Native Versus Web

February 18, 2015

Writing for TechRepublic, Matt Assay recently opined that while it seems everyone wants to build an app, not everyone should. By “everyone”, he means businesses, not app developers. Whether you agree or disagree with his points, a few are worth thinking about as we consider our app business efforts.

  • Native apps aren’t always the right answer – Assay posits that sometimes “you just need a great web presence, optimized for mobile.” For situations where I just need access to content, I tend to agree. A native app that is nothing more than a re-skinned version of an informational web site seems of little value, if not a giant waste of a native app developer’s time. My local attorney, for example, probably couldn’t justify an iOS app just to tell me about his firm. I’d even counsel him against it (pun intended). But when interaction is called for, I think a well-designed native app is always going to always be a better experience. I’m a fan of Zoup!. Sadly, their mobile web experience is subpar, but even if they spruced it up, I seriously doubt they could put a better online ordering experience together on the web vs. a native app. I actually looked for a Zoup! app in the App Store and was disappointed not to find one1, which brings up the second point:
  • Personal preference – My natural tendency is to go looking for an app when I want to transact business with a company on a regular basis. But that happens to be my preference. Some people simply prefer a native experience vs. the web, or vice versa depending on the situation. There are times I absolutely dread using Mobile Safari because the path to what I want seems to involve way more tapping, swiping, and typing than should be necessary. I say this again in the context of doing an online transaction, like ordering take-out soup. Well-designed native apps don’t have to deal with the interface baggage and constraints that come with running inside a browser. If the native app is well-designed, the path to achieving my task will always be much shorter, and possibly fun too. I guess what I’m saying is that a user’s personal “wiring” has some impact as to what approach is subjectively better, given the task at hand2.
  • Sometimes both make sense – I’m thinking here of apps like Tripit. I use the native app almost exclusively while traveling, and the web app almost exclusively while sitting in my office planning a trip. For me, each is ideal for the environment where I use them, and, the types of interactions I’m having with them.

For indies doing contract work, an important part of the job is advising clients on the best approach to accomplishing the outcome they want to achieve. It all comes down to the particular use cases and our ability to relate the best possible solutions to them. If (like me), you’re not all that fond of web programming, it would be good to find someone to partner with for the times when “web-only” or “native AND web” solutions are the right fit.

  1. I’d like to introduce the new acronym DASR, which stands for Disappointing AppStore Search Results.
  2. As a side note, this is what can lead to one person rating an app 5 stars, while another gives it 1 star. The UI/UX design resonates with one but not the other.

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