Businesses face a mobile paradox. The rise of mobile platforms has transformed the world in which we live. From banking to movies, live sports to photography, the smartphone has made our personal and professional lives more portable and more immediate. But not all mobile apps and experiences are created equal.
Companies large and small face an ever-growing challenge – how to provide their customers with the quality mobile experience necessary to remain competitive in today’s market. What’s a business to do? Go native, and design apps for a specific mobile platform? Or go hybrid, and maintain multiple apps on multiple platforms. Or do they shoot for the middle?
The original premise of the Java platform, write once, run anywhere, offered businesses the ability to create a single application that would run on a variety of platforms, with no need to rewrite it. However, today’s mobile landscape has shifted, and the promise of write once, run anywhere is no longer a simple proposition. There are hundreds of millions of Android and iOS devices currently in circulation, with Microsoft’s Windows Mobile receiving positive reviews and Blackberry still popular among millions of business users. With consumers and small companies flocking to mobile devices, today’s businesses must go mobile to meet customers at their point of need.
Going Mobile has traditionally obligated businesses to pick the platform or platforms to build apps and then find the resources to build them. Faced with this either-or dilemma, many businesses logically chose to punt, and instead committed to Web app alternatives rather than developing and maintaining multiple native apps.
Compatibility With a Catch: Web App 1.0
As is the case with website construction for a Mac versus a PC, mobile Web apps built with HTML5, were compatible across a wide array of device manufacturers and hardware. However, this was not without caveats; more than one, in fact.
For starters, Web apps couldn’t duplicate the look and feel, or performance in some cases, of native applications. They could look reasonable, but they remained clearly distinguishable from applications written natively for mobile platforms. And they were hard for users to find, being absent from marketplaces such as the Apple App Store to the Google Play Market. More problematically, Web apps lacked the ability to access important hardware features, such as the camera.
Next Generation Apps
HTML5 offered a reasonable compromise for some businesses, but was not an option for those in need of highly competitive, full-featured mobile applications. Into this gap stepped hybrid approaches from products like PhoneGap and Titanium. Intended to offer a write once, run anywhere experience, these developer tools offered the opportunity to use Web technologies and languages to produce native mobile applications.
Today, hybrid approaches remain a popular choice. But businesses are still creating native applications by the thousands, and HTML5 is improving rapidly. If you’re a business that needs to be competitive in the mobile space, the first step is determining what you would like to produce. If you work backward from the kind of application your business needs, the choice between native, hybrid or Web should ultimately make itself.