Mobile Web Apps, Native Apps, or Both?

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We’re still hearing customers ask about the best way to distribute their digital content and software to mobile and tablet users: “Do we go native, web or both?”

Responsive web apps have the huge benefit of publishing your content and features to mobile consumers across different operating systems (Android, Windows, iOS, etc.) and device types (smart phones, tablets, laptops, desktops, web-enabled TVs, etc.) with flexible layouts that render the appropriate amount of content based on your screen size.  This technique using HTML 5 makes mobile web applications more attractive than ever before as hosted web solutions.  One update on a web server will update content for everyone at once without needing to download an update on every device.  Businesses can present consistent user experiences across platforms with a single web code base instead of maintaining separate apps or needing to publish separate m-dot versions.  Sweet!

Boot Campaign

A great example of a responsive site. Change the size of the browser when viewing the Boot Campaign and see how the site adapts!

But, (why does there always have to be a “but”?) a native app may be a better solution than a browser-based web app for mobile users if they need:

  • To work offline without an internet connection – and still access tons of data offline
  • A full screen, total immersion experience without browser controls (e.g.: Angry Birds)
  • Almost “instant” response time
  • To access the GPS, Gyroscope, Camera(s) or other on-board features without performance-crushing JavaScript and a lively 4-G connection
  • More complex gestures and interactions
  • The highest security possible for users on the go
  • Access from only a specific device type
  • A mobile desktop app. icon that won’t get blown away when customers clear their bookmarks or update their OS

Angry Birds

Imagine trying to play angry birds with browser controls and a notifications bar taking up space on your screen? Inconceivable!

There are bridge frameworks out there like PhoneGap or Cordova that can take your existing web app and port some or all of it to a native app or access native functionality via web app JavaScript libraries.  We’ve seen some lousy performance for beefier apps, and they seldom get ported “as-is”, but for some clients these frameworks work well. Beware!  We don’t normally recommend these quickie solutions as they inflict a lot of pain down the road in trade for a quick initial app build.

We’re also seeing more hybrid apps – either native apps that have web connectivity to access more stuff or web apps that provide offline modes that can still be accessed even without any network connectivity using limited cache memory.  Many customers have both native and web apps for different audiences and do a good job of tracking the usage of each to help prioritize their product roadmap.


Dropbox offers both mobile-friendly web site (left) and a native app (center and right). Unlike the mobile site, the app allows you to access many of your local files for offline viewing.

It comes down to requirements and asking your customers what they want; that’s where we usually start before we suggest native, web or hybrid.  It’s likely that your customers want options in using your apps, but don’t let great get in the way of good.  Build it, validate with customers, tweak and ship it.  Gather feedback and improve it from there. Analysis paralysis is painful and de-motivates a team quickly.

~ Norm

This Post Has One Comment:

  • Sagar kale says:February 09, 2013 at 11:53 pm

    I am iphone developer.


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