Archives for posts with tag: apps

A couple weeks ago, I suggested that mobile Web apps and “hybrid” apps are good for the businesses that produce them but that, with few exceptions, a native app delivers a better, more compelling experience for users. Some recent data from Zokem indicate that users do indeed prefer native apps to the Web, for now at least. The study found that people spent an average of 667 minutes using native apps versus 422 minutes in the browser in a given month.

According to Zokem’s research, one of the most fundamental aspects is perceived usability and overall user experience – Zokem CEO, Hannu Verkasalo

The native app marketplace is huge and continues to grow with Apple’s ecosystem representing over 80% of a $2 billion market. But one has to wonder if the shine is coming off of native applications, at least in the eyes of those who develop apps. There are many different platforms and device types to support and with Apple applying some questionable rules to in-app purchases, it seems that the golden age of native app development may be in jeopardy. While native apps make a lot of sense from a user experience perspective, they also have to make business sense and  that seems to be getting harder and harder.

Earlier this week I posted a Tweet suggesting: “There are many business benefits to building HTML5 mobile apps, but few, if any, user experience benefits.” I decided to post a follow-up here to explain in a little more detail what I meant by that statement. My tweet and this post are intended to spur conversation, not to declare an approach to app development good or bad. In that spirit, I thank @LukeW for his thoughtful response to my tweet, which he posted yesterday on his blog.

In the great debate between native and mobile web applications, I propose that the choice to use mobile web is, primarily, a business decision and not a decision that is based on creating the optimal experience for the user. Even when done very well a mobile web app is, at best, an approximation of a native app. It’s like Nutrasweet to the native app’s pure cane sugar. Sure, it tastes sweet, but it’s just not the same.

Mobile web apps have been building a pretty good head of steam in the last couple weeks with Facebook stating that they will start migrating their mobile apps to HTML5 and 37signals releasing a mobile web app just this week. Let’s take a look at the reasons each company cites for moving in this direction:


Do we want to have to hire an iOS developer and an Android developer? That’s a lot of specialization, and we’re usually anti-specialization when it comes to development.

Eventually we came to the conclusion that we should stick with what we’re good at: web apps.

Facebook’s Bret Taylor

When we update something, there are about 7 different versions we have to update… It’s an incredible challenge.

In each of these high profile examples, the reasons to use mobile web have to do with the business lowering cost and complexity.  Neither is claiming that mobile web offers a better user experience. In fact, TechCrunch goes on to say that Taylor “…did acknowledge that HTML5 was still a bit quirky when compared to native applications.”

So what are some of the UX benefits of going HTML5? Luke Wroblewski lists a few in his response to my original tweet:

  • Accessible
    Mobile web apps are available to iOS, Android and BlackBerry 6 in one fell swoop, but also deliver a generic experience to all three platforms.
  • Consistent UI
    Browsers have consistent back, bookmark, etc. This assumes you are delivering the pages through a browser and not embedded in a native container application like Netflix, Bank of America and other similar PhoneGap-type apps do. Besides, there are consistent UI conventions that native apps can follow too. The iOS HIG has a great set of guidelines to ensure consistency.
  • No Installation or Updates
    You have to install native apps and you have to update them (sometimes annoyingly often). I agree with this point, but wouldn’t consider it a huge benefit to the user.


  • Performance
    This is a big one. As evidenced by the recent release of The Daily, an iPad newspaper from Rupert Murdoch & Co., native apps don’t seem to be well suited to this kind of media consumption. John Gruber reports waiting one minute, twenty seconds to see any content in The Daily. Granted, the implementation of the app is questionable, but it’s unlikely that a native app will ever deliver fresh content as quickly as the Web. I’ve noticed similar wait times with other “reader” applications and it’s very frustrating.

There’s no question that there are numerous significant business benefits to building mobile web applications instead of native, but the benefits to user experience are few and, to me, seem mostly tangential (and in the right circumstances, web apps can provide significant performance benefits). On the whole, when it comes to attributes like speed, responsiveness and smoothness of animations and transitions, the user experience is degraded when choosing to deliver mobile apps via mobile web.

