Mobile Application types and business choice

  Aug 8, 2013 8:04:49 AM

Mobile applications and the market scenario has evolved so much in the last decade in tandem with the technologies and standards. The competition and time to market  to do business has become cut throat.  An app is a real estate that struggles so much to find its place in the menu of a phone.

This directly has impact on the the things that one need to decide early in stage in the mobile application development process as how to build and deploy an app. The options available today are,

  1. Native Applications
  2. Web Applications &
  3. Hybrid Applications

Let us have a crisp understanding of these before deciding which one to choose.

Native Applications: A native app is an app for a certain mobile device (smartphone, tablet , etc) which is coded with a specific programming language (like Objective C for iOS, Java for Android) and installed directly onto the device. End users typically acquire these apps through an online app store.

  • A native app generally makes use of the phone’s available features such as camera, geolocation, address book etc.
  • A native app is specific to the mobile phone  it is developed/run on.  Meaning, it is tied to a mobile platform and to the particular mobile device.

Web Applications: Web applications are nothing but the mobile web portals that are designed, customized and hosted specifically for mobiles. They are accessed through the mobile device’s web browser using a URL.

  • Web apps can’t make use of phone’s features like camera, addressbook etc.
  • A web app again can be,
    • Dedicated web app:  This is a mobile web site tailored to a specific platform or form factor of the phone exclusively. For eg, an app which is designed for Android and iOS, but not for other smartphones or feature phones.
    • Generic web app: This is a mobile web site designed to match every web-enabled phone.

Hybrid Applications: These are the mobile apps that offer interesting compromise/mix between native and web. A hybrid app is a native app with embedded HTML.  Using a development framework a hybrid app is built using HTML, JavaScript and JSS wherein the necessary native C/Java calls are made via Javascript.

  • Hybrid apps are cross-platform applications that use web technologies (such as HTML, JavaScript and CSS), while still accessing the phone’s features.
  • Selected portions of the app can be written using web technologies. The web portions can be downloaded from the web, or packaged within the app.
  • An hybrid app is NOT tied to any platform or any particular mobile device. So, essentially it can run on any device once built. Write Once Run Anywhere (WORA) type of app.

Now, let us see a comparison between these using some of the mobile  application characteristics.

Native

Hybrid

Web

Speed Fastest Faster Faster
Powerful High Moderate Less
Installable Yes No No
Internet Access Not necessarily Must Must
Phone Feature Access Full Full Limited
Dev Cost Expensive Reasonable Less
App Store Available Available Not Available
Cross Platform No Yes Partial

Business Choice: As you see we definitely have more options which score high in their own way.  If a mobile application is mainly used to display and interact with online content or services, a web app would be the best choice. On the other hand, if a application is mainly used offline, a native app will offer a better user experience. When a application is targeted for multiple types of devices with rich UI and functionality, hybrid and web becomes the choice.

So, the tricky part is that there is no best choice. The decision to invest in an app depends on the target audience and the functionality of the app. One also need to consider time, budget and resources to develop each solution. Considering one’s business objectives and constraints on-hand a viable decision should be made considering the strengths/weakness of each model.

Authored by Nagesh GP

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