“We need a mobile app” has become a standard discussion starter in the software application development conversation. The high-speed growth of mobile device usage – and usefulness – in the workforce has delivered some impressive workplace efficiencies, cost- savings, and improved employee satisfaction rates – just to name a few benefits.
But which approach to enterprise mobile app development is most appropriate: native or web?
Do You Need a High Performance Race Car?
A native app, hallmarked by slick design, ultra-now features and super smooth performance, is not necessarily the “Cadillac of mobile apps.” It might better compare to a race car: still a car at its core, but loaded with superior performance parts for the added power, speed, endurance, etc. needed to compete on the racetrack.
In cases where a system drives revenue or otherwise engages an external user base, e.g., financial institutions, retailers, insurance companies, the case could be made for native app development, whose superior user experience would likely translate to customer satisfaction, client loyalty, and ultimately increased revenues.
Like a race car built for maximum performance well beyond that of a road car, a native app will leverage the best about every platform for which it is programmed. And, of course, it needs to be programmed for every platform; otherwise some significant portion of the market will be missed.
With these enhanced performance features, a native app will function with relatively little disruption, even with spotty internet connectivity, and can usually be launched even when completely off-line. The work or transaction simply goes into a queue and processes when the device resumes connectivity.
But leveraging the best features of every platform means supporting the application differently for each ecosphere for which it is deployed, which means hiring an entire team of separately skilled developers, thus engaging multiple development efforts for one mobile app. (Cross-platform libraries are available, but they have a tendency to be less feature-rich than a native app.)
Like a pit crew, each development team member performs a highly specialized task and can command premium prices. And if a trend platform is included in the mix, those skills are even harder to find and therefore more expensive.
Building and maintaining a native app, like building a customized, high performance race car, is an expensive and time-consuming proposition. But if those clean, crisp, ultra-now features and superior user experience will provide a competitive advantage in the marketplace and help drive revenue, then the up-front investment may well be worth it.
Or Do You Need a Dependable Car That Gets You There?
What about the internal systems that don’t drive revenue, but are critical to operations, for instance an HR system or a healthcare quality management system? Which approach to mobile app development makes sense when you can’t justify the expense of multiple efforts? What functionality will be sacrificed if a mobile app is not custom built?
Like a road car that is built for transportation – and not for competition – a web app is still a mobile app at its core. Programmed using more mature, more affordable commodity technology on a universal platform that any device can use, a web app will still provide the efficiency benefits mobility has to offer.
Additionally, a web app approach will more fully leverage enterprise resources already in place, including IT infrastructure, personnel, policies and procedures. Because a mobile app represents a new way of accessing secure systems, the road to development approval involves significant internal coordination between multiple departments.
For instance, if everyone already has access to the host system via a VPN, then a web app makes leveraging that security issue more straightforward, and makes it compliant with access processes already in place. Therefore you don’t have to update your policy and procedures – as you would for a native app that would be downloaded onto the mobile devices.
This security concern is especially relevant in industries with heavy regulatory burdens: banking, financial, public corporations, pharmaceutical, medical, etc.
From a user’s perspective, the biggest differences between a native and a web app are access, aesthetics and reliance on internet connectivity. With a web app, work performed offline will not be quite as smooth as with a native app experience – and you usually have to start with an internet connection. But if you don’t need to leverage the advanced performance features of the native platform, an HTML5 application will provide a similar user experience across all platforms.
*Web app bonus: There are no worries about updating or waiting for devices to update because the app is not installed. Everyone will always have the updated version, because it’s on the server.
A healthcare quality management system (e.g., adverse event reporting) or an HR system (e.g., time and attendance) provides an ideal scenario for web-based mobile app development.
In the healthcare example, reporting and analysis on events ranging from patient falls to needle sticks to operating room mishaps is critical – and mandatory – for hospital operations. In the pre-mobile days, required reporting of those adverse event details would typically happen from a desktop in an administrative setting – well removed from the time and place of the actual event.
A mobile adverse reporting system, however, allows for on-the-scene recording of vital medical and regulatory reporting information. Critical, time-sensitive data is immediately entered via an unobtrusive tablet right then and there. This dramatically improved reporting process can result in more accurate data collection, better analytical capacity to identify trends – or aberrations – and most importantly, quicker corrective action. Ultimately, these improvements pave the way for higher quality medical care.
The decision to go native versus going web has much more to do with purpose than design. The slickness of a native app, especially its attentiveness to user experience, will always win all of the aesthetic and exciting feature points. So, if you want to get in the race, then you likely need the race car – the native app. But if you’re looking just to get to and from, and you know you’ll never need to reach 200 mph, then a solid road car – a web app -will meet your mobile app needs.
Mind Over Machines delivers IT solutions that help you achieve your strategic enterprise goals. Connect with me on LinkedIn or send me a message and we can discuss your organization’s business challenges.