This old Greek aphorism has done many an important turn to the literary and philosophical development of the Western world. Plato, Pythagoras, Rousseau, Hobbes, and Emerson each interfaced with the concept, quills and pens and palimpsests at the ready. And now, with the digital era in full swing, it’s time to apply this adage to a new type of development: technical.
For the modern business, a strong digital presence is non-negotiable. Today’s buyers are constantly flitting from laptops, to tablets, to mobile devices, and if a business hopes to catch these consumerist butterflies, it had best use the net. Though this may seem intuitive as a marketing strategy, the concept bears repeating: one of the most effective moves a business can make is developing and/or improving their web and mobile platforms.
Cue the follow-up question, How?, and hot on its heels, the popular debate that enters in its wake: mobile optimized web or native mobile apps?
This question has a firm hold on the tech industry, though it may be unfamiliar to the rest of the business world. Mobile web and native mobile apps are two successful approaches to development, and each method offers its own distinct advantages. However, some mobile app developers will strongly favor one strategy over the other, and by consequence, these differing approaches are often placed in conflict, mobile web vs. native mobile app, winner take all.
Hint: This is a false binary.
For any business interested in evolving or building an effective mobile strategy, it is critical to know that although native mobile apps and mobile optimized web can certainly be implemented separately, the two development strategies can also be used sequentially and/or in tandem. Thus, before a development decision is made, a business should clearly understand the difference between a native mobile app and a mobile optimized website.
Native mobile apps are specifically tailored to the mobile platform; they live exclusively on phones, and are all about maximizing user experience within that context. By integrating pre-existing features of the phone into their design, native mobile apps can access a phone’s GPS, audio and visual capabilities (camera, microphone, video), as well as multiple device sensors (for motion, light, and temperature, among others). Additionally, native mobile apps continue functioning when offline, an indispensable feature for a generation who’s greatest fear is a lack of wifi. This allows native mobile apps to deliver the maximum efficiency of engagement – no need to close the app just because the subway is coming, or because the guest wifi is just too unbearably slow to cope with. As users spend more and more time with their apps open [hyperlink/ stats chart here], native mobile apps provide a long-lasting, easily accessible consumer experience.
Meanwhile, a mobile optimized website delivers its own unique performance, offering a set of advantages that native mobile apps cannot. From a search standpoint, the mobile web is far more efficient; for the reassurance of a restaurant’s hours, or to recall the forgotten second line of a song, a quick web search is much simpler than digging through a mobile app. Mobile optimized web is one of the cleanest strategies for optimizing a desktop site, and a crucial platform for companies that rely heavily on traffic. For users to find a site, clear directions are indispensable, and search engines have a much simpler time remembering the tricky left turn or that hidden driveway if a business is running with mobile optimized web capabilities.
So, rather than the construction of mobile vs. native, the two strategies should be treated as options, both autonomous and complementary. And when considering what combination of the two to implement – weighing the accessibility of native mobile apps and the efficiency of the mobile web – the best advice a company can follow is Plato’s fan favorite: Know Thyself.
Or, more accurately, Know Thy Business.
Every industry has a specific focal point, and be it finance, healthcare, entertainment, manufacturing, automotive, tourism, etc., each business offers a highly individualized set of products and services. Knowing this, a savvy developer will:
- examine a business within the context of its goals, its clients, its partner and employee engagements, its competitors, and judge on a case-by-case basis how best to employ a mobile development strategy. Numerous factors, from budget to product requirements to existing web infrastructure, can affect which development strategies should be implemented
- have a broad set of domain expertise at their disposal. A strong developer’s experience should include systems integration, cloud solutions, data analytics, creative support, and end-to-end service for their clients, as well as the ability to create and improve combinations of mobile optimized web and native mobile apps.
A perfect example of where mobile optimized web and native mobile apps overlap to produce the best strategy is the Travel and Tourism industries. For companies seeking to increase site traffic and the number of users for their service, mobile optimized web is an invaluable tool. In planning their travel, users will often quick search for information, seeking destination deals, hotel availability, restaurant recommendations and entertainment possibilities online, rather than via native app. And while traveling, consumers may have the leisure to access desktop sites and/or a limited ability to use their mobile devices (data typically doesn’t transfer across borders, and free wifi is often less available than anticipated).
At the same time, native mobile apps have an increasingly prominent place in the Travel industry. Creating and accessing reservations for hotels, shows, and restaurants is only a few quick clicks away via native mobile app. The use of apps for travel extends to unlocking hotel room doors via phone (adieu to the era of forgotten keycards!), regulating the temperature of one’s room, even communicating with staff remotely. The opportunities for native mobile apps to improve travel experience are constantly increasing, and a user is more apt to open an app already available on their phone than to go web-searching.
For all the fuss over how mobile optimized web is destroying the app, and the counter reports of native mobile apps forcing the web into obsolescence, neither of these predictions is particularly conclusive. As herein discussed, each development method is adapted and adaptable to different media, and each fulfills a different set of criteria, subject to the needs of a given industry.
So, before choosing a development strategy, a business should consider the specific needs of its industry, the context of its product, and the type of user experience that matches the product presentation. Understand your business to understand your strategy, and above all, to thine own industry be true.