Last year, there were almost 200 billion mobile application downloads around the globe (Statista). On average we use 9 apps every day and about 30 in a month (Techcrunch). Over half of the world’s 4.9 billion mobile phone users have a smartphone. Over 80% of the top 100 websites in the world (Alexa) use Adaptive Web Design allowing the website to be optimised to the user’s device for an optimal site experience (Device Atlas).
Ballistiq builds responsive web applications on a daily basis and in general, a responsive web application will ensure you reach maximum audience including your mobile audience. However large and complex web applications can be difficult to optimise for users with slower data connections or older devices, so developing a mobile application optimized for mobile devices may help acquire and retain users. On the other hand, investing in a mobile application alongside your website comes with additional development and maintenance costs. So how do you know if a mobile application is something your business will benefit from?
While a user can favorite your website in their mobile browser, or create a shortcut icon on their device home screen, they may visit your website more frequently if they have a convenient mobile app on their device. Depending on the nature of your business, a mobile application may make it easier for users to engage with your business. For example, if you can optimize your page loading times and personalize your shopping experience for users engaging with your ecommerce platform, a mobile application may increase your conversions. Additionally, a mobile application may be able to retain key aspects of its functionality even when offline - allowing users to continue their experience even when away from a suitable internet connection.
If your user experience benefits from location data, access to multimedia (e.g. photo or video captured on a smartphone camera) or your business objectives benefit from capturing background information about a user’s behavior - a mobile application may be a worthwhile investment. If your user experience wants to take advantage of voice-activated features or present experiences that cater to audiences with physical disabilities limiting interaction to simple gestures, a mobile application may allow you to engage with users beyond your typical user group. Lastly, if security is a key consideration for your application, a mobile device may give you access to security tools (e.g. a touch ID, two factor authentication by unique codes sent by SMS) that make a user feel more confident in their transactions and removes the hassle of remembering a complex username and password.
Responsive web applications are good at presenting content adaptively based on a user’s device, but if your experience involves a lot of content, a mobile application may create a better experience for your users. Typically a responsive web application will hide content available to desktop users to preserve the presentation experience of the website. Hiding content, where your content is critical to your user experience, may limit your ability to keep users engaged when viewing your website on a mobile device. If you avoid hiding your content, your responsive website may become a scrolling nightmare for mobile device users.
If your experience involves a social aspect such as direct messaging, forums or discussions, live feeds and notifications or content your user’s like to stay up to date with - a mobile application allows you to increase the length of time they will engage with your application per day simply by being present in their pocket to receive social engagements as they happen. This can have a dramatic effect on the total usage of your application and the user satisfaction scores.
In general, once you have made a decision to invest in a mobile application versus a responsive website or web application, there are two approaches you can take.
Until recently, native mobile apps have been the more common choice and involve building a specific app, sometimes using proprietary languages, to suit specific device operating systems. If you choose to build a native application you will need to build an app for each type of device you want to support (i.e. one app for iOS (Apple) plus one app for Android devices). You will need a technology partner that specializes in native app development and are familiar with the required programming languages such as Swift or Objective-C for iOS applications). If you maintain a website and native mobile applications you will likely have support and maintenance costs for at least 2 discrete products (3 if you want to support both iOS and Android) and you may need to be working with at least two different technology partners because your website development team may not have the skills necessary to create native applications and vice versa.
Hybrid mobile apps are an emerging choice that can provide cost savings when compared to a native approach. Hybrid apps are designed to mimic native app behavior but will use a coding approach more typical of a web application. With a hybrid application you only build one mobile experience that can be used across all devices. This is done by wrapping features and application components in a shell that allows the experience to present to the user as native. Depending on which approach you take this can be very consistent with a native experience, or sometimes will be subtly different and just mimic a native experience. In most cases, the average user will not notice the difference between a native app and a hybrid app.
Hybrid development may allow you to reuse some or all of the code that comprises your existing website, reducing development and maintenance costs. Hybrid development also removes the cost of maintaining separate native applications for each device operating system. Highly complicated apps may not be suited to hybrid development because the required wrapping may not be available for some complex features, however, the available features in each hybrid technology are rapidly increasing. Hybrid apps may also be less customizable and may perform a bit slower than a native app.
The Apache Cordova framework is available through a number of popular tools including Adobe Phonegap which can be used to design mobile applications without need for the command line. The Cordova framework allows you to create mobile applications using HTML, JS, and CSS. Cordova has a set of core plugins that enable native features across all devices. In addition to the core plugins Cordova has a number of third-party plugins that enable additional features in some platforms. Cordova also allows developers to build custom plugins which may allow you to create a more customized mobile app experience if you have some very unique needs. Cordova uses a Web Renderer to render HTML, CSS and JS code so if you desire a crisp UI Native development or React Native may be preferable.
Ionic framework is a free, open source hybrid app technology backed by a large development community and being used in many high profile corporate apps today. Ionic can tap into over 120 native features and applications built using the framework are compatible with all of the major app stores in today’s market. Ionic mobile applications are deployed using Cordova but the focus of the Ionic framework is on the look and feel of the mobile application. Using Ionic, developers have access to an elegant toolkit of components to create modern application experiences that very closely emulate native experiences across all devices. Ionic is a good choice if your developers are familiar with Angular, a native-like experience is very important to you and you want to quickly get a simple mobile experience into user’s hands without a huge investment. Since Ionic is built on top of Cordova, there will be UI trade-offs in comparison to native solutions.
Choosing to invest in a mobile application is not an easy choice to make. Business objectives should be clarified and evaluated to confirm your return on investment. However, in today’s market there are a lot of available choices to create cost effective cross-platform mobile experiences. Explore hybrid mobile application ideas with Ballistiq today!