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I have wondered this for a long time now,but it came up again when my mother asked me: "Why does facebook open sometimes in the browser if i downloaded the app ?" So i thought is this a technical question and tried to explain her links work,but in the middle of the explanation i wondered..why does facebook even have a website at all? Why is this so confusing to new users? What is the point of adding more confusion-as most people agree the dedicated app experience is usually superior,and the mobile website uses a completely different design!

The question isnt really about facebook in particular,since there are multiple services which have a mobile website in ADDITION to their own application. Most of these apps are supported on most mobile operating systems so saying "compatibility" is not an acceptable answer in most cases.

I would like some insight on how this works in a UX perspective,this is NOT a marketing/design question

  • What, exactly, is your question? Are you asking why some companies have both mobile apps and mobile/responsive web sites? – DA01 Sep 8 '15 at 6:29
  • @DA01 yes,why it's worth the confusion! – downrep_nation Sep 8 '15 at 6:51
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It's not really a UX question as much as it is a marketing/business decision.

A mobile (or responsive) web site is a must today. So that's the baseline. A company must have a mobile presence on the web as the web is increasingly being accessed on mobile devices and that trend is not going to go away anytime soon.

The reasons to add a mobile app to the mix are varied. They can include:

  • a desire to have a presence in the app stores. This is more to do with marketing
  • the CEO really likes apps. This is more to do with vanity.
  • there is a need/desired to leverage some of the native features of an app (such as push notifications). This is sometimes a UX decision. Often it's a business/marketing decision.
  • there is a need/desire to provide a level of UX that comes with focusing on the native app for a particular program.

And there are many more, of course.

Mom's aside, I don't think there's necessarily confusion for the user when there are both apps and web sites. In fact, I'd say this is a benefit to the user. It simply gives them another option.

However, there are times when having both is a bad business decision due to the bigger picture. I've seen the following:

  • A mobile app is created instead of making sure the web site works well on mobile. This forces anyone with a mobile device to download the app. Not a great experience.
  • A mobile app is created without ensuring design, development and support resources are increased to handle it. This causes a split where you now have half the team working on the mobile web, the other half on the mobile app and both end up suffering for it.
  • The responsive web site begins to be on-par or exceed the feature set of the mobile app. At this point, the mobile app could be seen as a liability as it's funneling users away from the more powerful option.
  • The mobile app is a mobile app in name only and is actually a compiled web/hybrid app. While there is nothing inherently wrong with that, I often see it being done as a 'shortcut to the app store' where the only real benefit is for marketing--and the app itself is sub-par.
  • nice detailed answer, the issue is that most services like that START as websites and only turn into apps later on, therefore all the scenarios you have suggested are pretty right in my opinion. also talking about useless app forcing decisions facebook messenger immediately comes to mind, that annoyed me a whole lot. – downrep_nation Sep 8 '15 at 14:18
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First of all a website is a web-site, which means it runs in a browser. The reason why web became so popular was because of a single medium that translates everything into a single output called HTML.

Mobile apps like Facebook's came later. They became mainstream after Apple introduced their iPhone in 2007. Since the experience on the small, less powerful, mobile browser was not as good as the one on desktop, people opted for developing apps for their websites. And guess what? They became popular because you could do a lot with native apps.

The reason why people have both apps and websites is because not everyone has a phone or not at all times at least. People want to have access to their email, Facebook, etc. anytime and from anywhere.

That said, I think the question should be wether a website should have an app at all. And the answer is yes at least until HTML5/CSS3 become so powerful that it can be on a par with its app counterparts.

  • Then why do companies maintain their mobile sites? Since you said native apps are better,and the existence of desktop websites aren't questioned i don't see a reason to use the less powerful mobile sites. – downrep_nation Sep 8 '15 at 6:50
  • @downrep_nation because you need to have your website to be available from everywhere. Not everyone has an Android and iPhone and even if they do, it's not necessarily the case that they have the native apps installed. I don't have a Facebook app on my iPhone because I don't use Facebook that much but I still want to have access to the service from my mobile browser when I get a message or something in my mailbox. – Noah Sep 8 '15 at 7:24
  • i dont buy into that idea,because you are getting a worse experience due to being to lazy/not bothered to get the fairly polished app. Also people who have neither and android/iOS are a massive minority. – downrep_nation Sep 8 '15 at 7:47
  • @downrep_nation You are entitled to your opinion. But there's billions of people in the developing world who don't have smartphones. You probably live in a bubble. – Noah Sep 8 '15 at 7:50
  • flip phones? What mobile device doesn't have an app store kind of application? Id disagree i live in a bubble.. People who cant get the mobile Facebook app,probably cant properly use the facebook mobile website – downrep_nation Sep 8 '15 at 7:53
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There are many reasons to have a mobile website as well as an app. The main reason being:

No one is going to download an app version of a site they've never used.

Sure Facebook is used by practically everybody, but in fact there are plenty of people that have never used it. It is highly unlikely I am going to go through the effort to download the app just to see what the site is, especially if it's a much lesser known site. Could you imagine doing a google search on your phone and for every site on the results list you had to download their app instead of using their mobile site?

Asside from that there are plenty of reason to keep a site instead of only having an app.

  1. There are those that don't know of the app
  2. Those under parental lock/restriction that can't download the app
  3. Those on work related devices that aren't permitted to download the app
  4. Apps that aren't supported on certain devices (not the case in FB but many sites don't make apps for certain devices especially Windows phones).
  5. People that need to use browser tools such as screen readers, cookie management, plugins, etc.
  6. Phones that don't have enough memory to download an app for each site they want to use.
  7. So links from other sites will work on phones. (in some cases links will open the app but not always)
  • i have downloaded multiple apps that dont have a website! the appstore is full of applications without a website – downrep_nation Sep 8 '15 at 14:39
  • @downrep_nation That's why I specified app versions of websites, sure games and utility apps are downloaded with no websites. But if I were to say that designforfounders.com/web-app-ux might have some good information about this, and you only had access to your phone. Would you want to click that link and read the article or would you want to go to the app store, find that websites app, download it, find the article I mentioned, and then realize it actually has little to do with your question. – DasBeasto Sep 8 '15 at 14:47
  • oh! sorry for missreading, but i think we as you say dont get the app version of a website before trying it. but are you implying that websites are only timely platforms since the developers expect all the frequent users to get the app anyways? i acknowledge some people cant just download any app they want to. but its like we are searching for excuses NOT to use the app rather than reason to use the website – downrep_nation Sep 8 '15 at 14:50
  • Developers hope users download the app not expect it. It is certainly ideal for users to have the app from the devs perspective as it likely increases users retention and usage, and from the users perspective as it likely runs smoother and has features like push notification. But there will always be mobile site versions simply for the wide availability, ease of use, and for those you haven't convinced that your site is worth downloading and app for. – DasBeasto Sep 8 '15 at 14:56

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