Mobile app development — Web vs Native

Introduction

As mobile app integration becomes the norm in business today, development teams and CIOs are faced with new developmental challenges every day. One key challenge that many ace is the design and the development of theapp, and further, to decide whether to implement a web app or a native app first.

What is a web application?

A web application is a mobile application that functions similarly to a browser such as Google Chrome or Apple Safari, but only linked to key sets of information. For the most part, it is merely a viewer to your mobile website which look and feel like native applications, with no additional mobile specific features built into it (ie. Direct access to phone hardware).

It is simply an app format of viewing a website or a set of information you provide. Web apps are typically run by a browser and written in HTML5. Users first access them as they would access any web page: they navigate to a special URL and then have the option of “installing” them on their home screen by creating a bookmark to that page.

What is a native application?

A native application is an app designed to stand alone by itself and run directly on the mobile, allowing for feature rich implementation and usage. Native apps can implement many mobile specific features, such as piggybacking the phone’s GPS to use location-based services to deliver targeted advertising based on which locale you are in. Many of these features, no matter how large or small, require the app to run in native to be implemented.

Native apps are installed through an application store (such as Google Play or Apple’s App Store). They are developed specifically for one platform, and can take full advantage of all the device features — such as GPS, camera, the accelerometer, list of contacts, and so on. They can also incorporate gestures (either standard operating-system gestures or new, app-defined gestures). And last but not least, native apps can use the device’s notification system and can work offline effectively.

Benefits of web apps and native apps

Web apps are much more efficient and faster to deploy but unless native-required features are core business features to your product, such as Uber users being able to locate nearby drivers (location based feature) or allowing online shoppers make payment via an eCommerce gateway, native apps are still critical in ensuring a consistent user experience and faster run speeds.

Although native mobile applications are useful and entertaining but they are difficult to develop for developers if your skill set revolves around HTML, CSS, and JavaScript and also they are difficult to support because of multiple software versions and device incompatibilities.

For users, native apps are difficult to install because of bandwidth constraints, file sizes, and frequent updates. Changes have to be packaged in a new version and placed in the app store for review and approval before launching to users.

On the other hand, maintaining a web app is as simple as maintaining a web page, and it can be done as often or as frequently as needed. Installing a web app involves creating a bookmark on the home screen; this process, while arguably simpler than downloading a new app from an app store, is less familiar to users, as people don’t use bookmarks that much on mobile.

But the lack of a consistent user interface and design via a web app will dilute the startup’s marketing efforts in the longer run and may encourage lesser user acquisition and loyalty.

Development to focus on user experience

Currently, we are not yet at the point where the web apps can fully replace all native apps, but we can build high-performing responsive web applications right now with new web APIs and libraries getting released on a frequent product update cycle. Web apps live in the browser, which means your users can navigate to a URL to use your application, and installation is as simple as bookmarking a website.

Developers can also avoid the need to make several different versions depending on their users’ operating systems. Web apps are simplistic for users in the beginning, especially because they make distribution and installation so easy.

However, the merits of developing a native app are still relevant in ensuring a consistent user design and experience and also the cost of investment for a native app will pay off in the long run due to strong marketing and branding efforts with better design.

Business Objectives vs Product Development

In conclusion, product developers and business managers need to collaborate closely to identify key factors to the business especially in areas such as resource allocation and strategic planning prior to developing an app. While apps do drive mobile interactions, some apps may cost more than they can ever generate in additional revenue or value added services in the short term but bring forth greater value in monetisation of a community or ecosystem.

Hence, a targeted focus on business objectives and also the decision to scale the product at each stage of the product life cycle is critical to ensuring the right product market fit and product development methodology.

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