Why Native Apps Matter

Maribel Lopez

Everyone agrees that a mobile strategy is critical for both your customers and employees. There’s still great debate over the best way to build and scale mobile application efforts, in particular for a company’s employees. From a technical side, there are four paths a company can select from to build a mobile application that includes native, cross-platform, web, and hybrid apps. Each of these approaches has technical merit. The decision of how to design a mobile app should be more of a business decision than a technical discussion.

Any of the development methods mentioned above will enable a company to build an application that works. In most cases, a company will use a mixture of these development paths. If a company wants to deliver an application quickly that works across Android and iOS platforms, it may choose to build a simple HTML-5 app. If the company intends to tap into all of the features of the device, such as the camera and TouchID, it will build a native app. The downside of native app development is that it can be expensive and requires continual development as operating systems frequently change. It also requires developers with a particular skill set. But does that mean you should scrap native app development for HTML-5 web-style development or some other hybrid model?

In short, the answer is no. The primary consideration for any mobile application is usability. Despite the perceived simplicity of building apps another way, a business always decides that its most critical business processes and experiences require a native app. Why is this the case? The simple answer is that native apps deliver the best user experience. If you want to create a business process or workflow that will differentiate your business, you’re most likely going to build that experience to run natively on a mobile device such as an iPad. For example, a sales app that helps reps access records, showcase 3D designs, and takes orders requires a high-performance application that has access. Claims adjusters also need rich native apps that allow them to capture an image at the site, draw diagrams, and submit the insurance claim for processing.

There are several reasons why native apps deliver a better user experience. The first is performance. A native app is typically faster and more reliable because all of the features you need reside on the phone. If it isn’t a native app, your employees will have to wait for a majority of the components to be downloaded to the device. Non-native apps could be slow to load or respond based on network quality and general internet conditions.

Another critical aspect for employees is offline access to the application. Many professions, such as field service and healthcare, work in areas where Internet connections are inconsistent. The employee still expects to be able to use their mobile applications, whether they’re on a plane or in a wireless dead zone within a building.

Adoption is another key reason why many companies choose to build mobile apps. Recovering from a bad mobile app user experience is difficult. Mobile apps should simplify your employee’s life with an experience that’s consistent with how they use their phones today (e.g., offering a back button navigation experience on Android versus the home button on iOS). Native apps improve engagement because the user doesn’t have to learn a new way to interact with an application. The third is deep integration with the devices functions. If a company wants to use device sensors, such as accelerometers and fingerprint scanning, it should build a native app.

While no single design method is suitable for every type of application, the richest mobile experience will be mobile apps. Should you create native apps for everything? No. A company needs to deliver a balance between expense, time to market and usability. However, the most important things that will change your business, such as apps that allow a sales rep serve their customer, require a native mobile app.

In the end, the questions to answer are how important is the business process and what are the user requirements for the application? The end user’s needs will dictate which approach will be most successful.

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Maribel Lopez

About Maribel Lopez

Maribel is the founder of Lopez Research, a market research and strategy consulting firm. She's also the co-founder of the Mobile Research Council, a community of business and technical leaders in Fortune 1000 companies focused on driving innovation and business value with mobile, IoT, and analytics. Maribel is the author of the Wiley book "Right-Time Experiences" and a contributor to Forbes. Her clients range from start-ups to global firms, including 5 of the Fortune 20. Prior to founding Lopez Research, Maribel gained her expertise by working at Motorola, International Data Corp., Shiva Corporation and Forrester Research. Follow her on Twitter @MaribelLopez and on Forbes.