People who want their businesses to go online are faced with a number of difficult questions. What channel will work better for their clients? Should they start by developing a website or a mobile app? What is better, to build a website or a mobile app first?

Many people adopt “mobile first” as their business motto, but starting with a mobile app as your product’s first platform  might not be the optimal decision for your particular project. Product development strategy should depend on the type of business you’re in. Statistics shows that  greater than 30% of users prefer a mix of native mobile apps and browsers-based apps, selecting the platform based on the task.  Also, nearly 20% of respondents said they would only use a web-based app.

Your choice of the first platform for your product depends on a variety of factors including your long-term goals, required features, and your budget. How do you sort through all these factors and identify the most efficient strategy for your project?

There are three main approaches that help business owners settle on their first platform and prioritise their efforts. If you aren’t sure what to create first a web app or a mobile app, take a look at these approaches.

Approach 1: Define the type of service you want to build and then select the platform that is best suited for that service (in other words, mobile apps aren’t automatically the best first platform).

Greater than a quarter of users in the Consumer Mobile Survey (28.3%) said they liked mobile apps better than other platforms because native apps provide a better user experience and offer special features like notifications and alerts. The most commonly cited disadvantage of mobile apps was that they take up storage space and can therefore slow down a device. A mobile app as a platform has its own restrictions that can often turn certain activities like shopping into a very tedious task. If you shop for clothes you want to be able to see the cut and patterns up close, you also won’t like it if you nedeed to type in a lot of details such as your personal information and shipping address at the checkout. All this is more convenient to do while you’re at the bigger screen.

It appears the answer to what to develop first hinges on what type of managed service you’re looking to provide. Studies have shown that internet users prefer mobile browsers for shopping, searching and entertainment. But they look to mobile apps to manage data and connect with others.

Approach 2: Consider screen size as a primary decisive factor

People often assume that they’ll find more users on mobile devices than on desktop devices and other “big screen” options, but it’s not always so.

Recently there have been calls to redefine the whole concept of mobile, with arguments that “mobile first” isn’t about the device-types so much as it is about facilitating access to information.

If we approach the choice of which platform to develop first from this angle, the answer seems very obvious: think about which screen size is most convenient for your target audience and then go with it.

Big screens still populate most work environments, and that probably won’t change anytime soon. Plenty of professionals such as programmers, copywriters, editors, translators, designers and architects work in front of  desktop monitors most of the day.

How do you know if you need a solution just for a small screen, or for both small and big screens?

Consider these questions:

  • Is your app meant for office workers? Will it be something they work with on a daily basis?
  • Is your app focused on creating content in fields such as graphic design or translation?
  • Does your app require manual input of data? Does it go beyond 150-300 characters?
  • Does your app work with image editing? Does it support RAW file processing?

If you answered “yes” to at least some of these questions, then “mobile first” or mobile only is a risky path for your product. In many cases devices with smaller screens still perform supporting functions, but they shouldn’t be the only device users can access your product on. You might look through an urgent document in the Google docs mobile app, but you probably won’t spend an hour editing it on your phone.

Approach 3: Analyze user jobs to understand which platform is better

The last common approach you might take when deciding whether you should start with a mobile app first is based on a detailed analysis of your target audience’s user experience. To analyze user experience in the most efficient way, you can base your analysis on the concept of “user jobs”. According to many marketers, user jobs have effectively replaced  user stories.  It’s  become obvious that when people work with user stories – trying to fit their customers into  several “personas” – they often make assumptions about what these “personas” want or need that often aren’t true.

User jobs don’t make any assumptions about who your customer is, but they help you figure out what steps they take while working with your product, and therefore help you to understand if those steps would be more convenient to perform on a mobile or desktop app.

How can user jobs help you find out if “mobile first” is the right approach for your business?

You need to ask yourself this question: What jobs are your users trying to do?

Let’s say you develop an educational app that connects private language tutors with their students. Students are your main target audience, so you need to analyse jobs they will “hire” your app to do.

  1. Start with a higher-level job by answering what is the most important core feature of your app. The high-level job our app performs is to help students book a lesson with a language tutor. This involves filtering through a number of different teachers and filling out a short questionnaire.
  2. Identify smaller jobs that users have to do to achieve their main goal. In our case they need to fill out the questionnaire and enter information in order to filter through available tutors within the app’s database. Some students are looking for a tutor to help them prepare for a language proficiency exam that requires specific training, so they would want to know that their tutor is qualified to teach a specific program.
  3. Analyze how customers solve this problem (which job they currently use). For example, in real life when we want to understand if somebody is trustworthy and reputable we want to talk to them and see what they look like, how they dress, and how well they speak the language they teach. To make sure they are trained to teach a difficult exam preparation course, you might ask a tutor for their university diploma or an equivalent certification.
  4. Put all available information into a coherent narrative that includes jobs your customers have and how they do them, and describe the context for when and how it all happens.

For example: After a student and their tutor interact through the app, students will want to “meet” their tutor and make sure they have the necessary credentials, and that the language school that provides them with a tutor is a reputable establishment.

Once you have a general outline for your jobs story, you should add more details about the context in which the interaction is happening. Most people have private language lessons at home, and often they use video to chat with their tutor while performing other tasks like writing an essay or doing a reading assignment. So the most common device they use is likely not going to be mobile – unless they’re using  a tablet.

  1. Create a solution (a feature) that resolves the job story.

With our educational app we might decide to work on features of the tutor profile and determine how that profile is going to be presented to the student. The student will have a picture of the tutor, information about their education, credentials, years at the language school and  number of students they taught who have passes a given exam. Tutor profiles will also include a scanned copy of their diplomas and other credentials that students can open in their app.

Students will also have the chance to watch a short video in which a tutor presents themselves speaking in the language they teach so that students can feel like they’ve met them “in person.”

Looking at these jobs and solutions, we understand that students will be comfortable enough registering in an app and picking a tutor on their phone, but for actual lessons it would make more sense to use the service on another platform (tablet or desktop).

Things to take home

  1. Mobile first is a useful motto, but it is not a universal solution that works equally well for all types of businesses.
  2. You should look into who your target audience is and what user jobs they are looking to do with the help of your product before you decide on the first platform.
  3. Mobile and desktop apps can complement each other and don’t have to share the same set of features.
  4. Don’t be afraid to start with a web platform and develop an app later if that’s what  you think your customers prefer.        

There are multiple pros and cons of native mobile app compared to web apps, and it’s always better to do a thorough research before making a decision.

By Eddy

Eddy is the editorial columnist in Business Fundas, and oversees partner relationships. He posts articles of partners on various topics related to strategy, marketing, supply chain, technology management, social media, e-business, finance, economics and operations management. The articles posted are copyrighted under a Creative Commons unported license 4.0. To contact him, please direct your emails to [email protected].