The death of native Apps

Tom Barker
Sep 8, 2017 · 3 min read
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How long before native Apps are just a memory?

Don’t forget that the App was an accident in the first place. The App came about after the iPhone 1 was hacked illegally and new applications were dropped into it. Apple figured out this was a neat idea and the App Store was born. But now the App idea may have run its course. Here’s why. Firstly, a saturated market is killing the App. The average use of a downloaded App is just 1.1 times. Secondly, web sites have evolved away from desktop-browser designs that need lots of zooming and scrolling on a smartphone.

In the last few years we got responsive or liquid Web Apps that reconfigured for smaller screens and now we’re starting to see progressive or scalable Web Apps that work on every browser and every screen size or form factor. These modern Web Apps run from a single code base which is a third reason Apps are dying: nobody wants to maintain loads of code bases to cope with all the native versions of the operating systems. It’s not just about iOS versus Android, there are 11 versions of Android out there and the most recent four versions of Android have under 75% of the market.

Most of the time you should make Web Apps not native Apps. Why make a Web App instead of a native App? Web Apps give you the option of a single code base that creates all of your digital presence across every device, every browser, every screen size and every operating system.

Enter Scalable Web Apps — which are sometimes called Progressive Web Apps — with one URL for multiple pages, which is confusingly called a ‘single page’ approach. This allows the Web App to behave exactly like a native App in most cases. Great Web Apps adjust to fit on any screen size and orientation, often making use of scalable vector graphics (SVGs). This is a big step beyond responsive web sites which still need a lot of custom code and layout design for different display sizes and orientations.

It takes more time to make a scalable Web App than a standard website and most designers don’t have the skills to do it. But the savings are very significant compared with making multiple versions. How so?

Take a look at smart phones alone. There are 5 versions of Android that are currently supported and the most recent four versions have less than 75% of the market. Even Apple supports 3 versions of iOS right now. Let’s ignore Windows phones which currently have a 0.3% market share.

If you develop native Apps on just the supported operating systems you will immediately lose 20% of users that still have older operating systems. And you will have to create 8 individual native Apps, or two native Apps that dumb down to work on 6 older operating systems, or two native Apps with a lot of custom code that makes things run differently on 6 different version of the operating system. Not good.

Meanwhile, users are increasingly reluctant to download native Apps in a saturated market. When they do, the average number of times the native App gets used is just 1.1 times!

Also, don’t forget that once you’ve made your native Apps you still have to make a website for desktops and laptops.. and tablets for those users who don’t use Apps very often.

In short, native Apps are a maintenance nightmare. RIP native Apps.

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