As the tide continues to shift toward mobile devices and the mobile web, devices have become more of a means to an end rather than the end itself. By this, I mean that devices are providing the platform for software apps that people are using to customize their devices to create a more personalized experience. While there is no doubt that connection to the Internet through mobile broadband is critical, the debate now is whether native apps or web apps will rule supreme. Each have their own benefits and pitfalls – let’s look at a few.
Benefits: In my view, there are two key benefit to web apps that make them superior to native apps. The first is that one only requires one native app – a mobile web browser. Leveraging the cloud, web apps make it unnecessary to have a device with tons of built in memory. So long as the device can connect to the internet using a modern mobile web browser, the user can connect to content on the web and save information using online services. Being able to connect to online services and saving content online leads directly to the second benefit of web apps: the ability to access content from multiple devices. While having a mobile device allows anyone to take their content with them, sometimes it is impossible or impractical to use their mobile devices. As a result, by using web apps, anyone can connect to their content from wherever they are, using whatever device they happen to be using. Content saved this way is free from the constraints of any one device.
Drawbacks: The major drawback to webapps is their complete reliance to constant Internet connectivity. While continuous mobile broadband connectivity is available in most highly populated areas around the world, it is not the case that it is available everywhere. Traveling in the country and out of range of a cell tower? Traveling on a subway underground? Is the building you find yourself in weakening the signal to and from the cell tower and lacking wireless internet? If anyone with a huge reliance on web apps run into any of these issues and loses connection to the Internet, then access to all content is gone. Not being able to save content locally creates an over-reliance on Internet connectivity and it is not uncommon for a mobile device to lose connection to the Internet. Therefore, it is not always assured that one will have access to their content when they need it most.
Benefits: The major benefit of native apps is that they can be integrated fully within the operating system of the device. This increases simplicity for the user in that one can use the same set of commands regardless of which app they are using. In addition, the apps can be designed to be used both online or offline. This is an advantage in that one’s content can be always available, regardless of whether the device is connected to the Internet or not.
Drawbacks: One major drawback is that devices have limited storage – only so many apps and so much content can be saved on any one device. Another major drawback is that if the native app does not have an accompanying web app, then one’s content is locked to the device and an only be accessed by that one device. Forgot the device at home? Lose your device? If so, the content on those devices become inaccessible.
So which type of app reigns supreme? It really depends on one’s preference and usage pattern. Ultimately, what may reign supreme are hybrid apps that are both native apps and web apps. This would ensure that content remains available regardless of Internet connectivity and still accessible through other devices by saving copies in the cloud.