Today, effective mobile apps get serious work done –enabling salesforces to manage their pipelines, helping engineers inspect building plans, giving doctors the ability to review patient data, and more.
At Icreon, we develop serious (yet beautiful) apps on iPhone, iPad, Android & Windows. We're known for blending awarding winning design with serious, scalable, engineering-focused performance.
Within technology circles, the hype and buzz around new software or development trends can be excessive. In fact the fervor around new trends can rival the gossip within People magazine.
In the realm of mobile app development there are few issues that have been at the center of such heated debate as the battle between HTML5 and Native app development.
HTML5 has been billed as a more economical way to build mobile apps that developers 'write once, and run anywhere'. Native on the other hand is viewed as the higher quality option. It requires more resources and talent but results in a mobile application that is highly optimized for specific devices.
Each option has its benefits and its drawbacks. But with the heated commentary and analysis from many tech publications, it can be difficult to find a level headed view.
Staying true to our own mantra at Icreon Tech to act as 'technology agnostics', here is a straightforward view of the competing benefits and limitations of native app development and HTML5.
This year alone saw 153 companies from the Fortune 500 use HTML5 for web development, and 34 of the top 100 websites in the world were built using HTML5. While the viability of HTML5 for web sites is acknowledged, mobile apps built with the language are still acquiring traction.
Currently HTML5 represents 17% of the mobile app market. One of the top benefits of HTML5 stems from compatibility with mobile and desktop browsers as well as cross platform use.
When developing mobile apps with HTML5, the app is written and then placed in a wrapper of code (like Web View) to make it compatible with iOS, Windows 8, or Android. The quality and responsiveness of apps are reduced to some extent due to the abstraction.
For instance, if a brand hopes for high intensity graphics HTML5 may add to latency issues for mobile app users. Due to the lack of direct access to device hardware the app cannot fully manage memory for optimal performance.
Such mobile apps can work exceptionally well across multiple devices but they cannot physically access device specific features. Without using services like Titanium or Rhomobile, HTML5 apps are unable to access push notifications, camera functions, GPS data, or accelerometer information. Without easy access to such components a mobile app developer cannot incorporate many popular functions.
Despite that drawback, a major benefit for using HTML5 for mobile applications is the larger pool of developers who can comprehend the language. HTML and its variations have existed for years, so taking the leap into mobile is easier thanks to that large talent pool.
The debate between HTML5 and native apps is similar to the debate between off-the-shelf and custom software. Both have their ideal use cases, and both have their caveats to be aware of. But the debate between the two is often polarized and lacks substantive direction or guidance for businesses.
Yet one data point that may clear up the debate rests with what actual developers prefer. Out of all the mobile apps developed, 67% have been built on native platforms with just 17% built with HTML5. Developers by far prefer building native mobile apps.
Here are the native programming languages mobile developers rely on:
Users also spend about 87% of their total time on mobile devices interacting with native apps. One main reason for this statistic can rest in the familiar UI design of native apps. Native apps usually mimic the design aesthetic and user experience of either the Android, iOS or Windows 8 operating system.
Native also has limitations in terms of market reach. Building an app specifically for iOS means that Android users can never access it. Given that Android has an 80% market share worldwide, this will be an issue. Especially if a brand’s audience uses a variety of devices.
Prior to deciding on a development method, it is crucial to assess the audience. Determine which segment of users are using specific device types and decide from there.
There is no doubt that mobile is here to stay when it comes to business strategies. Over 50% of American adults own a smartphone and app stores have witnessed over 50 billion of downloads of 1 million apps and counting.
High profile mobile apps are even serving as the foundation for billion dollar companies (i.e. Instagram, Waze, and Snapchat). While there is much enthusiasm towards mobile the first choice a brand or individual must make prior to development is the choice between HTML5 and Native.
By evaluating the intended audience, necessary functional features, available resources and budgets, a brand can make the correct strategic decision between the two leading mobile app development methodologies.
While most established brands and businesses are already addressing the rapid expansion of mobile audiences, too many companies are only just beginning to think about their mobile strategy and the mobile experience that helps define their brand.
