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Native Apps vs Web Apps

By ematean
Dec. 7, 2012

HTML5 is a new technology that allows developers to build rich web based apps that run on any device or platform. This opens up the possibility of building the app once and running it on multiple platforms without any special translations, conversions or re-programming, using modern, standards compliant web browser. Once a web app is launched, users on iPhones, iPads, Android phones, the Kindle Fire and Windows Phones can all access the same app and run it just as well as on any other platform. Native apps only work on the one platform they were built for, they take longer and cost more to build than a web app. This begs the question, why bother with native apps?

The answer lies with the current state of technology, which gives native apps a superior experience. This however will only last as long as we’re stuck with the existing technology.

Looking at the current state of technology, we can make a comparison on what web apps shortcomings are and in which area it is already ahead of native apps.

Distribution: Native apps are easy to find and install. Apple store, Good Play, Kindle store, Microsoft app store all provides a centralized location to download any platform specific apps, with robust communities. This allows for wielding a great amount of control and influence on the distribution of the apps in the market place. Web apps still have quite a ways to go until a robust marketplace can be created, even ones created by independent retailers rather than operating system creators.

Advantage: Native Apps

Build Time and Cost: Build time and cost is one area where Web apps will shine and have clear advantage. Even though such an advantage is not apparent if the target is a single environment. Once there is a shift to multiple devices, and operating systems, the build time and cost for Native apps will increase dramatically.

Advantage: Web App

Updates: Having an out-of-date web app is virtually impossible. Think about loading a website. Each time a visitor loads a site, he or she is loading the latest version from the server. This isn’t the case with native apps whose process has more of a manual component to it. Typical mobile users update their apps very infrequently; meaning the user base for a particular native app is spread across multiple versions. Web apps mean that the users will never have to worry about updates.

Advantage: Web App

Hardware Interfacing: When it comes to interfacing with the hardware, native apps integrate seamlessly with the phone’s hardware. This includes accelerometer, GPS, or camera. However, web apps are still limited to accessing only the GPS.

Advantage: Native Apps

Usability and Performance: Currently, when it comes to usability and performance, native apps are unmatched in comparison to web apps. Applications tailored specifically to a certain OS and hardware will in most cases outperform a general, web-based app.

Advantage: Native app

So, what does the future hold for web apps? There is an incredible amount of faith and energy surrounding HTML5 - and a lot of that is being driven by the need to escape from the fragmentation trap that mobile has fallen into. The idea of develop it once, publish everywhere is dream worth pursuing. The issue with performance and compatibility can be resolved fairly easily with an increase in hardware and network speeds, as well as mobile OS developers making the browsers more standards compliant. Web apps indeed have a bright and fruitful future ahead. In the next few years, with HTML5, the mobile web is destined to be the best way to share, interact with, and enjoy content on your portable device.

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