Today, Digiday featured an article about the ongoing debate of apps vs. mobile Web. It is not a new issue on the mobile platform and, one could argue, not even a new issue in the tech world.
Native apps for mobile devices are valuable because they enable the developer to take advantage of the full functionality of the devices for which they are created. Properly implemented, this results in a more responsive and engaging experience that may also exceed what is possible using HTML5 or other platform-independent technologies available at the time.
Of course, not everything on a phone or tablet has to push the technological envelope to provide a good experience. Just as every car does not need a 500 horsepower engine (yes, I know you want it on every car, but just go with me on the analogy), most apps do not use nor need specialized, high-horsepower features of a mobile device.
This dichotomy can be likened to the prior debate between native desktop software, such as Microsoft Office, and their corresponding Web-based applications, such as Google Docs. Initially, native software was dominant. More developers knew how to develop them and they provided a more responsive, feature-filled product than their Web-based counterparts.
Over time, more development moved toward platform-independent Web apps. Today, such Web-based software still doesn’t replace all native applications. Instead, native software continues to hold its place as the preferred embodiment for serious, powerful solutions that take full advantage of desktop and laptop hardware and operating systems. Even though Web apps grow more capable with every passing year and satisfy the needs of a wider audience, they are not yet a complete replacement.
What does this mean for mobile developers? It means that a debate is not necessary. Mobile apps are naturally the dominant starting point in order to make the most of the mobile platform and users are accustomed to the experience that they offer. HTML5 and upcoming Web technologies will continue to mature and, due to their platform-independence, will provide higher bang-for-the-development-buck for a broader base of mobile functionality.
Both developers and users will transition on the mobile platform just as they have on the desktop/laptop platform. So, as with any other software development decision, use the right tool for the job. Evaluate the experience that is required by the product for the target market and then choose native or Web app to fit the requirements.