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Mobile Web vs. Native apps


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Building a mobile app is no easy task, and with all the options out there, picking the right technology is half the battle. This report, released by IQ, illustrates the differences between building a mobile web app and a native app. At the end is a scorecard to help readers decide which approach is right for them. For questions or more information, please contact IQ at

Mobile Web vs. Native apps

  1. 1. YOUWANTTOGOMOBILE,BUTWHICHWAY? Native vs. Mobile Web | 280 Interstate North Circle SE Suite 300 Atlanta, GA 30339 | P: 404.678.2004 Version 9.7.10 | Confidential and Proprietary © Copyright IQ
  2. 2. YOU WANT TO GO MOBILE, BUT WHICH WAY? • IQ 1 Each year has been considered the ‘year of mobile,’ but truly, this is the year of mobile… again. Now marketers understand its importance and have seen brands achieve success, so the masses are moving to mobile as fast as possible. But with all of the options, what platform should be used? Is it iOS, Blackberry, Android or Windows Phone 7? Who will lead? And how about mobile web vs. native applications? THEDILEMMA What are your business goals and customer needs? At IQ, we understand there are many factors involved, the first of which is defining the problem you are trying to solve for your customers while addressing their goals. The key question is how can customers use their mobile device to help them make a purchase decision, use your product, and overall, make life easier or more enjoyable? Once you figure out the way your brand can intersect with these needs, there are still many factors to determine whether to go with a mobile web app or native application solution. Let’s dig in. #1CUSTOMERNEEDS
  3. 3. YOU WANT TO GO MOBILE, BUT WHICH WAY? • IQ 2 #2DEFINETERMS What is mobile web app vs. a native application? Mobile web applications are designed to be accessible from a device’s mobile web browser and require Internet access. Native applications (apps) are built on each mobile operating system’s platform. They’re typically downloaded from the platform’s application store. You can always leverage both with a hybrid application that is a native app that contains mobile web content. This approach, of course, comes with more complexity, but you may find that it best meets all of your needs. Do they really differ? Some say that with the continued development of HTML 5, many of the current advantages of native applications will become less relevant; however, HTML 5 is not quite here. When it does fully arrive, native apps will likely still have device specific advantages and will be the necessary route for applications that require features including augmented reality and high- performance gaming. #3WHAT’SDIFFERENT
  4. 4. YOU WANT TO GO MOBILE, BUT WHICH WAY? • IQ 3 Consider the following factors when determining whether to incline towards investing in a mobile web vs. native application. Then, take a look at our quick quiz to give you insight into which way to lean. WHATFACTORSSHOULDWECONSIDER? Platform use The first consideration is whether you are willing to create a new design for each platform (iOS, Blackberry, Android, Windows Phone 7). You or your agency will need to have the skills and understanding of how each operating system works from design through development. Each of the major platforms have user-experiences and visual design guidelines, but there are quite a few differences across the platforms that impact the screen flows, features and supported resolutions. In addition, if you are particularly focused on mobile commerce and want to target iPhone users, you should strongly consider the iOS native platform vs. the web because there is a 30% higher conversion rate with iPhone app users than mobile web shoppers. Web vs. device capabilities integration Another key differentiator is whether you expect to leverage the device’s capabilities on a regular basis. If your application integrates with the camera, GPS, address book or calendar often, then lean towards the native application. In contrast, if you are looking to integrate more with the web’s content and applications, then look more closely at the mobile web. Quick access and marketplace leadership If you want customers to have one-touch access to your application either to emphasize brand recognition or to just make it easier to pull up, native applications are the way to go. This is especially important in cases where customers are using it for repetitive, incremental tasks. With the native application marketplace, there are benefits of large-scale distribution across each marketplace. This type of distribution provides an opportunity for you to “own” a category, establish brand recognition, and implement cutting edge technology, since it is unchartered territory for many marketers. Bank of America and USA Today are frequently first on platforms because they want to be #1 in Banking and News, respectively, in mobile marketplaces.
