There are 2 tech words that are trending and growing in popularity: "mobile app" and "mobile website". Both are easily accessed on handheld devices such as smartphones and tablets, and at the outset, they both seem to be doing similar functions. But they are actually not the same and are used differently for different purposes.
The mobile app or "app" as it is commonly referred to as, is a special type of software program that is downloaded from the internet, and installed on a mobile device such as the Android, BlackBerry, iPhone or iPad. The user typically visits a device specific portal such as the Blackberry App World or Apple's App Store and downloads a free or paid app for a given operating system.
The app itself works in 2 ways: It can either find content and data on the internet, or it can download the content so that it can be accessed later on without an internet connection eg games, news or some other utility.
Apps are priced very cheap, ranging from 99 cents to $ 4, and many are available for free. The free ones are limited versions of larger ones, allowing users to upgrade for a price. Because of the low price and functionality of apps, people treat their purchase as they would music: there is no regret if a winner is not picked.
A mobile website's similarity to a regular desktop website goes as far as both consist of browser and HTML pages which are linked and accessed over the internet.
The main character that differentiates a mobile website from a standard website is that it is designed with the hand-held mobile device in mind with its touch screen interface.
A mobile optimized website has simplified content, with an effective layout that includes graphical navigation buttons instead of text links, that are easy to select on even the smallest screens. Large images, Flash and Java script are avoided as they take too long to load.
The typical user of a mobile website is usually someone who is on the go, who is looking for a product, restaurant or a service within a neighborhood, with the intent of performing an action such as a purchase.
So which is better – an app or a mobile website? This depends on what you are trying to achieve. If you have something that just does one function to a limited audience or provides some entertainment such as a interactive game, then the app is a better option. But if you want to provide mobile friendly content to the widest possible audience, then you are better off with a mobile website.