In then end, there is no one right or wrong answer to choosing mobile web or native when building an app. Each app developer must determine whether the user experience benefits of creating native apps outweigh the cost of production and maintenance. 37signals and Facebook have decided that their answer is no.

Building a Mobile Web App? One Suggestion…

If you don’t need access to the device’s hardware, for example the camera, you should seriously consider delivering your mobile web app in the phone’s browser and not as a “wrapped” (i.e. PhoneGap) application in the AppStore or Android Marketplace. Here’s why:

When you visit a website and discover that they have a mobile version of the site, you are pleasantly surprised. The experience is so much better than what you had expected that little quirks don’t even register in your mind. On the other hand, when you download an app from the AppStore and it seems even slightly sluggish, when animations are not smooth and scrolling stutters, you think that app is a piece of junk. If you are delivering Web pages in your application, the browser sets the right expectations for your user and they will be more forgiving of the quirks. You’ll also save yourself the effort of maintaining code for specific devices. This is, by the way, precisely how 37signals delivers their new mobile web app.

My first impressions of the iPad were pretty positive. Now that it’s been a couple weeks, has my initial enthusiasm faded? Am I ready to bring it back to the Apple store? In a word, no.

I don’t walk around in a continual state of awe (anymore), but I now view using my laptop as some form of a failure. The iPad is light and effortless to carry and to use. The laptop is not. Performing my most common tasks on a laptop feels like bringing a gun to a knife fight. My 80% tasks – email, calendar, Facebook, Twitter and good old Web browsing – are all perfectly suited for the iPad.

I’m so convinced that the iPad is the best device for 80% of what I do and 90% of what the rest of my family does, that I’m getting rid of the two laptops I currently use at home and replacing them with a desktop and an iPad. The desktop computer, a big, powerful 27″ iMac i5 will be used primarily for photo and video editing. The iPad will be used for nearly everything else. Here’s why:

  1. No cord strung across the living room floor
    No more laptop cordThe battery lasts 10-12 hours on a single charge, so you should never have to plug it in during waking hours (and even then, probably only every other day)
  2. No burned thighs
    It doesn’t get hot. It doesn’t even get warm. In fact, the only time my iPad has been warm is when I’ve placed it on top of a running MacBook Pro.
  3. No noise
    This should blow your mind. Remember how I just said the iPad doesn’t get hot? It also doesn’t have a fan. The Doors had no bass, the iPad has no fan. It’s cool and silent. There’s also no hard drive, so there’s no spinning disk noise and no vibration. You’d be surprised at the difference this makes.
  4. Fits on my kitchen counter
    I’ve got limited and shallow counter space in my kitchen, so finding a place to set a laptop is nearly impossible. Even if I do find a spot, there’s always the threat of food getting into the keyboard and gumming up the works. Not so with the iPad. In the Apple case (which, by the way, I love), it stands up just fine on its own. There’s no keyboard to get gummed up and it takes up almost no counter space.
  5. Easy to hold, easy to carry
    As an e-reader, it may seem just a tad heavy to hold in one hand. As a computer, it’s light as a feather. Carrying this thing around is like carrying around a notepad (the paper variety, not silicon). Try holding a laptop in your hands for a few minutes, then decide how “heavy” the iPad feels.

And I haven’t even mentioned how great this thing is to use at work (hint: pretty great)!

Do I still need my laptop?
At home, the answer is definitely no. The iPad does all those things I need it to do 80-90% of the time. When traveling for pleasure, the answer is still a definitive no. I don’t even have to take the iPad out of my bag for TSA inspection.

Do I still need my iPhone?
The jury is still out here, but I’m not the only one who is posing the question. Can I get a cheap (free) feature phone and a cheap voice plan, then use a 3G iPad for anything and everything data? Or, with iPhone OS 4.0 multitasking, perhaps the phone isn’t necessary at all and I could just run Skype.

If the iPad has me questioning future MacBook and iPhone purchases, I have to wonder whether it will cannibalize sales of either device. I’m already thinking that the next iPhone has to do something pretty spectacular to get me to shell out another few hundred bucks. That said, the iPad has already spurred me to buy a new iMac, so I’d say Apple’s doing pretty well getting money out of my wallet. As usual.

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