Can charities afford to be seduced by the bright shiny things that Apple bring?

When Smartphone sales eclipsed laptop sales for the first time in 2007, like us, every digital agency started to take mobile a lot more seriously. If we are to believe Morgan Stanley Research, next year, Smartphones sales will exceed all computer sales.
Let's just pause on that for a second... Does this mean users are more likely to be viewing your website on a mobile device than on their PC? My friends at The British Asian Trust have asked me to explore some of the issues to consider in your mobile strategy when budgeting for an App or mobile version of your website...
"mobile web site are rapidly challenging the rich user experience of Apps”

Cost to Market

‘Traditional’ web development is a more mature industry than mobile application development. Mobile browsers are more stable and have well established standards so a single version can serve more devices. With an ‘Application’ however, separate versions are necessary for each of the mobile platforms (iPhone, Android Blackberry and more). Specialist skills and the differing App Store approval processes required, can add to the time and expense of deployment. Early adopters can struggle to keep up with the evolving mobile OS technologies as each platform battles to dominate.
 
Source: StatCounter Global Stats - Mobile OS Market Share  

Maintenance & Re-designs

When it comes to updating an App, a new version of the entire software is required and again this needs to go through the same approval process of the particular App Store(s). Once approved, it will be up to the user to update to the latest version. Mobile sites on the other hand can be updated and released to ‘live’ instantly and the user will always get the latest release. Ideally, a mobile site will be managed via the same central web database, Content Management System and hosting that your desktop site uses so money can be saved through publishing changes and updates in-house.

Usability & Accessibility

Good usability is usually the result of testing on target users and continual refinement based on their feedback. Any resistance to change and refinement is never good for usability. When any change requires testing on potentially 42 separate device/OS combinations, the resistance is considerable.
“60% of mobile devices do not support Apps at all”
Having said that, the enhanced functionality of Apps means certain interactions can often be performed better than the point, click and refresh experience which the web normally offers. Testing mobile web sites is much easier and more instant, so is much more likely to happen and actually impact on the customer experience. Multi-variant testing is more feasible on the mobile web so a charity, for example, could use such a method to fine tune donor conversions. 60% of mobiles do not support Apps at all. They are more likely to have web browsers based on well established standards meaning the mobile web is accessible to a wider audience than an iPhone or Android App, for example.
 
Source: StatCounter Global Stats - Mobile Browser Market Share  

Marketing & Search

The Mobile Web can be indexed by Google and other search engines just like any other web site and it is therefore possible to optimise and rank your mobile content for maximum exposure. If donations are your goal, finding a relevant result on Google leading to a donation button provides less of barrier than searching in the App Store, downloading an app only to find that you cannot directly donate and are then switched to a browser anyway. The break in the user flow is caused by Apple banning charitable donations directly through iPhone Apps and instead, insisting users switch to the charities web site. Having a web site that is optimised for mobile would certainly minimise the drop out rate from such a fragmented user experience. Suddenly being faced with a desktop site on your 'compact' iPhone screen and squinting to find that 'donate now' button might leave you wishing that you'd spent your budget on a fully transactional mobile site, optimised to convert donors 'on the move' in the first place.

Useful Links:

Donations Ban on iPhone Apps Irritates Nonprofits - New York Times Morgan Stanley Research Mobile Internet Report [2.4MB PDF] 10 Hot Topics To Emerge From The Mobile World Congress Can mobile web sites access iPhone features like a native App? (Geolocation, Accelerometer, Vibration, Offline Storage etc.)