Having a mobile presence is becoming a barrier to entry in many industries, and an absolute necessity if you want to remain competitive. If you’re attempting to redefine your business’ mobile strategy, one of the first considerations that will likely come to mind is whether you want to create a mobile application, mobile website, or possibly both. While mobile websites and apps can look very similar at first glance, they accomplish very different things.
This guide will provide a view into the business and development considerations behind mobile initiatives, and help determine whether your product merits a web-first or a mobile-first strategy.
Every mobile project presents unique challenges, but regardless of your situation, deciding whether to create a mobile app or a mobile website does not have to be difficult. By defining the purpose and prioritizing all of your business and marketing considerations, you’ll determine the mobile solution that will best address those needs now, and well into the future.
The Purpose and Goals
What is the purpose of your mobile initiative? Take everything else out of the equation, and answer this question first. Every mobile initiative should be driven by concrete business decisions.
Maybe your website isn’t currently driving the mobile traffic you thought it would, or your marketing team wants an application that helps personalize the experience for the users, sending push notifications based on user preferences. Whatever the end goal, define it first and think about the development and distribution second. Too many companies develop iPhone apps simply because they think they have to, with no real vision or purpose behind it.
Think about the target audience your mobile initiative is meant for, and how frequently these people engage with your brand or business. How are they currently performing the tasks that you wish to simplify? Why are you providing them a mobile option? Are they going to invest the time to discover and download your app?
For the most part, smartphone users will use applications for things they do regularly, things that tie into their lifestyles. That's why so many smartphone users choose to download apps like Twitter and Facebook, instead of using the mobile versions of the website. It offers a better experience for regular use, which makes the initial download worth it.
Imagine how users will interact with your application. This may be the single biggest thing that determines whether a mobile app or a mobile website is appropriate. Determine whether you want mobile to deliver an engaging user experience across all browsers, or a personalized experience within an application.
For most small and mid-sized businesses, budget is going to be a serious consideration. Developing mobile apps for multiple operating systems and devices quickly becomes resource-intensive. A more economically efficient option is to create a mobile website, which allows you to reach a broader audience within the same budget as an app. If your budget is limited and you don’t need to tap into native device functionality or create something that requires complex computing and graphics, a mobile website is going to be the better bang for your buck.
After you've thoroughly thought out the business case for your mobile initiative and have established its purpose, it's imperative to take the development process into consideration.
Ease and Speed of implementation
The design, development, and deployment process of a mobile website is very similar to that of a standard website. Once it's live, it's immediately visible to anyone who visits the URL via a mobile browser. While mobile web development will present its own challenges (especially with varying screen sizes), it’s typically a much quicker implementation.
If you choose to go with an application, a major consideration is whether the app will be developed for more than one mobile operating system or device. If it is, you need to account for additional development time and resources. There is generally no easy and reliable way to build a mobile app for one operating system and port it to all the others, especially for apps that feature-rich and graphics-heavy.
Mobile apps may also require a submission approval process to be featured in app stores, which could be a lengthy process if you’re not familiar. The Apple App Store, for example, requires submission approval as well as an annual membership with an associated fee.
Everyone with a mobile browser can view mobile websites, regardless of their choice of hardware or operating system. Businesses need to consider their broad mobile presence before considering how people experience their business in app form.
If you aren’t regularly updated on your website’s analytics, you may not be aware of how quickly your mobile viewership is growing. Depending on your business, a significant percentage of your audience could be accessing your website via mobile devices, or in contrast, mobile traffic may only make up a small percentage of your audience.
Understanding this data allows you to go back and compare your current percentages to those of previous years. You may be surprised by how quickly your audience trends change, and can plan for mobile traffic to increase in the near future. On the other hand, you may find lower mobile browser traffic, possibly indicating that your website simply doesn't perform well on smaller screens.
Apps tend to compartmentalize the audience that is engaging with your brand. The demographic of an iPhone app user may be very different from the average user that visits your mobile website, but you can leverage those differences as part of your mobile strategy.
Mobile web technologies continue to improve, and mobile websites are emulating the look and feel of mobile apps. While the visuals of the two can be similar, the capabilities of a well-designed mobile app typically delivers a superior experience. Apps can store resources locally, and use the computing power and memory of the device to perform operations instantaneously.
