Have experienced one of these scenarios?

  • Your CEO just got an iPad and wants you to build an app as part of your marketing efforts. But only 10% of your audience is using iOS.
  • Your best customers insist that if you had an app specifically designed for their (insert new toy here) device to access account information and order online, they would do more business with you. (But none of them even use the extranet you built.)
  • Your sales force wants an app for their iPads, but your distributor network doesn’t even have iPads and just wants mobile-friendly content. 

Defining your mobile strategy and determining where to invest your budget is difficult when you have so many stakeholders to please. What the CEO, salesforce, or your best customers want, might not align with what your broader target audience needs. Establish goals and arm yourself with data. Finding discussions about whether to build a native app or web app isn’t hard–it’s an old and debated topic. But, finding one simple source that briefly summarizes the considerations for each approach is.

Should you build a native app or Web app? (And don’t forget about optimizing your site for mobile.) It depends on your audience and goals. Should you use this reference to help explain the considerations to your stakeholders? Absolutely.

ConsiderationNative AppWeb App
Audience reachSmaller, niche audienceBroader audience and reach
User experienceCan be designed for the device to be feature-rich, flexible and responsiveGeneric approach, less access to all of device’s features
User interface and designAdheres to UI guidelines, looks and feels like deviceGeneric approach, doesn’t “feel” like an app
Internet accessNot requiredRequired unless built with offline capabilities using technologies like HTML5
Device compatibilityPlatform-dependent; written for operating system versions so as versions change functions may be disabledCross-platform; requires compatible browser
Installation and updatesMust be released/deployed and downloaded by userAutomatic with refresh of browser
DistributionRequires review and approval by app store (Associated costs if fee-based; for limited access app, requires enterprise store setup)Requires compatible browser and Internet access
Device capabilities and integrationCan be designed to use the device’s potential (camera, GPS, gyroscope, accelerometer)Limited but improving (geolocation and orientation are common)
Media and file formatsFlash only works if the device supports it. Audio and video may require conversion but few problems.Flash works when supported. Audio and video may require conversion for compatibility.
SEONot searchable on webSearchable on web
Find-abilityMust integrate into marketing efforts (store distribution model alone not viable due to number of apps)Must integrate into marketing efforts
AnalyticsTrackable if built into the appTrackable using existing methods
Social bookmarking, sharing, and blogging If built within app’s capabilities; may be unique for the appUses standard web methods and best practices
Data storageRequires space on deviceIf server side, requires little to no disk space
Development and maintenance costsRequires tools for and knowledge of specific platforms. Have to build an app for each new platform.Same upfront planning and design process but created once.
Security issuesMore secure as does not need to connect to network as frequently; access must be compliant with company IT guidelinesSecurity models should follow standard web security practices; requires connection to network

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