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Pocahontas and the web app

Posted by: Mobile Kugel

Mobile Kugel

What is the first thing you think about when you hear the word ‘native’?

 The first thing that pops into my head is Pocahontas.

 My second thought: “What was the name of that *song when she is singing on top of a mountain and dives off a cliff into the river below”?

 My third and final thought: oy vaysmeer (short for oy vay) am I being discriminatory?

 I asked my friend what the first thing he thought of and he said ‘African tribes’.

 So I felt a little better about that.

 My politics lecturer would uit-freak if she heard me say this.

I imagine her saying “Global discourse about Africa and its politics is deeply rooted in Colonial racisms and its contemporary views have had a profound negative effect on the continents’ fiscal, developmental, social and political welfare”…blah blah (feel free to insert verbose academic discourse here).

Luckily, this post is not about politics, it is about the differences between web-based and native mobile applications.

The differences

 A mobile app is software written for mobile devices that performs a specific task, such as a game, calendar or music player.

A native app is one that is specifically designed to run on a device’s operating system and needs to be adapted for different devices.

So if one is developing a native app, they would have to create a number of versions appropriate for Android, Symbian, iOS et cetera.

 A web app, however, is typically coded in HTML and CSS combined with JavaScript.

Whether or not a business chooses to develop one or the other (or both), the design, development and distribution process differs.

The decision is an important one because users of apps expect a fast, seamless product. A delay longer than a few seconds can result in the user disregarding the app all together.

The details

While there are many comparisons on the web, I found Michael Calore to offer a succinct list of pros and cons. These findings are summarized below.

Some of the main issues in understanding the issues around developing apps are vast: internet access, compatibility, installation, user interface, advertising, updates and graphics.

It is an old sad tale that in South Africa and Africa, we have a pathetic (!) internet pricing situation. And so for companies building apps, the native option may be a winner as it does not require internet to run.

One of the downfalls of native apps is that it is hardware and platform dependent. This means that for Apple products, a separate app needs to be built compared to Android or Symbian devices.

Native apps are typically downloaded once off whereas web apps need to be refreshed to access the most recent information.

Web app content can be reformatted to suit the desired gadget, but animation and graphics are not as responsive as native apps.

Marketing of native apps needs to be done in a unique way. Businesses often need to offer some kind of incentive for people to download an app using their mobile phones.

This means that when it comes to promoting apps via social networks, the conversion rate is much lower for native apps. Web links are shared easily online through API’s and widgets.

With web apps, a major pro is that fact that content is stored on an external server which means that it can be easily changed, updated and renewed without the user having to delete old versions of the app and download new ones. This is often seen to be a mission by users and once deleted, may not be re-installed.

Native apps usually have a price tag attached whereas with web apps on the whole, there is no distribution cost beyond server fees. Furthermore, native apps need to be approves by app stores like RIM’s BlackBerry app world and Apples AppStore. Whereas web apps have no such boundaries.

The Hybrid

HTML5 could play a key role in allowing retailers to create mobile commerce strategies that serve both the native and the mobile web masters.

The combination of local data storage, better hardware integration and offline capabilities, an app that is created in HTML5 could allow developers to create optimized experiences for tablets, smartphones and future devices without needing to reinvent the app every time.

While some developers are looking at ways to build hybrid solutions,

In the end

One can talk about technical details but at the end of the day it boils down to user orientated design.

 It is not just about choosing the right app whether it be native or mobile – it is also about looking at who your customers are, what they need and what devices they use.

If you would like to read more about the benefits of native and mobile apps, have a look at this research paper that was released  by the Global Intelligence Alliance titled Native or Web Application? which surveys businesses that have created both Web apps and mobile apps.


*The name of that song (just in case you were wondering)

‘Colors of the Wind’


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