App interfaces are more intuitive and operate without the lag that comes of mobile websites. Because mobile websites send data between the server and the user, they don’t deliver the same speed you’d get from a mobile application. Apps are also developed for a single screen size, or at most – a smaller range of sizes, which makes it easier to design an aesthetically pleasing interface.
Updates and Maintenance
There's a major difference between updating websites and updating apps. Updating a mobile-optimized website involves the same steps required to update your traditional website; publishing edits once will make the changes available everywhere.
Updating an application may require submission approvals before being updated in their native marketplace. Changes made on mobile apps also require users to download software updates. Keep in mind that if you're developing apps for multiple platforms, even a simple update may require significant development resources, and time.
Data Connectivity and Offline Use
Within a mobile application, data and resources are stored locally. Since the user interface operates independently of web-based interface elements, your app will remain available when WiFi is not. If your users find themselves in situations where they will need to access the app while offline, or in weaker-connectivity locations, then an app is the choice.
If you've based your goals on marketing or communications initiatives, a mobile website should be the first step in your mobile strategy. A mobile website has a number of inherent advantages over apps, including broader accessibility, compatibility and cost-effectiveness. The following is a list of advantages you’ll have deploying a mobile website over mobile application:
A mobile website is instantly accessible to all users, while apps require an initial download and installation. It may not seem like much, but this presents a significant barrier between initial engagement and action.
A single mobile website can reach users across different mobile devices, whereas apps generally require development of a native version for each type of device. A mobile website (for the most part) will be a “design once, deploy everywhere” solution.
A mobile website is much more dynamic than an app in terms of pure flexibility to update content. If you want to change the design or content of a mobile website you simply publish the edit once, and the changes are immediately visible. Updating an app requires the updates to be pushed to users, which then must be downloaded in order to update the app on each type of device.
Because they are more easily discovered by search engines and can be listed in industry-specific directories, mobile websites make it easy for qualified visitors to find you. In contrast, apps are largely restricted to app stores—which can also make them less easy to discover.
Last but certainly not least, mobile website development is considerably more time and cost-effective than development of native applications. This holds especially true if you want your app to have a presence on different platforms.
Keep in mind that the investment considerations of a mobile website or application don’t end with the initial launch. Upgrades, testing, compatibility issues and ongoing development are much less expensive for a website than for an app, especially over longer periods of time.
Despite the many benefits of the mobile web, apps are still very popular, and there are a number of use scenarios where an app is a better fit for what you want to accomplish.
Generally speaking, the following needs would be better fulfilled by an app:
Personalization – if users are going to be using your app in a personalized fashion on a regular basis—think OneNote or Mint—then an app will provide a great way to do that. An app can deploy push notifications and custom alerts tailored to user preferences, which makes the user experience much more personalized than that of a mobile website.
Native Functionality Required - mobile web browsers are getting much better at accessing certain mobile-specific functions like click-to-call, messaging and GPS. But if you want the ability to access a user's camera, processing power, or send push notifications, integration of specific phones features are easier to develop within in an app.
No Connection Required – If your app’s primary functionalities don’t require internet access, then an app makes the most sense.
Gaming – this one is obvious. If you’re developing a game like Angry Birds or Clash of Clans, it’s easier for users to download an application to their phones rather than accessing it through a mobile browser.
The ultimate goal when developing an app is to receive an optimal return on your investment. You should avoid wasting precious time and money building an app to do something basic that ultimately can be achieved with a mobile website.
Figure out what’s most important. Do you want to develop a mobile web presence? Is the goal to reach a broader audience? Or do you simply want to extend the user experience with an application? Once you know the purpose of your mobile initiative, the rest will fall into place.
It just works.
This is one of the most famous mantras of the Cupertino Corporation and represents one of the most successful marketing ploys that Apple has ever touted. Apple has long leveraged this idea to attract users to its Mac and iOS platforms – promising a seamless digital environment free of bugs, software hiccups, and tech nuisances.
However, for the immensely popular iOS platform, which powers all iPhones, iPads, and iPods – "it just works" means that every single mobile app goes through a rigorous review and approval process. While this has helped avoid subpar software that has plagued other operating systems for years – Apple’s approval guidelines have often led to some questionable rejections and even company withdrawals of highly visible content. And when dealing with the highly competitive landscape of this market, developers and companies can ill afford to get their apps delayed unnecessarily.
