Life is Still Not an App Store – Mobile Web Apps vs. Native Apps for Enterprise – Part 2
December 9, 2011
In my last post, I discussed that despite the momentum around apps right now, the mobile web is not to be discounted. Mobile Web apps offer many attractive benefits to developers and enterprise businesses who desire to enter the mobile realm.
It’s a major debate within the mobile development – will mobile phone users (and your customers) access games, books, music, news and other content – your products – via mobile browsers or through the native application ecosystem pioneered by Apple and now a major link in the chain of Android and Windows Phone 7?
I’ve already explained some of the high level benefits of choosing mobile Web – but don’t be fooled. The native app ecosystem is still a major contender that may be right for your mobile business, and here’s why:
1. Mobile Web apps still have some annoying user experience elements. Because a Web application will always be constrained by the browser’s functions, not the device’s, you can expect that there will be many inconsistencies for the user. Features that they expect to perform or appear in a certain way may cause confusion and annoyance, because…
2. Native apps can access a device’s native features, but mobile Web apps can’t. At least, they can’t yet – and it is doubtful that anything using HTML5 will ever come close to the level of support that native development provides for these hardware features. If your enterprise mobile app needs to leverage inherent features like voice-to-text or the native geo-location services that the device provides, you’re out of luck. If your mobile strategy depends on utilization of any of those device-based features, native is the obvious choice.
3. Native apps provide a user interface slickness that can’t be mimicked. But every pixel counts, as we’ve learned in developing apps for our clients. There is often a mentality for developers to try to design a mobile Web app that behaves “just like” a native app – but just doesn’t feel right to the user.
4. Native apps have a leg up on performance and predictability. Since native apps run on the device (with access to hardware features for performance) and don’t have the web runtime issues to deal with, there’s a smoother experience for the user, even for data load. Likewise, browser standards are broad and diverse, and new versions may not always account for retroactive feature support. Native apps, on the other hand, leverage APIs that were designed for one primary capability: to perform device-side functions as defined by the developer. Laser focus on this purpose means high QA and thus a predictable experience.
5. HMTL5 is sometimes clunky – and not finished. Before you choose to go with mobile Web as your app platform, you have to consider that this is a changing, evolving specification. That means planning for potential changes that will improve its capabilities but could impact your app’s lifecycle. Worried about what this means for your business? That’s where native apps shine – with a more mature set of languages that were designed for complex application development (Java, Objective C, etc.) rather than just presentation, you’ve got a choice of development languages with proven track records and again, a high level of QA considering the vast number of developers out there.
What does this all mean?
It’s unlikely that we’ll see all of these technologies being used to their fullest potential for a little while yet, but we are hurtling forward towards that future. Cross-platform mobile Web apps offer so many benefits because they are not tied to a device, but that disassociation also means that they just aren’t as powerful as native apps yet.
That’s why we’re here to help you work through the decision. Let us know your mobile business needs, and we can guide you through building a mobility strategy considering all these points, but most importantly, considering what platform is right for your users.