Mobile strategy: Native vs. Responsive? 10 tips for getting it right

Since the introduction of the smartphone, the battle has raged as to which is the best solution: mobile app or mobile web?

The simple answer is that every project is different. So, just how do you choose between a native mobile app and a responsive mobile website? Here are a few pointers to help you on your way:

1.     Will our app do something?

This is always the first question I ask. It can be easy to become carried away with the excitement of mobile while forgetting the basics. Simply put, if your idea is just a redesign of a website or a portfolio of products or pictures, just go native web!

2.     Do we want one app for every platform?

If your thoughts are to have one app across the desktop, tablet and mobile, then a responsive website is the way to go. Native apps sit on their devices and do not transfer across to desktop environments.

3.     Are we going to use the phone’s native functionality?

There are core functions only available through the native applications. So, if you plan on using the gyroscope, camera, GPS or any other phone specific function then native mobile may be your only option.

4.     Are we going to provide a personal experience?

Smartphones are great at delivering strong personal experiences. Storing data locally, accessing images and so forth all add value to a user’s enjoyment of your app.

5.     Is the user interface complex?

This is a fairly big point in native mobile. The code is able to handle complex UI very beautifully. Animations are slick and work in the background effortlessly. HTML5, CSS and JavaScript do offer a very smooth look and feel, but they still cannot cope with the same level of user interface that native mobile code can.

6.    Do we want to add in app purchases? 

The in-app system for purchasing or subscriptions is only available on native apps. People use them and trust them and are more likely to spend through them than through other payment systems they may have never used, especially for unlocking content within the application.

7.     Do we want to sell physical products? 

This is a little tricky. You cannot sell physical products or services through the in-app payment systems. It is possible to build a payment system or utilise the APIs offered by companies such as PayPal and build this into a native app. However, it is often a more viable solution to offer your physical products through a responsive mobile site.

8.    Will our content be accepted?

So if the answer is no here, then you really do need to rethink native mobile altogether. Google may be very lenient when it comes to content, but Apple is not. If you think you will get rejected because of content, speak to a mobile specialist who can give you guidance on the content restrictions. If your content does fall outside these guidelines then a mobile responsive is the way to go irrespective of functionality.

9.    Can we budget for constant updates? 

Native apps are living breathing entities that need to change as the users play with their features. Over time they often evolve to become something different to their first apparition. This means cost. As long as you are prepared for this, then native app is the way to go. If you simply want to put an app out there and forget about it, then maybe you should reconsider mobile apps as an avenue for this. Perhaps something akin to a Facebook app or a simple web app would be more suitable.

10. Are we prepared for feedback?

One of the most interesting yet frustrating things for organizations I have worked with is the rating and comments section on the various app stores.  Users are able to give their opinion freely with the owner unable to respond directly.

If someone is facing a bug, they will tear your app to pieces in their review without giving you a chance to respond. With the AppStore timeframes for publishing sometimes being 2 weeks or more this can be doubly frustrating. But be aware that when an app is truly great, users are just as likely to give a good review so don’t let this frighten you too much!

From subtle to obvious: next steps. 

The differences between Native and Responsive range from subtle to obvious, but the answers lie in truly understanding your goals, target market, and restraints. In many cases, both a native app and a responsive site have a suitable place in your digital portfolio, and armed with these answers, you will be better placed to choose the best solution for your needs.

 

Paul Napier
BY Paul Napier ON 11 November 2013
Paul Napier is senior mobile developer at We Are Social, a communications agency that specialises in socially-led thinking.