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Group of people outdoor looking at their own smart phones

Today, nearly two-thirds of Americans own a smartphone (Pew Research Survey), and it stands to reason, more than 50 percent of those reading this post are doing so on a mobile device (Smart Insights – Mobile Marketing Statistics). Mobile-friendly content is crucial for all industries, and HR technology is no exception. For example, mobile capabilities are being used to allow employees to enroll in benefits, access plan information or insurance cards, view work schedules and even clock-in. Mobile functionalities are also used to help recruiters post job openings, find talent and increase employee engagement.

There are two main options available for users to access sites via mobile devices: responsive websites and native mobile apps. But what is the difference between the two, and which is better? Let’s take a closer look at each.

Responsive Websites

When accessing a company’s website from your smartphone, the website will automatically respond and format to the device you are using; the same content is displayed to every user of the website and displays the pages appropriately for its size based on the underlying code. The goal for good responsively designed websites is to be easy to read and navigate with minimal scrolling and resizing. If the goal of your destination online is to be universally accessible from any device, responsive design can be the solution. But responsive designed websites may not fully solve the goal of mobile solution user experience: shortening the distance to the end goal (the fewer clicks the better!) According to Mary Maru Design, responsive designed websites help Google index more of the sites’ content.

mobile layouts

Photo credit: Four 51 OrderCloud         


Native Mobile Apps

A native mobile app is designed for a unique experience, and it’s also unique to the operating system (think iPhone vs. Android). Mobile apps are accessible for download onto your device from the App Store or Google Play. Mobile apps can look better are sometimes easier to navigate. They can also have additional features like sending push notifications like “Just a reminder: Open Enrollment starts tomorrow.”

Apps are typically designed for a very specific and narrow purpose like accessing your benefits, though some mobile apps are now making it possible to conduct your annual benefit enrollment. Mobile apps are intended to be interactive and should simplify actions; for example, if you are at a pharmacy and do not have your insurance card, you could quickly open the app and view the card. Mobile apps are designed to improve performance and save time and frustration for the end user.

Well-designed mobile apps have the most relevant web pages embedded directly within the app for a smooth, integrated experience. Another important advantage of mobile apps is the enhanced security for users as they are not exposed to third party intervention through web and internet connections. (The security issue alone could be another post in itself.)

So, which is better? As you can see, there are pros and cons for both, and the decision ultimately depends on your tastes and needs. As an end user, the user experience is the most important consideration – ease of use, number of clicks, functionality and the look. Most mobile users want to find things quickly, and responsive websites tend not to optimize data quickly enough to display information in the same way an app can. Today, the majority of end users are looking for the true app experience. Many HR tech vendors are realizing this and are offering both responsive designed websites and native mobile apps.

I’ve had many conversations on this topic, and people tend to be pretty opinionated. What is your preference, and why?