For almost a decade, our industry – and consumers – have been struggling with a seemingly simple question: What’s the difference between mobile and Web?
One would assume the answer to that question is clear by now – after all, it’s been seven years since the AppStore launch changed the game. But in some ways, we’re still trying to even properly frame the question to consumers. For example, should we be arguing the merits of “native vs. Web” or “native vs. HTML5?” (And don’t forget about hybrids, which are some combination of the two, just to add to the confusion.)
A (native) mobile app is typically written in a language that’s specific for an operating system, such as SWIFT for iOS and C# for Windows. A mobile app requires a native, i.e. on-device distribution mechanism, like Apple’s AppStore, to make it on the device. Native apps can run without connectivity, however, to provide any sort of meaningful functionality, data exchange via an Internet connection is required.
Finally, there are hybrid apps, which are a combination of both Web and native, allowing Web technology to be leveraged within a native app. Various vendors such as Salesforce and IBM have also added their takes on the web vs. native debate, and there’s also plenty of discussion on Quora:
Confusing enough? Just these definitions alone will cause a dogmatic debate. The good news is: some of the best and brightest have already weighed in on the topic of Web vs. native. Matt Asay from Adobe offered up some great analysis just this year. But the discussion has been going on for some time: Mark Zuckerberg talked about the mobile vs. Web quandary back in 2012, famously confessing that betting on HTML5 was a mistake for Facebook. Then Steve Jobs told developers to build for the Web along with the launch of iPhone 1, only to launch the AppStore with native apps a year later. (The backstory? He was trying to buy time, because the AppStore needed more time to launch.)
So, where does this intra-industry confusion leave consumers? For some, still baffled.
Technology Choices and the Mobile User Experience
At Crittercism, we often encounter situations where customers have made the strategic decision to build all apps in HTML5, and are attempting to force Web apps into a custom built container that mimics a native app. Telcos, utilities and financial services institutions are among the usual suspects – usually in an effort to duplicate their Web stacks (which they’ve been building for the past 20 years) into mobile apps. The rationale behind the decision is often a laundry list of arguments along the lines of, “HTML5 scales across all platforms” and “it allows us to leverage existing technology investments and skills,” coupled with “cost efficiency.”
What is surprising is that the conversation most often centers around technology alone. Nobody seems to think about the impact of those choices on the mobile customer experience – and a brand’s business goals.
Eli Aleyner from Pivotal Labs summed it up well when he called the cost efficiency of HTML5 application, “a fallacy,” adding that cost is only one element of determining ROI. “An application needs to be used in order for it to generate returns, so the experience the application offers to customers is key,” Aleyner noted.
So, with that in mind – what’s the right approach? How do brands know if they’re headed in the right direction on the Web vs. native highway? In this first of a five-part series, we will lay the foundation for that discussion, before taking a deeper dive into the four key differences between Web and mobile:
1. Device fragmentation
2. Resource availability
3. Business model
4. User experience
Not only will we delve into how these four categorical differences affect the mobile user experience – we’ll also examine how each sphere impacts a company’s approach to building mobile apps.
Check back with us for our spotlight on device fragmentation, and more discussion on this important debate.