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The Great Mobile Debate: Native Apps vs. HTML 5

November 12, 2012 By Joe Lindfeldt
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By 2017, Swedish mobile phone provider Ericsson estimates that there will be 9 billion mobile subscriptions worldwide, including nearly 3 billion smartphones (pdf). With more people than ever accessing information via mobile devices, it’s essential marketers provide mobile-friendly content to multiple devices to reach existing and prospective customers.

In today’s environment, where 87 percent of the world has a mobile-cellular subscription (pdf). businesses cannot afford to lose a significant portion of the mobile audience due to incompatibility with certain browsers, devices or platforms. For a company to reach its mobile target market, it must provide online content that spans multiple devices and platforms.

The cross-platform experience matured dramatically in 2011 with the introduction of HTML 5, a new Web standard that is expected to be an official W3C specification by 2014. HTML 5 mobile Web apps deliver richer user experiences and greater complexity of graphics with game-like interactivity. Prior to this improvement, those who deployed content were limited to Adobe Flash, which is incompatible with some of the most popular mobile platforms.

Mobile compatibility wasn’t even a consideration for companies developing Web experiences, until recently. According to research by Ericsson, approximately 40 percent of all mobile phones sold in Q2 of 2012 were smartphones. This trend has driven mobile compatibility toward the top of the priority list, and a focus on mobile optimization has become a base-level requirement. Marketers now routinely consider, “How will this app work on an iPhone or an Android or a Samsung tablet?” Ultimately, awareness of this critical engagement element leads to higher quality and more satisfying user experiences.

Trends suggest the future lies in cross-platform development with HTML 5; however, mobile apps still make sense in many situations. When choosing between a native app and a mobile website, program intent and objectives should guide the decision-making process.

Below are some key considerations to ensure the delivery of a high-quality user experience and the achievement of business goals when choosing to develop either a Web or native app:

  • Platform Integration: Does your content need to be integrated with other native apps on the device—such as email, cameras, contact lists or other hardware controls? If so, only a native app can access these device items.
  • Usage Location: Evaluate how and where the content will be used. If it needs to be accessed in an environment without Internet access, like a trail guide for a national park, a native app is essential.
  • Cost and Availability of Resources: Think about your app development budget. Keep in mind that to create a Web app, only knowledge of standard Web technologies, such as HTML and CSS, is required. When coding native apps, expertise in various SDKs and lesser-known, specialized languages—such as Objective-C or Python—are necessary.
  • Speed to Market: How quickly are you trying to launch your app? With Web apps, the launch is not delayed by the typical native app review process, which can take a week to several months. Also, content can be exactly as the provider specifies—without concern for distribution requirements often imposed by various App stores.
  • Content Updates: Will you need to update your content with breaking news or new products? With mobile Web apps, content and graphics can be easily and quickly updated, swapped out and rearranged using a content management system. Alternatively, for a native app, content updates must be re-coded and re-deployed, which can be quite time-consuming and costly.

The reasons for choosing to develop a Web app or native app ultimately come down to your company’s business objectives and how you want your customers to engage with your company and its content. Most importantly, always remember that it’s your customer who is the target—not the device.



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