both mobile and traditional browsers. These include:
- Mobile perceived performance. With the right coding tricks and techniques, you can improve mobile browsing performance to close to that of a fixed desktop and with a better perceived latency too.
- Better disconnected access. Many apps do require continuous Internet access, so you aren't getting anywhere with moving off a traditional browser just for this reason.
- It isn't just the iPad either. Once you finish your iOS app, you will want to do another one for Android devices, and maybe also Blackberries too. Each platform has different requirements, different dev tools, and other requirements.
- Push is just for apps. You can rig up alternative push notifications using SMS or email that are just as effective and don't require the notifications to be managed by the Apple-owned processes.
- Anyone can code up an app these days. True, but coding up a great app isn't any easier than coding a great website. Plus, done right, a website that will work well on a tablet or smaller screen is easier to maintain. And it can be cheaper to build than maintaining all those forked developments.
- Apps give me more marketing mojo. Definitely not true. Well, when was the last time you could search Google for in-app content? "No one searches for a restaurant on the iPhone app store," says Shah. Having a single code base for your site content means that your SEO is going to leverage all your site visits, including all the page views from your mobile readers. Plus, you don't have to point people to a special "m.website.com" version too.