Converting Websites Into Mobile Applications

Learn how businesses of all sizes are convering websites into mobile apps, and see how newer mobile application development technologies can reduce the barrier of entry.

Jarrod Drysdale
Freelance writer

Building a mobile presence is a requirement for most online businesses. Mobile represents a large, often untapped opportunity for many businesses as consumers and even B2B customers expect the convenience of a mobile experience. In fact, fully 56 percent of all web traffic as of July 2021 came through mobile phones, making it a must-have channel for attracting and engaging with customers. Once your business is thriving on the web, mobile provides the next natural step for growth. 

However, launching a mobile presence is a daunting task. When you see the cost of mobile app development you have to wonder: does your company really need it? Is there a way to launch on mobile without such a large up-front investment? 

Let’s examine how businesses of all sizes can break into the mobile environment and see how newer mobile application development technologies can reduce the barrier of entry.

Why Your Business Needs a Mobile App

You might be wondering, if your customers can already access your website on their mobile devices, why does your business need a mobile app too? There are several key benefits that just can’t be had on the web.

Access to mobile device features. For many businesses the main reason to build a mobile app is to access the huge markets offered by the app stores. But another somewhat hidden benefit of creating mobile apps is to use the features exclusive to mobile. Advanced authentication, security, biometrics,  and other features like camera features and geolocation can be accessed in mobile apps that are often difficult to use or unavailable in websites.

Engagement. Mobile apps drive higher engagement. Push notifications provide a way to contact customers directly in a way that websites just cannot imitate. They encourage customers to interact with apps and remind them of important deadlines, messages, and other pressing tasks.

Aside from notifications, customers are encouraged to engage in applications because they’re instantly available. While websites take time to load, apps are already installed and open any time a customer needs it. Just a few seconds of loading might seem like a small thing, but a digital marketing agency analyzing high volume e-commerce sites found that website conversion rates drop by an average of 4.42% for each additional second of load time up to five seconds. 

Mobile apps have the key advantage of being installed directly on devices, providing customers with an instant, interactive experience.

Personalization. Applications offering personalization such as product recommendations can be a key profit center. While personalization is possible on the web, mobile provides so many more opportunities for personalization that are baked right into the device: location data, messaging, and notifications. Meeting your customers where they already are, right on their mobile devices, and then providing exactly what they need is a solid business strategy, to say the least.

Traditional methods of building a mobile app

So now that you agree that building apps is an important business decision, let’s examine the traditional approach to building a mobile app. Warning: The time and development costs may come as a shock.

Traditionally, websites and mobile apps are built in totally different and wholly incompatible environments. Web apps are built with the tools and languages of the web (HTML, CSS, and JavaScript), traditional mobile apps were written in native languages (Swift, Kotlin, and Objective-C) and built with native development kits provided by Apple and Google. 

In the conventional method, you can’t just port your web app to mobile. You need to build and maintain separate software across the Web, iOS and Android.

So, to convert a website into a mobile app using this approach is essentially the same as starting from scratch. Here’s a high-level summary of the steps:

  1. Scope out the app’s features
  2. Estimate costs
  3. Hire a development team
  4. Create a new app design
  5. Build the app
  6. Deploy & submit the app for approval
  7. Maintain the app

If you want to build both an iOS and Android app, you have to do this entire process twice. It is expensive, slow, and requires a specialized team of experienced developers to handle the work.

Luckily, newer technologies have arrived to help solve this problem.

Reducing Development Costs by Creating a Hybrid Native Mobile App

With newer tools, you can avoid the substantial costs many businesses have paid in the past when they built a separate website, iOS app, and Android app—employing separate teams for each.

Today, hybrid mobile and web architectures allow you to use a single team of web developers to build and maintain all three assets. You can also build an Android and iOS app using a single codebase and the same tools your web team already knows.

A hybrid mobile app is built using tools that originated on the web, and can publish to both app stores simultaneously from a single development project. Hybrid mobile app development allows your business to use a single team and the same technology to create all your web and mobile assets. This substantially reduces up-front investment, maintenance, and the need for recruitment or retraining.

Here’s what the process of creating a hybrid mobile app using Ionic looks like, so you can get an idea of what to expect.

1. Make your website responsive.

Responsive Web Design (RWD) is a technique that allows developers to create a web page that resizes itself to any device’s screen size. These days web development teams are building websites and apps that are responsive. Implementing RWD is a good best-practice for your business to ensure your customers can use their own device to access your website.

Having your website responsive before building apps will make the next few steps even easier to implement.