  5. 5. YOU WANT TO GO MOBILE, BUT WHICH WAY? • IQ 4 Content When it comes to mobile, content is just as important as utility. Let’s say that your experience is driven by content that is dynamically updated by you or other consumers (thus requiring frequent updates). If you are focused on driving traffic to your content through web search, and your content cannot be surfaced easily via a native application, lean toward mobile web solutions. When the customer, however, is the key driver to publishing content, such as heavy uploads of pictures or frequent updates of notes, lean toward native applications. Payments and tracking You should consider how much control you want over payments and data tracking. If you want complete control, go with mobile web, because native applications will come with some restrictions around data tracking, payments, and even monetization. User interface control This factor is not only a matter of taste, but also of skills. If you want to be able to customize the application, the web can allow for more flexibility due to the fact that native applications have standard platform guidelines for navigation and features. You’ll have to consider whether you want to deal with these constraints versus the browser’s navigation for each platform’s mobile web. If you have a strong brand identity and want to maintain the look and feel across all mobile platforms, the mobile web can allow easier customization and control. When designing a branded application on a native platform, the final design is typically a compromise between the brand elements and the native application’s user interface guidelines. For example, the same application in Windows Phone 7 can look extremely different from an execution in iOS because of the marriage between the brand and a platform’s distinctive style. Features Features also dictate which platform is best because the context of use is so important. Note that high performance games, entertainment, or productivity applications should be native due to performance limitations of the mobile web. In addition, native is good for applications that are accessed routinely on the go whether in the kitchen, mall, or subway— especially to support offline work that, if needed, can be synchronized later. Costs and maintenance Another key factor is based on how often you expect to update the application. Keep in mind that native applications tend to be expensive compared to mobile web, especially since you have to create one for each platform. Think about whether you have developers on hand to keep up with the necessary changes and whether you want to constantly maintain these applications. As native application users grow, they will expect your application to grow with their needs. If you want, or expect, to be able to update features rather instantly, the web gives you more control. Consider the hybrid approach If you find that your needs cross the benefits of both the mobile web and native applications, consider a hybrid approach. There are tools available like Appcelerator Titanium and PhoneGap that are development platforms supporting native application development using web technologies (HTML, CSS, JS, Ruby, Python, PHP). With these technologies, you can also access device capabilities like GPS, compass, etc. You can potentially get the best of both worlds by taking this hybrid approach. It is an emerging solution requiring more innovation, but it may allow you to better address your specific needs.
  6. 6. YOU WANT TO GO MOBILE, BUT WHICH WAY? • IQ 5 Start from the strategy and drive toward a decision. You’ll need to layout the business goal and the customer problem you are trying to solve first. In the meantime, if you need help getting on the right path, use this scorecard by placing a point in the left column to determine which direction to take. WHATNOW? PLATFORM USE Web You want the same experience and design across all platforms. Native You are focused on mobile commerce, and you are primarily targeting one platform. Web You are focused on mobile commerce, but your users are evenly spread across platforms. WEB VS. DEVICE CAPABILITIES Native Your application will leverage the devices’ capabilities regularly (camera, GPS, address book, etc.). Web Your application requires frequent access of external web content vs. a single immersive experience. QUICK ACCESS AND MARKETPLACE LEADERSHIP Native One touch access to this application is important for routine use. Native Your goal is to be a category leader in the application marketplace. CONTENT Web The experience is driven by content that is dynamically pushed by you or other consumers. Native Your application’s content is primarily generated by the user. Web You have lots of content and want users to be able to search for it. FEATURES Native The experience is driven by tasks that the consumer can complete offline and synchronize later. Web Your application requires frequent access to the Internet in order to help customers complete tasks. Web Your application has very few complex features. Native Your application is a high performance entertainment, productivity or a game app. Native Your application is used on the go for quick bursts of activity that have cumulative results. PAYMENTS AND TRACKING Native You want an easy payment solution handled by a third party vs. controlling payments yourself. Web You want complete control over monetization of your site, including advertising. Web You want access to all of the tracking and data-gathering you want. COSTS AND MAINTENANCE Web You need to be able to update features and content rather instantly. Native You have easy access to developers who can update native applications quickly. Native You expect long-term use of this app and will commit to maintaining the customer base for it. Web You can only pay for one application that needs to be used for multiple platforms. USER INTERFACE CONTROL Web You want a custom interface, but do not mind the browser’s navigation and frame. Native You want complete use of the device interface and are willing to use the platform’s navigation and feature guidelines. SCORECARD NUMBER OF CHECKS ANSWERS Native 9-12: Strongly lean toward that platform. < 9: Consider a Hybrid approach.Mobile
  7. 7. YOU WANT TO GO MOBILE, BUT WHICH WAY? • IQ 6 For more information about IQ’s mobile practice, contact: Corrie Smith 678.449.2004 | 280 Interstate North Circle SE Suite 300 Atlanta, GA 30339 | P: 404.255.3550 | F: 770.956.8014 Version 9.7.10 | Confidential and Proprietary © Copyright IQ