Mobile website vs. mobile app
Note, I posted this article originally in my blog, but decided to share it with you guys too. Please, give me your take on the issue.
I'm constantly amazed how smartphones and particularly my iPhone can change the way we do things. There seems to be an app for everything. As a web developer, I'm thinking how then does the apps from App Store enable superior user experience compared to a mobile website in, say, Mobile Safari?
I decided to make a quick comparison between the Vancouver 2010 olympic official app, and the mobile website of the olympics. The app makes better use of the user location, asking for access to location data, and updating the schedule to user's timezone for instance. In theory user location sniffing could be done on the mobile web site too, but this would obviously be less accurate. But I think it would get the timezone right. The schedule is just a joy to use in the app, making it easy to star your favorite events and keep track of your olympics timetable. There's also additional content describing the event details and venue information in the app. I wonder why this is missing from the mobile site, as it could easily be added there too.
The app relies for much of it's content coming straight from the mobile website, like live results, and latest news headlines. Some of the integration from website to app is not done very smoothly: You could use a back button to go back from a news article to headlines list. This is a feature that comes by default in the browser, and is easy to miss when converting content from web to an app. Live results page layout also seem to be a bit too big for iPhone screen, making the text very small and difficult to read.
Basic iPhone features, like the map, are very well integrated into the app. The mobile site and the app however lack the more bandwidth intensive content, like photos and videos. It's something I'm actually missing, because I have a good carrier and a data plan :) The inclusion of quicktime video clips would definitely tilt the experience to the app's favor, because video playing integration is so well done on the iPhone. This is something that I truly value in other well done iPhone apps, offering a quick and easy access to multimedia content.
The app also offers more quick user experience via the iPhone cache mechanisms. This is something that could be done on the mobile site too, by utilizing HTML5 browser cache in Mobile Safari. In fact, I did not find any real advantage to the app versus creating the same user experience in Mobile Safari.