MOST local companies have a website but those with a mobile website are amazingly few. I find it amazing simply from a numbers perspective. The main reason why a company has a website is to serve and market to its customers and prospects. Based on data from the Office of Utilities Regulation (OUR), up to December 2011 there were approximately 2,945,395 cell phone users in Jamaica which equates to a mobile phone penetration rate of 109 per cent. Unfortunately, there are no official statistics on the number of smartphone versus feature phone users in Jamaica. Internet penetration rate is approximately four per cent or 118,259 subscribers. Note that "subscribers" include homes and businesses so the number of individuals accessing the Internet is much greater. According to the Usage and Population statistics website internetworldstats.com, there are 1,581,100 Internet users in Jamaica which gives a penetration rate of 55 per cent up to December 2011.
The point is that companies have a potentially far greater reach in the mobile market than the traditional desktop market. This is not unique to Jamaica; globally, mobile device sales are outpacing that of desktop computers. Research has also consistently shown that the growth in mobile users accessing social media sites, conducting searches and shopping online is surpassing the growth of desktop users doing the same things. With all this encouraging data local businesses are still ignoring the mobile device user marketplace. One major reason for this has always been cost. To take full advantage of mobile devices would require developing a mobile application for each type of mobile device, which is expensive and difficult to maintain. The other option would be to settle for a mobile website which is usually not as functional and effective as a mobile application.
This is where the mobile website versus mobile application debate came in but it is becoming increasingly redundant because of developments in the mobile software industry. In the past, you had to develop a mobile application in order to take full advantage of the mobile device's native features, that is, camera, GPS, and so on. A mobile website could only provide content, links and some multi-media in a very inefficient way. So business owners had to decide whether to go with a mobile website with lower cost and less capabilities or a mobile application with higher cost and more capabilities.
With improved versions of the Hyper Text Markup Language (HTML) and the introduction of mobile application frameworks, you can now have your cake and eat it. For those of you wondering, HTML is the programming language used to develop websites. You can now develop and maintain one mobile website and have it ported to all mobile devices while taking advantage of most of the phone's native features.
Now, you have three options to choose from when going mobile. I have listed these below in the order of lowest cost and least features to highest cost and most features.
* Mobile website — a low-cost basic website without access to the mobile device's features but portable across most mobile devices.
* Mobile website application — a medium-cost mobile website with access to most of the device's capabilities and portable across most mobile devices.
* Mobile native application — a high-cost solution fully integrated with your mobile device with access to all the device's capabilities in an efficient way but requires a different version for each device's operating system (OS). If you were distributing your application to iPad, iPhone, Blackberry and Samsung Galaxy users you would need to develop applications for the iOS, Blackberry OS and Android OS respectively.
Therefore, if you only need to showcase your company and product information and allow your customers to easily contact you then option one should suffice. If access to the mobile device's geo-location features is required then option two should be your choice. The geo-location feature would be required if you decided to offer a discount to customers who are within a certain proximity to your store. You would choose option three when your application is heavily dependent on all the phone's features, for example, a gaming application. The native application also has an advantage over mobile websites when it comes to distribution because of the already established distribution networks such as Apple's App Store and RIM's Blackberry App World. However, for local companies offline marketing may be sufficient to promote the distribution of their mobile websites.
The mobile phone is one device that consumers almost never leave home without and almost never turn off. So the one option that you should not choose is "none of the above". Hopefully, while on the road I will soon be able to easily check to see what's showing at the movies, order from my favourite restaurant or verify a product price and availability, all from my mobile device.
Wayne Marsh is an Internet Marketing Consultant and can be contacted at marshwa@ebusinessSolutionsJa.com. Website: www.ebusinessSolutionsJa.com. Twitter.com/JamaicanTwits.