Native Apps vs Mobile Web: Defining Each in Order to Compare and Contrast

With the market not leaning one way or the other, how does one determine the best path for its own particular needs? Let’s dig deeper into each area to better equip companies and people to make their own decisions on the most appropriate ‘mobilization’ path for them. To compare and contrast mobile apps and mobile web appropriately, let’s begin by establishing a common understanding of each. Mobile apps are self-contained runtime applications that are downloaded and installed locally on a mobile device. Mobile apps make use of controls and features native to the hardware and operating system and therefore are very device or operating system specific. A mobile app written for one mobile operating system will not run on that of another. Mobile apps for Apple iOS devices, iPad, iPhone, iPod touch, are written in Objective-C, a derivative of the C-programming language. Apps for Android and BlackBerry devices are written in Java. Apps for Windows Phone devices are developed using Microsofts .Net framework and more specifically Silverlight or XNA. Because both Blackberry and Android Apps are written in Java, albeit unique implementations of the Java Development Environment (JDE), it is ‘easier’ to develop Apps that are compatible across these two platforms. As evidenced by the RIMs recent announcement that its Playbook will be able to run Android Apps in the near future.

Mobile web on the other hand involves no downloading and no installing. Instead, one simply ‘goes to’ the desired website using an internet browser on the mobile device such as such as Safari, the BlackBerry Browser, Dolphin, Firefox, or Opera. Preferably, website and web application developers have optimized their solutions for mobile devices such that they display and respond appropriately on the smaller screen real-estates and slower bandwidths. With mobile web, all the benefits of developing traditional web solutions apply, e.g. the ubiquity of web browsers, no need to distribute and locally install executable code on end devices, cross-platform compatibility, etc. Sometimes, mobile websites and web applications are accessed through a downloadable and locally-installed App that incorporates mobile web functionality within its workflow. This category of mobile web can sometimes be confused with mobile app since it is seen as a downloadable and locally-installed App. It is, in fact, a hybrid of mobile app and mobile web.

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