App or Website? — Design #1

icons from as usual! love that place!

This is the first “Design” post in appsandbiscuits — not only will we teach you how to build apps in iOS or Android, we’ll also try to impart some advice on app design concepts and principles. Bear in mind that beauty is in the eye of beholder so design advice is always highly subjective!

I’m starting with App or Website as it’s something I’ve come across often in my courses; students with great ideas that probably don’t need an app, just a website.

What is the actual difference?

An app typically lives on a smartphone — its “code” is on the phone and users user it via the phone. A website is accessed via a web browser, like Safari or Chrome, and its actual code sits on a server somewhere else across the internet.

This automatically means differences. An app:

  • is always on the phone (until it’s deleted)
  • has (theoretically) better access to device features like the camera, NFC chip etc.

while a website is only on the phone when the user is looking at it on a web browser. (Though you can have a link to a site as an icon).

When does an app make sense?

An app is good when:

  • the content is to be used regularly — social feed, news, taxi-booking etc
  • requires interactivity — posting updates, taking pictures etc
  • it makes a task easier. Maybe the most important reason. I released a simple app to check train times and I use it every day. I could go to a website but my app is built to let me do it quickly, with a few taps. Tap on app icon, hit the saved station name, and Boom.
  • you want to be present in your users’ thoughts / lives. This is why so many websites suggest you download their app — users are potentially more likely to user your app if they see it, rather than remember to go to you website.

Having only a website is more suitable if:

  • the content isn’t used as regularly — i.e. a signup form, a booking page that the user will use once or only a few times, a list of doctors or opening times for your store .
  • you want less technical maintenance. Apps require more maintenance — each version of iOS / Android may require an update to your app. Note this is different to content maintenance — unless it’s fairly static content, a website needs just as much refreshing of content as an app, to maintain user interest.

A general way of looking at it is:

This site is an example — currently I only have the site for appsandbiscuits and no app. Do I need an app? Most readers will most likely view the site on a laptop as they code, so won’t be using it on their mobile.

Whatever my app idea — I’ll need a website aswell:

  • for those users who prefer using websites
  • to provide information about the app.
  • to provide support for the app.
  • for marketing the app.

Now, to steal a section from Animaniacs …

Good Idea / Bad Idea

Here’s a few decent use-cases for an app:

  • App to order takeaway
  • App for a film club
  • App to show 360 videos
  • App to teach kids a new language

and a few bad ones:

  • App to search for something. We have Google for that.
  • App to show doctors in your area. A user would (hopefully) use it rarely.
  • App to sign entrants up to a competition. Only used once by each user.
  • App for a shop to show only opening times i.e. no way to buy anything. If just info, why would users download an app to see it?

So ask yourself a few questions:

  • Does downloading the app bring the user value? i.e. what’s the benefit to them? What makes their lives / experiences better by downloading the app?
  • Would they keep the app on their device? Why?
  • Will they use it often?

How to know if your actual idea is a good idea?

This is really subjective! An app is basically the front-end of an idea or a service (unless it’s a pure utility app like a calculator, or a game) — so the main thing is your idea itself, not the app. The app is just one of the potential channels for your idea. Whether the idea itself is good is a whole different post, that I’ll get to another day!

If you thought this useful, please hit the little heart button below! Thanks, Andy

Creator of Boxapopa, the iOS game for young kids with zero ads, just fun!