Native Apps vs Mobile Web: Heads or Tails?

In business, the workplace has moved back and forth between centralized and distributed computing models as it strives to balance controlling costs with responding quickly to change with providing a quality experience and outcome. We’ve seen business applications reside in whole on centralized infrastructure, in whole on end client devices and across both. No one model has reigned supreme nor become extinct. Despite the proliferation of web-based applications, hosted in the cloud or not, the mainframe is still around as is traditional client-server. Locally installed applications are just as prevalent today as are web-based applications. Frank Gillet of Forrester recently stated that despite a significant increase in the use of web applications by companies (84% increase to be exact), locally installed applications were not being abandoned, citing “55% of firms are increasing or staying the same on their use of [locally] installed applications”. Many if not most office productivity and utility applications are still locally-installed. More and more company operational systems tend to be web-based nowadays, whether those are pre-developed, packaged systems or custom developed systems. No clear winner in the centrally-hosted vs locally-installed debate in the desktop world and therefore no reason to believe there will be a clear winner in the similar debate underway in the mobile world.

Industry research analysts, consumers, software developers and content providers seem to agree with this. Thomas Husson of Forrester says the debate is irrelevant, proclaiming it’s a classic example of technology driving product development and marketing strategies instead of the other way around. He goes on to say “product strategists often forget to ask themselves the right questions: which product and services, for which audiences, at what cost, and when?” Mobile app, mobile web or both may be appropriate. The mobile analytics firm, Flurry, recently reported that consumer time spent using mobile apps nearly equals that spent using mobile web at an average of 81 minutes per day per consumer for mobile apps versus 74 minutes for web web. Clearly, it’s not an “either/or” scenario when it comes to consumer behaviour. Other studies have shown that heavy mobile app users are also heavy mobile web users. The more frequently consumers access the Internet via mobile devices, the more likely they are to download apps on a monthly basis.

Software developers are also hedging their bets, planting a foot in each camp. Companies like Evernote and DropBox have both app and mobile web versions of their popular cloud computing solutions. In fact, the success of their mobile Apps has caused each to re-think their desktop offerings. Both have released locally-installed desktop Apps that ‘reach out’ to their cloud computing offerings. Apple has done similarly, opening the App Store for Mac on the heels of its App Store success in the mobile world. Microsoft has recently announced its own App Store for Windows coinciding with the Windows 8 launch.

Content providers including major broadcasters such as CBC, TSN, BBC, ABC, ESPN and SportsNet are not picking a side either. They are continuing to offering their content on both mobile apps and mobile web. The same can be said for publishers such as The Globe and Mail, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times and the Financial Times. All have committed to supporting mobiles apps and mobile web, not choosing to go with one model over the other.

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