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Mobile IoT: Article

Mobile Web or Native Apps

Which one suits your enterprise?

Will native applications be the dominant and preferred form of interaction or will new technologies like HTML5 make web apps more preferable? These are the two major ways applications are supported in a mobile platform:

  • Native Application: It is essentially a bundle of software that can run on a smartphone or tablet. Native apps are specific to particular mobile platform.
  • Mobile Web: Refers to browser-based experience on mobile devices. Mobile websites can essentially run across any platform with a built-in browser.

Mobile presence is no longer an option for organizations so business and technology leaders need to decide on a mobile application development strategy to make best use of their budget. This article highlights the strengths of mobile web and native apps that will help make an implementation choice.

Mobile Web
Mobile web refers to a browser-based Internet experience on mobile devices. It's preferred over native apps for the following reasons:

  • Write once run anywhere: Uses browser-rendering language like HTML/CSS/JS so ideally should run on any web browser
  • Skills: Not much new skills other than web technologies needed for development of mobile web apps.
  • Overall cost: Development and maintenance costs are less
  • Wider reach of mobile users: Mobile web applications will be accessible in  most mobiles with browser, even non-smartphones
  • Need not have any revenue sharing relationship with mobile service providers to roll out
  • Change management procedure is not complex as ideally a single code base for the application is maintained to support any mobile device

Below are few active happenings in the mobile web space that could make it a platform of choice in future:

  • Mobile processor speeds keep increasing aiding browser performance
  • Javascript frameworks (Sproutcore, JQuery Mobile etc.) that help develop web apps with rich UI similar to that of native apps
  • HTML5 could be bring an evolution in mobile web applications with capabilities such as geo location services, rich graphics, display audio & video, offline web apps etc.

Mobile web may not always be an apt platform of choice for all applications; it more often suits applications like shopping/services that are used to research and look things up.

As per the Forrester research firm, current behavior suggests consumers use mobile web and native apps almost equally - 50% of European and 60% of US customers who downloaded native apps also access Internet via mobile phones daily. So, in general heavy app users are also heavy mobile web users.

Native Apps
Native applications are specific to a particular mobile platform. It invites users to take advantage of device features such as accelerometer, GPS, and camera roll. It offers superior qualities compared to the mobile web in the following areas:

  • Performance: Application is tuned for target device operating system and hardware
  • Native apps provide rich user interfaces and follow a common look and feel (because of native programming model)
  • Brand awareness: Customers have the client application with a brand name in a device palette ready to launch anytime/anywhere
  • Offers full functionality: Able to leverage device features such as accelerator, location based services, and video capabilities. Performance and battery usage are better on native applications.
  • Ability to navigate without Internet connectivity
  • Stronger engagement: Native apps can capture customer behavior and give contextual information, offers etc.

Native Apps demands a larger budget compared to mobile web due to higher development costs and distribution fees.

For highly interactive applications like games that require complex 2D/3D graphics native applications may be the only option.

Summary
We highlighted the strong areas of mobile web and native apps that can be considered when deciding on the approach for launching mobile applications. In general, native apps fulfill “lean back” role for customers while mobile web provide a “lean forward” role in terms of user experience.

Forrester Research contends that the distinction between the native apps and mobile web is blurring because of evolutions in HTML5 and JavaScript frameworks in the mobile web space. Also, mobile web may be the platform of choice in the next two to three years as HTML5 matures per industry experts.

Finally, to have a mobile web or native app may not be an either or choice and it needs to be decided based on various factors such as enterprise goals, objectives, target audience, target devices, and budget. In general, the industry trend is to start with the mobile web (low cost and wider coverage) and then support native apps for one or two major players (like iOS, Android) for better brand awareness and customer engagement.

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M.Ravi is a Senior Technical Architect, specialized in providing architecture and design solutions on broad of spectrum of areas such as JEE, SOA, ESB, BI, CRM & SAS.

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