When Developing Mobile Enterprise Apps, Should You Go Native?
Businesses are finding that mobile apps are valuable tools for people on the go. But are device-specific mobile applications – native apps — worth the development cost and effort? Or will one-size-fits-all web-based applications do the job just as well?
With the shipment volume of smartphones poised to overtake PCs by 2012,i it’s clear that mobile computing is here to stay. Led by overwhelming consumer acceptance, an increasing number of enterprises are using mobile solutions to develop practical tools for people on the go, creating a quandary for technology executives. Should they “do mobility right” by deploying native apps that are customized for each type of smart phone and tablet used by their workforce, business partners and customers? Or can the organization get by with mobile web-based apps that can be used by everyone?
Here’s the debate:
|Native apps are the gold standard.
Business users expect their enterprise apps to have bells and whistles – just like the ones they buy as consumers. They will be disappointed with anything less.
|Web-based apps are good enough.
There’s a big difference between business tools and consumer toys. Business people don’t need to be entertained – they want the simplest, easiest solution to their problems.
|That’s like putting regular gas in a Ferrari.
Companies that equip people with expensive smart phones – or even tablets – should leverage all the functionality the device has to offer. Otherwise, it’s a waste.
|Regular fuel is fine if gets me where I’m going.
Some business problems demand a full-featured mobile solution, but many are simple. You don’t need an app with a sophisticated look and feel to submit an expense report from the road.
|Native apps add value to current web assets.
Native apps can leverage an enterprise's existing web back ends while providing a much richer user experience.
|Web solutions wring out even more value.
True, but mobile web solutions can allow for faster and more complete reuse of existing web assets.
|Why invest in old technology?
Today’s most popular mobile apps are built on native platforms that allow developers to create a compelling user experience. Using web-based development tools would be a step backwards.
|What goes around, comes around.
New web standards, such as HTML5, are being developed to combine the simplicity of web-based apps with the rich functionality of native apps. This may become reality in the near future.
David Smud, Director, Deloitte Consulting LLP
Go with whatever gets the job done. The only bad decision is to do nothing.
Many technology executives recognize their enterprise has operational problems that demand mobile solutions, but they are reluctant to build in-house capabilities or engage vendors to deploy native applications for each type of mobile device used across the company. Web-based mobile apps are simpler and quicker to create, but current technology doesn’t provide the rich functionality that’s possible with today’s customized native applications. Many are stymied by their indecision.
Rather than focusing on the technology, consider the problem that needs to be solved or the opportunity that’s there for the taking. If you can do the job with a web-based app, by all means, go for it. But if there’s a strong business case for investing in the rich functionality and user experience only available in native apps, go that route. It’s totally acceptable for an enterprise to have a mix of web-based and native mobile applications.
Meanwhile, keep an eye on the new web standards that are being developed. Some, like HTML5, combine the best of both worlds – increased functionality that can be easily accessed by all mobile devices. I believe that web-based applications will eventually overthrow native applications, but we’re not there yet. Meanwhile, focus on creating business value by solving today’s problems with today’s tools – using whatever gets the job done.
i Patrick Thibodeau, In historic shift, smartphones, tablets to overtake PCs, http://www.computerworld. com/s/9199918/In_historic_shift_smartphones_tablets_to_overtake_PCs (December 6, 2010).
Join the Conversation