Technical fight: mobile applications against mobile sites

Original author: Aliya Zaidi, Econsultancy's Research Manager
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imageThe author of the article is Econsultancy supervisor Aliya Zaidi. It seems to us that we can answer the numerous requests of our potential customers with a detailed analysis of the technical aspects of the ongoing struggle between mobile applications and mobile sites.

Variety of customer interaction channels

Obviously, the expansion of the channels of interactive interaction between the seller and the buyer can never be stopped. Both 2011 and 2012 can rightfully be called the "mobile year", since the use of smartphones and tablets is growing at a "geometrically progressive" pace.
However, digital interactive television, which promises any brand “access to the living room,” will become a reality only in 2013-2014, and only in some countries that create the potential for this right now.

Today, in addition to commercial and regulatory tasks, a real technical challenge is the delivery of a single interactive content in both communication channels with the client (mobile and interactive TV).

The ultimate goal is likely to be a single web platform that will be convenient for the consumer, that is, operate on any device, take into account personal data and penetrate us through all available channels. And in the short term, the main task is to unite people, processes and technologies into a single field, in order to develop optimal experience of interaction between them, getting the necessary experience “in the course of the battle”.

From a business point of view, the key issues in this process are the choice between the native application and the web application, as well as the rationale for creating mobile applications and mobile sites.

There are clear arguments in favor of both mobile applications and mobile sites. While some companies cannot decide for themselves "which mobility is more correct", in reality consumers use both channels of interaction, so an integrated approach is the best solution.

The proliferation of smartphones has reached such a level that attracting and retaining consumers through a mobile application has become the de facto standard.

According to Gartner statistics, for the news of 2012, 668.6 million smartphones were sold in the world, while in 2011 this figure was 469.1 million. It is expected that the mark of 1 billion sales of “smart phones” will be reached in 2016, which will make up at that time half the market for all mobile devices.

Smartphones are becoming more “sophisticated”, the set of functions is constantly growing. And that means that consumers are currently interacting with brands through several channels through their phones.

It is important to understand what type of solution is best suited to the needs of a particular company. There are three types of mobile applications: native, web applications and hybrid solutions.

Native applications are programmed using Objective-C on the iPhone or using Java on Android devices.
- Native applications use all the functions of the phone, such as a camera, geolocation and user address book.
- Native programs usually do not require an Internet connection to work.
- Native applications always exactly match all the capabilities of a particular device.
- Native apps can be distributed through app stores (for example, the Apple Store for the iPhone or the Ovi Store for Nokia phones).

Web applications running in the phone browser.
- One application can work on all devices and platforms.
- To work on all devices, the same source code is used, for example, for iOS and Android.
- However, web applications do not use other phone features such as camera or geolocation.
- Web applications cannot be placed in the app store for specific devices.

Hybrid mobile apps, a mix between native and web apps.
- Using programming frameworks, companies can develop cross-platform applications that use web technologies (such as HTML, JavaScript and CSS), while at the same time having access to the phone’s functions.
- A hybrid application is a native application with embedded HTML.
- Parts of the application are written using web technologies.
- Web parts can be downloaded from the Internet, or already packaged in the application.
- The hybrid application allows companies to combine the advantages of native (native) applications with the “durability” or technological relevance provided by the latest web technologies.
- The Facebook application is an example of a hybrid application. It is downloaded from the App Store and has all the features of the native application, but it requires an Internet connection to work.

The advantages and disadvantages of native mobile applications

Obviously, smartphone users are more affluent and have a higher income. According to a study by and Harris Interactive, the richest respondents who participated in the survey said they use a “downloadable” application.

Native programs have better functionality, they use the features of smartphones, such as a camera, address book, geolocation and augmented reality, which allows companies to offer a richer, more exciting interaction experience.

Native applications usually do not require a permanent Internet connection, since they use the device’s functionality and can work offline. However, many of them cannot work fully functional while being “offline” for a long time.

In terms of distribution, native applications have more transparent sales statistics because they are distributed through the application store of the phone manufacturer or operating system. This means that they have a built-in revenue model because consumers in most cases pay money to download the application.

The decision to create an application depends on the nature of the company’s business, its products and services. If a significant proportion of your customers use smartphones, then there is every reason to invest in the development of native applications.

It is also important to consider which platforms your customers mainly use. To meet the needs of the maximum number of consumers, you have to create applications for several different mobile platforms.

The disadvantage of native mobile applications is that the number of users that can be reached is limited if the application is not compatible with all devices. They also require additional time for development, advertising, support and updating for each platform (iOS, Android, etc.)

Approval of the application by the administration of the application store can also be a barrier. Before the application is launched, it may take a long time. The same goes for every update. In addition, if the application is not approved, then, as a rule, the explanation of why this happened is very short, if any.

Benefits of Mobile Web Applications

The main advantage of web applications is that they are compatible with all platforms and devices. When the application is launched in the browser, it starts regardless of the phone model. This means that the web application has a more efficient reach, and there is no need for separate development for each platform on the market.

Web applications leverage existing web technologies such as JavaScript, CSS, and HTML5, reducing technical barriers and risks. A much wider circle of developers can use their existing skills to develop web applications, while native applications may require additional training.

Native applications must be downloaded in advance, while web applications can be found and used simply through a search in the browser.

Since web applications are not distributed through the store, you do not need any agreement with a third party. Your web site application can be updated in real time at any time.

There is also some evidence that the web application market will grow faster than the native application market. This can bode well for a long-term strategy.

Which approach is right?

To be in time everywhere, it is important to recognize that consumers do not use any one channel of interaction. They use both native applications and web applications, so the best strategy is to develop both types of applications.

The decision to invest in applications or in a mobile website depends on the target audience of the company and the functionality of the application. Companies also need to consider the time, budget, and resources to develop and support each solution.

Native, web or hybrid applications?


Example: The Financial Times vs Apple

A good example of a hybrid application is the Financial Times web application. Many publishers are unhappy that Apple leaves 30% of sales revenue on iTunes and stores personal customer data. To get around this, The Financial Times has developed a new application that includes most of the functionality of the application for iPhone and iPad, but can work in a browser. The web application uses HTML5, which allows developers to create a single application that can work on various devices, while also taking advantage of native mobile applications.

Despite the simultaneous use of both native and web applications, FT encourages its users to switch to a new web application to bypass the Apple App Store. Currently, “mobile” readers account for 15% of the digital growth of the FT subscriber base, and most of them are iPhone or iPad users.

Although this is a risky strategy, the publisher will be able to collect all 100% of the income through the web application, while 30% of the revenue from using the native application remains Apple.

A key advantage of native apps is that they can be highly rated on the App Store. However, in the case of FT, their brand is so strong that users will not forget to visit their website, and FT, most likely, does not need the additional promotion provided by the Apple App Store. Using a multi-channel approach also means that FT is independent of one particular channel of interaction with readers.

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