When looking to expand their digital presence, some businesses become blindsided by their determination to create mobile apps. But is this really catering to their customers’ needs?

Joe Brasacchio, Technology Lead, and Stephen Cheshire, UX Principal, from PwC’s Digital Services discuss the differences between a mobile app, web app and enterprise application – and how the kind of attention you seek defines the type of app you should aim for.

Listen to the podcast using the player below or subscribe to the Digital Pulse Podcast on iTunes. A written transcript of the audio is also included below.


Steve Cheshire:  Joe and I are here to talk about one of the issues that we confront when it comes to the commissioning of apps and websites. Something that happens a lot for us, is that customers come along and they want a mobile app. It’s usually because their competitors want a mobile app and that they’ve got a bit of a ‘me too’ syndrome.

Joe Brasacchio: Yes Steve, what we find is that what does mobile app really mean in our customer’s mind or our client’s mind when they come to us? There are a few different terminologies that we should explore now so we can classify what we mean by mobile app.

One’s called a web app: that could be a mobile optimised website, it could be a responsive site (which is generally a fully blown website that renders well on a mobile device, whether that’s a tablet or a smartphone) and then we’ve also got a mobile native app, which is generally deployed on the current device family ecosystems like Apple Store or Android’s Play Store as well.

Then we’ve got the enterprise application, which could be a combination of a web app or a native app but more in line for an experience for employees of a corporation, whether that be tool sets, whether that be all simple functions like looking up registries, booking rooms, approving expenses and all those types of applications that you generally have tools for.

Steve: So how do you know what sort of app to build? Should you build a web app? Should it be responsive? Should it be mobile optimised? Should it be native?

First of all, it’s a very good idea to be building everything mobile first and mobile optimised.  Right now Google has changed the way that their search works so now, when people search using Google on their mobile device it will prioritise the results that it knows are mobile optimised and mobile friendly. So if you don’t have a mobile site you’re going to start seeing a dramatic drop in your mobile traffic because it’s likely that your search results won’t come up on the first, second or even third page of Google… and as we know, nobody really travels past the first page.

So how do you decide what sort of app to build?  This is where we need to step anyway and understand what sort of relationship you had with your audience or rather, the sort of relationship that your customers want to have with you.  And that’s best illustrated through some use cases.

Imagine I’m going shopping and I’d like to buy some lights., I want to buy a pendant for my kitchen, I don’t really care who I buy the pendant from, but I’m interested in the quality, I’m interested in the right price and I’m going to shop around until I find the right pendant and I may do that research while I’m on the train on the way home, or I may do a little bit at lunchtime so I might be using different devices to do that on.

Fundamentally, the characteristic of my relationship with the stores that I’m looking at is casual. It’s a casual relationship.  I’m not committing to any store, I’m not really that interested in a loyalty card or programme, I just want to buy the pendants that are right for me.  So you could therefore say that I’m probably not prepared to download an application from six or seven different stores just in order to see the inventory that they have and to understand that I might buy a pendant from each one of those stores.  But I am quite prepared to browse their websites and I want to do that on a mobile device. So casual relationships really equate to having a responsive site or a mobile optimised site.

This is opposed to where you might have a customer who wants to have a committed relationship with you.  The characteristics of a committed relationship are where the customer has identified a brand that they prefer to deal with. This is very common in some industries, say for example the airline industry. I might do quite a bit of flying for work and the airline offers an application that I can download – a native app either for my Google or Apple phone or Microsoft phone – and that application allows me to undertake common tasks that I do repeatedly with that organization, such as booking flights, checking in flights and then there’s also a subsidiary side of that because I’m earning frequent flyer points and I’d probably like to keep a tab on how many I’ve earned.

So there’s two sorts of relationships there.  There’s the casual relationship, where I’m just making a one-off purchase that I’m not likely to make again perhaps even in the next ten years.

Whereas there’s a committed relationship, where I’m making purchases on a regular frequency and so I have a different relationship with that company and I’m more prepared to invest in that by downloading their application and interacting with that company through that application.

Joe: Steve, it’s a really good classification you’ve given between providing information about when and why you would choose a mobile enabled website versus a native app and I think that’s really important for the audience out there to appreciate.

You want to avoid building a ‘me too’ app for the sake of having an app on the store when it might be tapping into more of a casual relationship where what invariably happens is, the user will download the app, really achieve nothing more than what they could have done on a web app but gone to this cost of downloading and then using it, probably being a bit annoyed by it and in most circumstances, delete it.

Steve: I agree. Imagine that you’re shopping for that pendant and you’ve had to download five or six apps for five or six different stores, it’s just annoying, it’s a time waster. And that probably impacts your perception of the brand.

Really what you want to think about when you’re deciding whether to do a mobile native app or a web app that might be responsive, you want to think about what kind of relationship your customers want to have with you.  Is it a committed relationship where they’re likely to commit time and effort to download and join with you for a high frequency transaction relationship or is it a casual relationship where they’re just looking to make maybe a one-off purchase once every year, once every five years, or even once every six months, where they’re not committed. That’s a really good first step to understanding whether you should build a native mobile app or a web app.

Joe: We’ve got a good concept now of the different relationships that you might want to have with your customers. On the next podcast we should explore how to enhance that relationship using the various mobile techniques or technologies, so that we can improve that experience for your customer.



Joe Brasacchio

Joe Brasacchio is the project and product director at PwC’s Intunity Digital Solutions.

More About Joe Brasacchio


Stephen Cheshire

Stephen Cheshire was a director in PwC’s Digital Services.

More About Stephen Cheshire