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Mobile Web vs. Mobile Apps

(August 17, 2011)

Many of our clients who start utilising mobile learning are quickly confronted with the issue of whether to implement it as a mobile app or via mobile web. The decision can have broad implications for accessibility, cost, quality and maintenance of a mobile learning strategy.

Briefly, an app is a small program or learning content that is loaded directly onto a mobile device. The mobile web enables learning content specifically formatted for mobile devices to be accessed using the web browser on the mobile device, just like any web page is accessed.

So, what are the pros and cons of the app and mobile web environments?

Mobile Apps
Apps allow you to create a highly intuitive, graphical user interface and present content in enjoyable and informative ways. Apps also give you access to certain features that reside on the mobile device (phone, contacts, GPS etc.) not available via the mobile web.

However, when developing an app, you will have to consider the various platforms currently on the market and create separate experiences for each platform (Apple, Android and Blackberry). Another consideration is content development and updates. Typically, modifying content within an app requires a rebuild of the source code and changes to the user interface. And this has to be done separately for each mobile platform. In addition, apps need to be updated each time a platform provider updates the platform’s operating system.

Thus, development time and costs are major barriers to entry for many organisations. Without fully understanding how your workforce will use your app, it may be hard to justify the necessary investment.

PROS: Rich content presented in a highly intuitive user interface
CONS: Multiple platform development; high development time and costs

GOOD FOR SITUATIONS WHERE:
- Content does not change frequently
- Organisations need to support only one mobile device platform
- Rich content is a must-have

Mobile Web
The mobile web allows you to make your content available to anyone, anywhere, from any mobile device. As long as your end user has a mobile browser, he, or she, will be able to access your content. Since the content resides on the web, updating is easier and only has to be done once, not separately for each platform.

Nonetheless, there are certain design and development barriers involved with developing a mobile website, and your content must be formatted to fit within the limitations of the design platform. In addition, use of mobile web content requires the user to be connected to the web. This can be a problem were connectivity is limited, or in large urban areas were there is a lot of mobile web traffic.

PROS: Low cost and device agnostic; more control over content and updating capabilities
CONS: User interface and content limitations; requires reliable connectivity

GOOD FOR SITUATIONS WHERE:
- Content changes frequently
- Organisations need to support multiple mobile device platforms
- Rich content is not required
- Continuous connectivity is not an issue

About the Author
Michael Leimbach

Michael Leimbach

Michael Leimbach, Ph.D., is Vice President of Global Research and Development for Wilson Learning Worldwide. Dr. Leimbach provides leadership for researching and designing Wilson Learning’s diagnostic, learning, and performance improvement capabilities. He has managed major research studies in sales, leadership, and organisational effectiveness, and developed Wilson Learning’s learning transfer, impact evaluation, and return on investment models. Dr. Leimbach has consulted for a wide variety of global client organisations, serves on the ISO Technical committee for development of ISO 29999 Standard for Learning Service Providers, and is Editor-in-Chief for Advances in Developing Human Resources. Dr. Leimbach has authored six books, published over 100 professional articles, and is a frequent speaker at national and global conferences.

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