Native vs. Mobile Web, 1 year later

Remember how a year ago everyone was asking “Native or Mobile Web Apps*”? At the time, the pros/cons list looked kind of like this:

Native App: allows device specific strengths (GPS, camera, notifications, etc.) but you have to build a separate app for each device & deal with app store overhead

Mobile Web App: can build one thing that will work across many platforms and you don’t have to deal with app stores, but you lose some device-specific capabilities and there was no clear winner w/ dev frameworks

Since then, the debate has shifted. It’s now generally accepted that when it comes to building apps, native wins.

Here’s what’s changed:

  • The top mobile players have emerged: as people retire their feature phones, they’re upgrading to iPhone, Android, and Windows smartphones. This helps app developers to make safe bets on where to invest their resources, rather than anxiously trying to guess what’s coming next.
  • The “big 3” (Apple, Google, Microsoft) are training users to choose native apps. They all have a clear incentive to do so: when a user downloads an app, guess who makes a cut of the profits?
  • Native apps are widely recognized by users as creating a better user experience:
  • 1. UI elements fit with user’s expectations for the device (I’ve heard many Android users complain about Android apps that look like they were designed for iPhone. Non-tailored experience in mobile web are just as off-putting)

    2. They feel “faster”: native allows you to minimize delays caused by having to download images/content

    3. When users lose internet connection, they can continue with their native app experience in many cases

  • I also loved this point from the good folks at N/Ng:
  • Finally, let’s consider the differences between Nielsen’s Law for Internet bandwidth and Moore’s Law for computer power. Over the next decade, Internet bandwidth will likely become 57 times faster, while computers will become 100 times more powerful

    In other words, the relative advantage of running native code instead of downloading stuff over the Internet will be twice as big in 10 years. One more point in favor of mobile apps.

No one knows what the next 12 months will bring. But for the here and now, “native” wins.

*Throughout this article I am referring to apps, not mobile-optimized websites. It always makes sense to mobile-optimize your website!