Mobile Apps or Adaptive Design?

Mobile development companies are sprouting up like wildfire, and one of the most common questions I receive surrounds referrals for companies that can make mobile apps. We all know, use, and seemingly want to build apps today. But I wanted to foster discussion around trends and mobile web.

Do you think the future is in more apps, or mobile web using HTML5 and responsive (adaptive) design?

HTML5 has incredibly powerful capabilities, and many features of HTML5 are supported by modern browsers even though the standard has not yet been officially adopted. Combine that with responsive design principles, whereby a web page adapts itself based upon the size of the browser (see 5o examples here) and you get a pretty compelling argument for mobile web vs. apps.

  1. Apps are an island. They don’t integrate with anything (except maybe a map and dialing the phone).
  2. Apps have to download upgrades all the time, while mobile web is always using the latest version.
  3. A single code base would seemingly be more desirable than multiple code bases for all sorts of mobile platforms.

What is the future of your mobile design efforts?

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About Bryan Menell

Bryan is the Managing Editor for AustinStartup and the CEO of Mahana. He is a co-founder of Capital Factory, an investor and advisor, and runs the popular Austin Tech Happy Hour with his wife.

Comments

  1. We will continue to see native apps, Web apps and hybrid apps going forward for many reasons. While the points you make are valid reasons for HTML5, there are other points that weigh as heavily for native apps:
    1. The app works even without a network connection (airplanes) or on a very slow connection (rural areas).
    2. Speed – if all of the code and assets are on the device, the user doesn’t have to wait for them to download.
    3. Familiar and trusted in-app purchasing models. This is especially true on the iPhone. People have already given Apple their credit card numbers and have proven time and again that they’ll hit the purchase button. A web app requires the user inout their CC info into the app directly, which is a major hurdle. The native app also gains the benefit of someone else solving all of the payment problems. But of course they may lose up to 30% of each transaction.

    Responsive Design is a great development in both the Web and mobile industries, and we will see many native apps transform to responsive, web apps, but it’s a mistake for us to think only one of the methods can win. Each is a tool with strengths and weaknesses. The smart players will know when to use each tool and the ramifications of that decision.

  2. My guess is you’ll see convergence to HTML 5 for lots of apps that only provide access to other services. For example, I would guess banks may move back to HTML 5 to provide access to basic banking functions.

    Consumer utilities and games seem like they will always be Apps.

  3. It all depends on your focus!

    If your goal is to create an amazing on-device experience, native is the way to go!

    If you are just trying to provide visibility into a desktop-centric application experience, HTML5 is the way to go.

    If you are building a game the easiest and most professional solution of them all would be to build a game experience with GameSalad, which publishes directly to iOS, Android, and HTML5.

    My 2 cents based on what my buddies at Corkshare tell me.

  4. I’m a firm believer that for 90% of app (non-game) developers, a native wrapper around an HTML5 experience is the way to go.

    When we released our first apps back in ’09, this model gave us the best of both worlds. We were in the Android, Apple, and webOS app stores, didn’t have to learn three different codebases, new features were instantly available on all platforms, and each store took care of the credit card billing for us.

    With Base64 encoding of images and HTML5 offline storage, you can reduce the experience gap between wrapper and “pure” native apps even future.

  5. As Aziz mentioned, it depends.

    Apps still provide much better user experience and control. Webapps are getting there, but not there yet. Part is due to inconsistency between browsers, other due to lack of discoverability while other has to do w/ inconsistent webapp UX across (while you may implement a good adaptive or responsive design, other you are linking to is not).

    1) Apps are an island. They don’t integrate with anything (except maybe a map and dialing the phone).

    CEO>> Not true. Not only you can integrate much better with more control w/ Apps, but you can integrate w/ anything that exposes services on the web.

    2) Apps have to download upgrades all the time, while mobile web is always using the latest version.

    CEO>> Mostly true, but you can design the app to be smart about this

    3) A single code base would seemingly be more desirable than multiple code bases for all sorts of mobile platforms.

    CEO>> True. Native across platforms is less desirable but again, if looking for best UX and discoverability, today, native is the way to go. Overtime, mobile browsers will continue to evolve and offer awesome webapps similar to apps, but not 100% there yet.

    See this I wrote last year: http://weblog.cenriqueortiz.com/mobility/2011/03/08/mobility-in-2011-mobile-app-vs-webapps-and-tipping-points/

    ceo

  6. It’s really useless for companies, or anyone for that matter, to think of this topic in terms of one vs. the other, particularly when there are blended options. Mobile web has come a long way and is offering increasingly native-like functionality, in a lot of cases, mobile web will be enough. But for gaming? For companies that need offline access to large amounts of information? For access to the full suite of hardware features? For monetization and the security of a walled garden? Native will persist. Where Mutual Mobile starts at is in the middle, we don’t approach any project with a strictly native or web mindset – we understand the clients needs and meet it along a scale of technologies.

  7. Ben Boral says:

    Mark: I’m curious, in your experience, did Apple discourage native wrapper around HTML5?

  8. Ben, not at all–it was never an issue.

    Feel free to drop me a line at mark@areyouwatchingthis.com if you want to hear more about it.