Lextech News

The “Web Versus Application” Debate Is Still Relevant

May 12, 2011

  • Nelson Taruc Nelson Taruc
  • 3

Forrester Research analyst Thomas Husson recently posted a well thought-out piece asserting that the “mobile web site vs. native app” debate is irrelevant. From a consumer standpoint, he’s right: Companies need to reach their customers through as many channels as possible. In mobile, that means having a strategy for both mobile web apps as well as native apps.

Unfortunately, Husson’s analysis ignores a crucial point: Which option delivers the best user experience? In that context, this debate is still very relevant. As someone who has designed both mobile web and native apps, I believe the best option today continues to be native. Here are just a few reasons why:

  • Data Connection: If you can’t get a data signal on your device (i.e. in a building), your mobile web app is dead. On the other hand, native apps can be built to interact with users even if offline.
  • Data Usage: Since mobile web sites can’t persistently cache data on a device, repeated visits to mobile web apps can eat into data usage. On the other hand, native apps can cache data and reduce data usage.
  • Gaming: For companies that use games to help promote a product or brand, mobile web apps lack the horsepower to deliver rich, polished experiences.
  • Ownership: I think this aspect is often overlooked. You never “own” a web app. It’s a place you visit, and it’s ultimately disposable. But you do “own” your native apps. There is a sense of importance when an app persists on a device. Even if your native app isn’t used frequently, every time a user swipes through their list of apps, that branded app icon remains a persistent, if tiny, touchpoint.
  • Speed: On older mobile devices, the overhead of HTML/JavaScript rendering and loading can make mobile web apps run slower than equivalent native apps.

I’m not trying to trash mobile web apps: They’re important for achieving broad mobile market penetration and for simple utility-type user transactions. But the bottom line is this: If superior user experiences lead to increased sales, productivity and brand awareness, then make sure your company has picked the best mobile vehicle to accomplish that.

If you need help figuring out what type of mobile experience is right for your customers or employees, contact us today.

Nelson Taruc is a Senior UX Engineer at Lextech.

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Good post. But I must disagree on the data usage part – HTML5 enabled browsers can store data for each website via localstorage and with proper expire headers you don’t have to download many assets when repeatedly visiting the same website.

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Thanks for the feedback and clarification regarding data usage. Unfortunately, the current implementation of HTML5 storage has some limitations: There is a hard cap at 5 MB, and you can only save data in number/text form. You can’t use HTML5 storage to easily store images, videos, PDFs or other rich media — and since those components of a web site have the greatest impact on data usage, it can become problematic.

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Oh, and just to clarify another thing: While you can use app caching to save rich media, that’s capped at 5 MB as well. And of course, it relies on the assumption that the user or mobile browser doesn’t clear the cache.

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