So, how do you ensure your mobile app gets through the submission process smoothly and efficiently?
The world does not need another fart app – no matter how awesome it is. Likewise, there is a surfeit of tip calculators, weather indicators, and flashlight apps on the store. To that end, avoid the headache of rejection and avoid making a mobile app that has already been made 100x over. Apps like this get rejected on a daily basis – odds are, yours will be no different.
No one likes a resource hog. Smartphone and tablet apps have limited computing power allocated to them. Apps that excessively use 3G or 4G data, or non-gaming apps that max out on graphics are more prone to get rejected for multiple reasons.
First, they kill battery and they can lead to users going over on their data plans. Second, extremely resource intensive apps need to be developed with far greater acuity – they are more prone to crashes and are the first processes to be killed during multitasking.
This one is a bit more technical, but essentially, iOS comes with a toolkit that makes it easy to access commonly used frameworks when building an app. For example, the toolkit has a framework that makes it easy for developers to access your device’s Address Book. These frameworks are categorized into 2 buckets: private and public.
Apple condones the usage of public ones but will immediately reject any mobile app using private ones. This is where it’s crucial to gauge whether your mobile development team is coding to standard and isn't cutting corners during app development – because it’s often extremely expensive and time consuming to correct this error.
At Icreon, we have an internal motto – "Design isn't how something looks, it's how something functions". By this, we mean that poorly built mobile apps, ones that do not take pride in craftsmanship and have no forethought in creating usable experiences are often easy to reject. With 700,000 apps on the Store, Apple is not starving for attention or demand – so they can easily afford to shun apps that don’t create compelling experiences for their customers.
By no means is this list comprehensive, but these are some common ways to avoid getting your mobile app rejected. And more so, if your team does have an app that gets rejected – stay calm. If you're willing to put the effort into fixing the problem points, engage actively with Apple's judgment team, and have a strong, agile development team in your corner – you can often correct mistakes quickly enough to resubmit and (hopefully) get downloaded by millions of customers.
With a crop of over a quarter million iPad apps in the iTunes Store, it's evident the ability to develop apps has never been easier. A wealth of mobile developers, a stable SDK, and ample documentation on the app development cycle make it fairly straightforward to getting an app onto the store in few months' time.
The ability to develop a differentiable, value-added product or service via the App Store, however, has never been more difficult. This is not meant to discourage – it's just that 250,000 apps have an inconveniently annoying way of covering 99.99% of the general population's needs.
So if all the types of mobile apps have essentially been created before (insert infinite number of monkeys with typewriters joke) – what are the modern rules of engagement to creating custom iPad apps that will actually get noticed?
The great thing about the future of touch computing is we have yet to discover all the unique ways we can use our fingers as inputs. The moment you start questioning conventional ways to present your interface, the moment you start to separate yourself from the pack. Case in point: there are about 4.25 million* drawing apps on the app store and almost every single one of them has an UNDO function for when you've made a misstep. Invariably, that function almost always looks the same.
Admittedly, there are worse ways to force a person to undo a drawing error (for example, you could bury it in a bunch of submenus). However, there are definitely more novel ways to do so as well. One such example is the route that the company, 53 Studios, took in making their iPad application, Paper.
Paper allows a user to take two fingers and dial back their mistakes: see here. It's incredibly simple, completely original, and most importantly, makes users' lives easier by keeping them focused on the drawing canvas as opposed to pecking through buttons.
Want to get noticed by Apple so that they can advertise your mobile app on the front page of the App Store? The answer to that is yes, yes you do – because Apple-endorsed apps tend to get hundreds of thousands to millions of downloads more than ones that aren’t. One of the best ways to do get noticed is to develop mobile applications using the last SDK features available. For example, when iOS6 launched, Apple as well as various tech blogs freely advertised the most popular apps using the new Facebook integration and Passbook wallet features.
Using services like Crashlytics, Flurry, and other monitoring tools, you can see exactly how users are interacting with your app. Because there's always a surplus of new apps on the App Store, existing apps that aren't evolving to the demands of their customers quickly get left by the wayside. To that point, the maintenance of your app to ensuring that it stays bug free, unique, and delightful for users is a rule that goes on far longer than the original development cycle of any iPad application.