Mobile devices have come a long way from their beginnings as portable telephones. The arrival of smartphones and tablets has made mobile computing ubiquitous. People are looking for new and exciting ways to use their devices. Due to this, the demand for mobile applications (apps) has exploded in recent years and will most likely continue to grow. Companies need to take advantage of this new technology to stay competitive in the marketplace.
Having an application available for mobile users is becoming a necessity, but choosing whether to go with a native application or a web application can be difficult.
The mobile web provides users the ability to reach the web through a browser on their mobile device. It crosses all platforms, if the device has a browser installed. The mobile web requires an internet connection.
A native app is a program designed to run on a specific platform. It may be preinstalled or downloaded and installed. Native apps exist for both mobile and desktop/laptop users. Tinder and Angry Birds are examples of native applications. A native app can be run with or without the internet and preserve most, if not all, of its functionality.
A web app is a program designed to be run through a web browser. Users access a website and can interact with the application. It does not require the user to install the program. Facebook and Twitter are examples of web applications. Because web apps run inside the user’s browser, they require an internet connection to function.
HTML5 is the newest version of HyperText Mark-up Language. It increases the functionality of web apps by making it easier to display graphics and stream multimedia content.
Being accessible via the mobile web is a necessity for any business. More and more people rely on handheld devices to access the web. As the technology for these devices improves, this trend will continue. Having a site optimized for portable devices ensures that a company presents its best face to these consumers. Without optimization, a website may have a long download time. Once loaded, the site will be difficult to navigate. This makes sites unattractive to users. Since most entities already have a website up, optimization is not difficult.
Having a mobile website, while important, is just the tip of the iceberg. Native and web apps offer even better ways to connect with customers.
Both native and web apps require an internet connection initially. For native apps, they must be downloaded from an app store. The initial download can be time-consuming. Once installed on the device, a native app does not require an internet connection to function, depending on its use. This gives them the ability to be used anywhere, anytime. However, web apps, because they run through a browser always require an internet connection, limiting their accessibility.
Native apps have to be manually updated. Users will have to download the new version and install it on their device, however, web applications are constantly updated because the user downloads the most recent version every time they access the app.
Native apps offer more user functionality. They run on a device’s hardware allowing them to be faster and more responsive. Web apps are limited by a user’s internet connection and browser.
Web apps offer the greatest range of device compatibility. Any device with a web browser can access them. However, native apps are device dependent. For every device that a native app is intended to run on, a new app must be created.
For example, two different apps would be required to be placed in both the Apple app store and the Android app store. Also, native apps are only available through app stores, which may require the app being approved before being offered to the public. A web app can be available when it is finished.
Native applications offer an excellent environment for streaming content. Whereas, web apps have difficulties. Compatibility issues in streaming browser-based audio and video are problem.
For animation and graphics, native apps are superior. They are faster and offer a better display. Web apps are improving and HTML5 is closing the gap between the two.
Hardware sensors, camera, microphone, GPS, compass, accelerometer, gyroscope, can all be accessed by native apps. Web apps can use some of these innate features, but not all of them. Web apps offer searchable content, making them easier to find.
Native apps do not have searchable content and can only be found in app stores, creating an extra step. Also, web apps are easier to share for a user. With widgets, they can easily be posted to Facebook or Twitter. Native apps do not have this ability, unless built in. Users have to find the specific app.
Multitasking is easier with native apps versus web apps. Users can easily move from one app to the next without having to close the previous application. With a web app, there is always a danger they will lose the app in the process.
Optimizing a website for the mobile web is not that expensive and for the benefits received, well worth it. Between native and web applications, the difference in cost can be dramatic.
For native applications, the initial cost can be quite substantial. Development and testing of a native application require specialized skills. These apps need more maintenance and will need to be updated as time goes by. Since they are platform dependent, each platform will require the creation of a new app. Some core code may be transferred between applications, but in the end, a unique app will have to be created, increasing cost.
Native apps are provided to users through an app store. Placement in the store requires a percentage of the sale price and/or a fee. Every update will have to go through the same process. While rich in features and abilities, native applications can be very costly to create and support.
Web applications, however, are low cost and easy to produce. They are not as feature rich and are created using common web languages. Maintenance is minimal because updates are instantaneous. Because web apps are available as web sites, there is no application process or the attached fees to contend with. Also, they are not platform dependent. One web app will run on all devices that have a web browser, dropping the cost of development.
Mobile web sites allow users and potential customers to find a company on their favourite device. Any device with a browser will find a website. Optimizing that website for the mobile web is easy to do and will only benefit a company in the long run.
If an organization wants to develop an application, however, the choice can be more difficult. Each offers an excellent way to improve and increase business.
Native applications are best suited for media-rich content. Apps geared for lifestyle and entertainment, travel and local interest will find native apps a good choice for them. Even though they can be accessed with or without an internet connection, native apps can still pull information from the internet, making them easy choices for social networking and the like.
For apps that are more gadget like, taking advantage of the device’s camera or other innate feature, a native app offers more freedom. Native apps are also what people commonly think of when they hear the word “app.” Customers are more familiar with native applications and more apt to browse app stores for them.
For a game developer looking to create a game that uses the tilt feature in a smartphone, a native app would be the best choice because of its superior graphics and access to hardware sensors. Someone wanting to create an app that allowed the phone to stream content from a DVR would find that a native app is the best fit.
Web apps are excellent choices for any company looking to create a subscription type service. News, weather, and the like are perfectly suited for the easily refreshed web app. Also, most people look for this type of company online before thinking of going to an app store. However, web apps are not limited to subscriptions. For a small business who is just starting out and wants to be available across multiple platforms and devices, web apps offer a cost-effective and quick solution.
It is possible to use both native and web apps. Each will offer the user with different features and be available no matter where they are mobile device or desktop/laptop computer. Retail businesses may find this a good option for them, increasing access across platforms. However, this is an expensive proposition for most companies. Still, it is an excellent way to use the technology to its best advantage.
Mobile computing is here to stay. Businesses will have to adapt to this. Even though mobile applications are still young, they have already made an indelible impact on society. As mobile devices improve and evolve, the mobile web, native apps and web apps will become increasingly omnipresent. Right now, native applications are the preferred option. They offer the most features and best environment for users.
This technology is new not just for developers, but for users as well. Users have taken to mobile applications very quickly, but are still learning about them.
While that learning curve continues, native applications have the advantage. Users are familiar and comfortable with them. But things like HTML5 are closing the quality gap between web apps and native apps. Users will be drawn to whichever provides the best experience for them. Given the rapid adoption of the initial technology, it stands to reason; they will just as quickly adopt the next step.
Businesses need to stay on top of computing trends. The internet is where most of the customers are. Smartphones, tablets and other mobile devices create an opportunity for businesses to connect with their base in new and unique ways via apps.
Having a mobile website is imperative for businesses to be found, but creating applications can take that to a new level. Native applications offer companies more features and better environment for their customers, but come with limits on platforms and high cost.
Web apps are catching up to native apps in terms of quality and performance, but still lag. However, they are lower in cost and can be deployed everywhere. Choosing between the two is dependent on the unique situation of every business. However, businesses must make that choice.