Mobile Apps Development - Native or Web?

By Niklas Heidloff, posted on Jun 27, 2011

There is a big debate going on whether to develop mobile apps as native apps or as web apps. I've found a couple of nice articles recently that I want to share.

This discussion doesn't only occur in the community but even within companies. As pointed out on globalmoxie.com even Google internally has two camps, the Chrome team favoring web apps, the Android team native apps.

While I had the impression that in the past most people had strong opinions to either use web apps or native apps I've read recently a couple of articles that claim that both models make sense in different scenarios. I think the author of the article on globalmoxie.com summarizes it well "People say they use the web primarily for quick lookups, while they use apps for doing. For tasks, games, or recurring activities, people instinctively turn to an app store." There are some statistics on mobiletech.mobi which basically underline this.

I'd add to this that the key is how you want your users to be able to access/find the apps and whether and how you want to make money with it. I listed in an earlier blog entry that there are also app stores for web apps. However some people have strong preferences for other app stores since they claim that they are better in terms of marketing, amount of potential customers, etc. Also as I wrote earlier if you just want to check your flight status you don't want to find and install a native app first. mobiletech.mobi writes "The Mobile Web – worlds biggest app-store!".

Many people claim that soon most internet users will use their smartphones or tablets rather than desktops/notebooks/etc., e.g. see Christopher Null's blog. Since nobody wants to reimplement the internet as native apps there will always be a need for mobile web apps as improved and specialized versions of classic web sites.

Some vendors like Apple have a strong interest in people developing native apps, simply because they make money in their app stores with native apps. The article on theregister.co.uk talks about Apple slowing down web apps that are launched from the home page (as opposed to open web browser first) significantly on purpose. Matt Marshall writes: "We just don’t now how many more tricks the Joker has up his sleeves to stave off this inevitable tidal shift to an open, democratic metropolis". So it feels that only because of this reason native apps won't go away anytime soon either.

There are also several articles describing the technical differences between native and web apps, but I think this is almost secondary. Andre Charland and Brian LeRoux write about the great progress web apps have made in terms of JavaScript performance improvements and user experience improvements. However even though more and more functionality will go in standards they think that "the likely outcome is a hybrid solution".

I also think that skills need to be considered. There is clearly a huge advantage when you only need one standard skill set. Many companies just don't have enough resources to implement the same app multiple times for different platforms. I also believe that many apps are rather simple and can easily be done via web apps.

If you want to learn about mobile web apps check out the OpenNTF Mobile Controls project, Dojo Mobile and PhoneGap.

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Hi, my name is Niklas Heidloff. I work for IBM as the IBM Collaboration Solutions app dev community advocate. I'm an IBM software architect and OpenNTF director. The blog contains information about IBM Connections, XPages and IBM SmartCloud.

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