Native Apps versus Web Apps

There's a debate storm brewing for enterprise CTOs and it will be bigger than the question of which mobile platforms they support. We've already gotten way past the iPhone and iPad in-the-enterprise squabble. By 2012, for every Apple device (iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch) in circulation, at least 3 Android-based devices are likely to be glued to corporate user's ears or serving up business apps at a blinding adoption rate. On deck for CXOs next; how do we support these devices? How do we manage multiple form-factors, different keyboard features, and a variety of displays?

This is not an easy challenge even if your organization is likely to support just two of the many mobile platform choices. It gets very complicated and hyper-dimensioned as soon as you add a third platform or just one platform with multiple device form-factors.

To help you wade through the pros and cons, I've created a strategy planning template and guide in the form of an eBook bundle ( You can download it and share it with your mobile development colleagues—it's free.

Mobile touch Web

Taptu ReportTo understand why this debate will be so intense, we can take a few data-queues from decision trends in mobile Web site development. Earlier this year, Taptu released a detailed report that provides a glimpse of what the mobile Web looks like now.

From Taptu's analysis, "the Mobile Touch Web will grow vigorously over the next five years, and will approach the quality of user experience of Mobile Touch Apps across all the app categories except for games."

Part of me is skeptical about this data. What kind of site architecture qualifies as a "mobile touch Web site?" Is it just an ability to browse content or is it more definitive? Apparently, it's the latter: Web sites that are created specifically for mobile touchscreen devices. According to the report…

"At 326,000 sites, it is already significantly larger than the App Store in pure volume terms. It's derived from the Web, but these Web sites are created specifically for mobile touchscreen devices, with finger-friendly layouts and lightweight pages that are fast to load over cellular networks. This 2nd wave of content shows a significant 20-percent concentration in the Shopping and Services category. We forecast that the Mobile Touch Web is going to play an extremely important role in the future development of mobile commerce."

While the Taptu report was not created specifically from enterprise app development data, it is indicative of enterprise trends; after all, businesses must decide how to embrace mobile devices and OS platforms in two dimensions, for their web-visiting customers and their own workers. Companies are already facing the debate at a customer level. Some are choosing to build native apps, but much more development effort appears to be focused on a strategy that offers the benefits of cross-platform support and interoperability with a unified web-based strategy.

The Influence of HTML5

While very powerful HTML standards are emerging that will aid in the development of quality mobile touch Web applications with outstanding user experiences and high performance characteristics, there's still some work to be done. But even in its earliest debut, HTML5 is rapidly being adopted by Microsoft, Google and Mozilla Foundation. Google is so excited about HTML5, it's ushering it in as, "A New Era of Mobile Apps." is an example of an HTML5 mobile touch site that works seamlessly across mobile hardware and OS platforms.

According to Adrian Graham, co-founder of, "When building nextstop's HTML5 mobile app, we were able to leverage a powerful combination of HTML5 and Google API's to build a mobile Web experience that we believe rivals what we could have built natively.

What's so bad about Web apps?

One of the biggest hurdles that companies, specifically developers and marketers, need to overcome has much to do with the perceived nature of Web-based applications. Native "apps" sound less intimidating, friendlier, and elicit a feeling of simplicity. They also benefit from a perceived user chumminess and a more approachable personality. Second to performance, the perception of this issue is probably one of the more challenging climbs that business executives will face if they determine a web app is the right strategic choice. Indeed, our perceptions are misguided but not necessarily irrational.

Native versus Web apps

As you can imagine, suggesting either course is likely to be difficult even in a specific business context and with significant project analysis. But we can begin to layout a framework to aid in the analysis and ultimate decision points that lay ahead for every business.

As I mentioned earlier, I've created a simple starting point; a matrix of mobile app requirements and platform capabilities with accompanying contextual data points. Your marketing and development teams can assimilate this to gain a perspective that may lead to a strategy consensus. If these resources do nothing more than set the stage and help you reach a decision point, they're well worth the read.

The accompanying spreadsheet included in the download bundle, provides a quick pathway to gauge your requirements measured with importance. Hopefully it will help you determine which strategy (native or web) might be best. It's not rocket science, and it's not intended to be ideal for all planning scenarios, but it should prove helpful.

Mobile enterprise development controversy:
Sept/Oct 2010
Creating Apps
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