Enterprise Mobility

By Dan Cornish

Extending enterprise solutions and content to mobile devices has become a top priority for most organizations. However, this presents the dilemma of defining a strategy for mobile applications. In other words, do you build web, hybrid, or native applications?

When it comes to developing mobile applications, there is no one size fits all approach. A common mistake we see companies make is choosing a mobile platform based upon incomplete knowledge and not having a deep grasp of application requirements. We may remember a few years ago when Mark Zuckerberg famously slammed the HTML5/web-based approach for Facebook’s app. Switching to a native app was the right move for Facebook, but that doesn’t mean the web approach is not the right fit for your situation. Above all, we should let application requirements drive the decision on whether you develop a web, hybrid, or native mobile application.

So what’s the difference between web, hybrid, and native? A web app is simply a responsive (i.e. the layout adjusts to best fit the screen size) mobile website. Web apps are accessed by your mobile browser, as opposed to downloading and installing the app from the app stores. A hybrid app is developed using web technologies (e.g. HTML5, CSS and JavaScript), but then placed in a native wrapper. This wrapper is provided by platforms such as PhoneGap (now called Apache Cordova) and allows you to distribute the app in the app stores and gives you access to some device level functionality (e.g. push notifications and offline access). It’s important to note that both web and hybrid apps run within the context of the browser engine, which has performance implications. In other words, web and hybrid apps are treated like second-class citizens on the device. A native application on the other hand, runs directly on the device’s operating system. So, it’s treated like a first-class citizen on the device, which means a native app is superior in performance and usability, because it has full access to the device’s memory and processing power. Fortunately, there are tools available that allow you to develop native apps using your existing web development skills that target all the major platforms (iOS, Android, and Windows). This keeps development and maintenance costs down.

Ok that’s great, but which approach is better? The answer is unequivocally, it depends. Every situation is different, which is why we need let your specific application requirements drive the decision. In a nutshell, a web app can be developed the fastest and for the least amount of money. Web apps also have the broadest reach (i.e. any device created within the last few years should be able to run the app) and have the simplest deployment model (i.e. deploying and updating your app simply means updating files on the web server). That being said, there are certain things that a web app can’t do (e.g. push notifications, offline access, barcode scanner, etc.). If your app has any such requirements, then you’re only choice is to go with a hybrid or native approach. Due to the performance and usability gains you get with a native app, it’s difficult to think of a situation where you’d want to go with a hybrid approach over native.

That doesn’t mean native is always the right call. For example, we helped the Perot Museum of Nature and Science implement iPad self-service kiosks for customers purchasing museum tickets and parking. The overall objectives of the kiosk solution were to reduce wait times for customers, especially during peak periods (e.g. spring break and holidays), as well as minimize staffing needs to support the concierge desk. After diving deeper into the requirements, we realized we could get the job done with a web only approach, which meant we could get to market the quickest for the least amount of development cost.

If you’re contemplating developing a mobile app or extending existing line of business applications to mobile devices, contact Integrated Services and we can help you navigate those waters to define the right mobile strategy for your organization.

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