To Native App, or Not to Native App

When considering a mobile application, the decision on whether to build a Native or Web-based app is an important one, with pros and cons to each. Recently, a number of clients have asked which approach they should take. Our response? It depends.

The Cube restaurant in Milan. ©Andrea Martiradonna courtesy of Park Associati

I recently ate at a pop up restaurant called The Cube in Milan, where each diner was given an iPad with a fun app explaining the concept of The Cube and photos from other diners. It was a successful use of a native app because they knew what device we would be using and created a highly engaging/interactive experience including the use of a native feature (the iPad camera).

In a more corporate setting, an analogous situation would be a trade show, sales presentation or internal training event where you have a limited number of users and can provide the appropriate devices. Here, the major constraint of a native app is that you cannot view it on another Operating System. For example, if you create an iPad native app, you will not be able to access it via your desktop browser. If cross-platform versatility is a requirement, then a more responsive approach should be considered to ensure that the application works across multiple devices and platforms.

While the decision is ultimately based on a number of business considerations, there are a few advantages that Native Apps and Web-based apps each provide.

Native App Advantages

Native apps are applications programmed to run on a specific platform or device, such as iPhone, Android or Blackberry. While they tend to be more costly to develop, they offer a number of advantages over a web-based app accessed through a mobile browser:

  • Faster performance and more responsive UI
  • Easier to fully customize and control the overall UX
  • More seamless integration with other native applications
  • Ability to distribute to the public or restrict to a closed group (e.g. your employees)
  • Better offline functionality (most native apps can perform without an internet connection)
  • Access to more device capabilities and sensors such as location-based services, accelerometer and gyroscope
  • Applications automatically update, sending notifications to user
  • Access to native features (e.g. iPad camera)
  • Lower runtime network usage since only content data is needed (since the application itself is installed)
  • Trust—there is a statistical user preference for native applications

Web-based App Advantages

Web-based apps are hosted applications that users access through a mobile browser. These apps are typically “device independent,” meaning that they can run on any platform. While not known for exceptional functionality or user experience, they do have their advantages:

  • Lower overall cost of development, especially since they use the same code-base across platforms
  • No store or installation process required (allowing for immediate, just-in-time interaction)
  • Access for mobile users who don’t own smartphones (or smartphone users who don’t access app stores)
  • Instantaneous (no approval required) application launches and software updates
  • Web traffic advantages and SEO opportunities (more discoverable)
  • Less third-party revenue demands (if you are looking to monetize distribution)

Which type of app suits your company’s needs? Both Native and Web-based apps offer interesting opportunities. We would love to hear your thoughts.

Categories: Digital Marketing
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