2. Make your website mobile friendly.

To supplement your web-based design systems, use Ionic to get UI components that look and function identically to native mobile components, but that are built with those same tools that your web team already knows. This framework will make your hybrid app look and function the same as apps built with native libraries from Apple and Google—but all in that single codebase.

By the way, if you’re starting from scratch, you can use Ionic to build the web app from the ground up. But if you already have a website built, you can still use Ionic to repurpose the same content across all devices.

3. Choosing between iOS and Android? Deploy to both.

Your web team can begin with Capacitor by Ionic, which allows you to deploy your web application as a native mobile app. Your team doesn’t need to choose between iOS and Android because it works on both platforms out of the box. Capacitor provides access to native mobile features and empowers your team to create consistent experience across platforms from a single codebase.

4. Use your own custom UI components.

 Once your app is built using Ionic UI components, consider adding custom UI components as you need to make sure your app is fully on-brand. With a hybrid architecture, you can use any web-based UI library, including your company’s official design system. See an example of how Burger King brought their fully branded UI components to mobile using Capacitor. Alternatively, you can use tools like Stencil to create new custom components that are compatible with any web technologies.

5. Secure your app, collect payments, and more with Ionic’s comprehensive list of native solutions.

It’s one thing to create a like-for-like rendition of your website. But mobile applications often require different levels of functionality and security. Ionic’s suite of native solutions like Identity Vault—an all-in-one frontend biometric identity management system for Ionic apps running on iOS and Android—and Ionic Payments—a secure, single cross-platform API that allows you to collect payments securely and efficiently with Apple and Google Pay—provide the added experience for your customers that make your mobile apps even more functional.

6. Launch your app quickly and easily.

When it’s time for launch, use Ionic Appflow to deploy your app to both app stores. Appflow manages the release process for you, so that coordinating launches and fixes on both app stores is painless.

Building a Mobile App Is More Realistic and Affordable Now Than It’s Ever Been

While converting a website into a mobile app was not always an option, new techniques like hybrid app development at Ionic deliver on the promise of making a mobile strategy accessible to more businesses.

If you are seeking the growth and new customers waiting in app stores, hybrid app development makes it easier to reach them. You don’t need to find new team members, retrain in new skills, or invest nearly so much up front.

Ionic’s hybrid app development tools will accelerate your new mobile initiative and help your business provide an exceptional customer experience that gains traction faster. Here are a few examples of businesses using Ionic technology to develop mobile applications.

H&R Block

At the beginning of 2020, H&R Block started to undergo a digital transformation to keep up with customers demands. This transformation required the engineering team to assess their current web and mobile strategy. They took a closer look at their customer-facing online portal, MyBlock.

The MyBlock development team uses Capacitor—a cross-platform native bridge for connecting web content to native iOS and Android devices—to run modern, cross platform apps to make developer access to common functionality on each platform consistent and easy. They are taking advantage of the push notifications, camera, and in-app browser features, to name a few.

Screenshot of H&R Block's customer facing application MyBlock.

Amtrak

A major transportation provider offering rail transport services to passengers in two countries, Amtrak serves over 500 destinations across the US and Canada, and operates more than 300 trains daily over 21,000 miles of track.

Amtrak's passenger app is a consumer-facing mobile application used to book travel, check schedules, access ticketing information, and support many other aspects of a traveler’s journey. They lean on Ionic—especially the support and advisory services— to keep their customer-facing application up and running.

Screenshots of Amtrak app.

Sworkit

As of April 2016, Sworkit’s flagship fitness application has 2.5 million monthly active users and over 10 million downloads, and the Sworkit team has created a total of nine apps using Ionic, including Sworkit Premium and Sworkit Kids.

Because the Sworkit team was able to leverage one single code base to build iOS and Android apps, Hanna says Ionic cut Sworkit’s development time in half and saved well over $200,000 a year in salaries for the two additional developers they’d have needed to build native apps.

Screenshots of Sworkit app.

As you explore the ways to convert your existing web content into mobile apps, reach out to an Ionic App Specialist with any questions.

About Ionic

Ionic is the leading cross-platform developer solution with 5 million developers worldwide. It powers 15% of apps in the app store, not including thousands of apps built internally at enterprises for every line-of-business need. Ionic is unique in that it takes a web-first approach, leveraging HTML, CSS, and Javascript to build high-quality iOS, Android, desktop, and Progressive Web Apps.

Ionic is a leader in enterprise app development. Thousands of enterprise customers use Ionic to build mission-critical apps for their customers, both external and internal.

You’re in good company. Ionic powers millions of apps at some of the smartest companies in the world.

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