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Mobile Web vs. Mobile Apps

By Michael Leimbach, PhD

Many of our clients who start utilizing 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 organizations. 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

– Content does not change frequently
– Organizations 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

– Content changes frequently
– Organizations need to support multiple mobile device platforms
– Rich content is not required
– Continuous connectivity is not an issue


Michael Leimbach, PhD

Michael Leimbach, PhD, is a globally recognized expert in instructional design and leadership development. As Vice President of Global Research and Development for Wilson Learning Worldwide Inc., he has worked with numerous Global 1000 organizations in Australia, England, Germany, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and throughout the United States. Over more than 30 years, Dr. Leimbach had developed Wilson Learning’s diagnostic, learning, and performance improvement capabilities, published over 100 professional articles, coauthored four books, been Editor-in-Chief for the highly acclaimed ADHR research journal, and is a frequent speaker at national and global conferences. He also serves on the ISO Technical Committee (TC232) on Quality Standards for Learning Service Providers and on the University of Minnesota College of Education and Human Development Dean’s Advisory Board.