I was just on another forum and I saw someone post about “mobile apps and mobile websites” in the same context. I responded with a terse reply, and I thought I would throw it down here too. We will do more to cover mobile apps and websites later this year, as they are hot property right now. However here is an outline of my response.
Mobile apps and mobile websites are two completely different things here, with totally different applications and methodologies. The only similarity is that they are used on a mobile device. A mobile app would be Opera mini, a mobile website might be the mobile version of the qantas website.
You don’t actually need to do anything to make your website viewable in a mobile device. All mobile browsers now will just zoom out. Granted, your website will not look pretty, but people will be able to access it, unless you are using flash (only supported by some browsers) or some strange dynamic content.
If you want your website to look “pretty” ie be styled to suit the mobile browser, then you can use a few different methods to direct the browser to specific files depending on the “user agent”, this could just be CSS or it could be a whole different site. It just depends on how far you want to go for the user.
As far as Apps go, this is something else entirely. To make an application that uses the mobile phone’s technologies, like GPS, Wifi, 3G, SMS, touch sensitivity etc, you need to use completely different technologies and expertise. Obviously the only real limits to a mobile app are imagination and size of the application.
We execute both apps and websites for our clients, and all I can really say is that whilst the uptake of mobile tech has been slow itis gathering pace. At the moment mobile browsing makes up less than 2% of all browsing, but that 2% is by professionals, tech savvy, cashed up etc (pretty juicy market). Mobile app penetration is much higher, as seen by the number of people downloading opera mini or the new york times app.
It all comes down to budget and goal, as always.