Stride Tech Talk Native vs. Mobile Web

Matt Salerno is the CEO and founder of Buoy Development, a mobile software agency. For April’s Stride Tech Talk, Matt weighs in on the native vs. mobile web debate.

For entrepreneurs with a mobile strategy, there’s been a long-standing debate about whether to build for mobile web or native. What’s your take?

Native apps are often better performing and have sleeker UIs. Because of this, they’re stickier than their mobile web counterparts, with users spending far more time on native apps. That usage, however, is largely concentrated around a handful of their favorite apps - think Facebook, Instagram, Inbox, etc. On the other hand, the relative ease of engaging with a web app for the first time (no app store, no individual installation, etc.) makes mobile web products better in terms of user acquisition and audience growth.

So, how can one choose which way to go?

Resolving this conundrum requires some introspection on the part of entrepreneurs. Are your customers going to be itching to use your app multiple times a day/week? Go native. Does your success hinge on the breadth of your user-base over frequency of usage? Mobile web may be your best bet.

Other than user engagement patterns, what other factors should drive the native vs. web decision?

UX and UI design are always top of mind. Mobile users tend to prefer native interfaces, especially when performing relatively complex tasks (i.e. booking a Zipcar), so there has been a lot of effort in the last five years or so to make mobile web UIs look and behave more like native, using increasingly complex tool-chains. At times this feels like a disservice to both mobile-web and native - a web app that looks like a native app but feels clunky and slow won’t fool anyone, and results in a worse experience than a site optimized for mobile but designed according to web paradigms. If your users want or need an experience that is absolutely seamless on mobile devices, native may be the only way to give it to them.

Do you have a personal preference?

Indecisive entrepreneurs (they exist!) hate when I say this, but it really does depend on the situation, the users needs, and the scope of the project. Mobile web products have become increasingly slick and less clunky over the years, while the instant deployment and automatic upgrade features of the web can be utilized in native apps through web views, etc. That said, I’m a sucker for hardware, and am impressed by the huge capabilities of the little devices we carry around with all us day. GPS, accelerometers, high-resolution cameras, voice recognition, bluetooth connectivity—these are all features of mobile devices that can be utilized by either web or native, but in my opinion they’re much easier to implement and integrate within a native app.

So what’s an indecisive entrepreneur to do?

Let your decisions be driven by data. At Buoy, we work with our clients to assess their goals in non-superlative terms. Everyone wants to be the ‘best’ and ‘biggest’, but that doesn’t produce an actionable roadmap. We weigh your specific engagement and audience objectives against the trade-offs and differences mentioned above to figure out which mobile approach is going to help you hit your mark.

Buoy Development is a mobile software agency with expertise in iOS/Android and API development, and UX/UI design.

Considering a mobile application for your business and looking for some help getting started? Contact Stride today.