Apps continue to dominate U.S. consumers’ share of mobile usage time, with native apps accounting for an impressive 86% of the time spent on mobile devices. (Source: Flurry Analytics 2014 Mobile Analytics Report) Where does this leave web apps, which have garnered much attention recently thanks to the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) and HTML5, but have failed to gain much traction in terms of consumer adoption? First, it is important to have a clear understanding of what differentiates these two application technologies.
A native app is built for a single platform, meaning it will only work on the device for which it was created (think iOS or Android). These apps are downloaded from their respective app stores, and to get in the store they must go through an approval process that generally takes up to two weeks. Native apps have the fullest capabilities, including faster performance, more advanced security features, and access to all of the device’s native APIs, such as the camera, GPS, accelerometer and vibration features, as well as the ability to receive in-app push notifications. Native apps can be expensive to develop as each platform requires its own app, and currently both iOS and Android developers are in very high demand.
A web app is built for multiple platforms, and it will work on any device that has access to the Internet. Because they are web-based, web apps don’t require a download, allowing developers to make updates immediately and have complete distribution control. Web apps have partial capabilities when compared to native apps, as they may not be able to access all devices’ native features across all mobile browsers, and they are not able to receive in-app push notifications. Web apps can have lower deployment costs, as you need just one app for multiple platforms, and they can be built by developers with expertise in HTML5, which is a common programming language.
Mobile app stores saw annual downloads reach 102 billion in 2013, up from 64 billion in 2012 (Source: Gartner), confirming that native apps are currently on an upward trajectory, though growth is forecast to slow down a bit in later years. There is no way to measure the exact number of users of web apps as they are distributed independently by their developers. Web apps have no obvious or centralized location for discovery, whereas native apps benefit from the app store distribution model. However, a Pew Research study found that a significant number of people simply don’t download apps. Some don’t want apps taking up valuable space on their device, others have security concerns, while some simply just don’t want to bother. Whatever the reason, by not offering an alternative to a downloaded native app, brands will without a doubt be cutting out some potential users.
While native apps may rule at the moment, it is forecasted that HTML5 will take over in the long term. A Telerik survey of 3,500 developers, CIOs, and CTOs saw growth in the number of developers who are going pure HTML5 rather than native, with 41% of developers building cross-platform apps rather than native apps, up from 36% in January 2013. There’s also a fairly significant drop in the number of developers who build pure native, all the time: just 8%, down from 15% earlier this year.
Though no one can predict exactly what the future holds for mobile apps, these statistics indicate that it isn’t wise to adopt an exclusionary approach, which inevitably limits a brand’s reach to potential users. By choosing the right development tools, ones that evolve with the mobile ecosystem, any brand can create effective and cost efficient native and web apps that allow the brand to connect, engage and interact with their users. Developing both native and web apps makes for a much more complete mobile strategy that will reap benefits both now and well into the future.