Archives for posts with tag: mobile web

There are a lot of great reasons to build a mobile Web app just as there are a lot of great reasons to build any Web app and I’m certainly not here to continue the great Web versus native app debate. It’s not native versus Web, it’s both and it depends on your situation.

But what I’m here to talk about are the pretenders. Pretenders are mobile Web apps that try to replicate the native experience. You’ve no doubt seen Web apps with iPhone-style back buttons, awkward attempts at implementing gestures, laggy scrolling and the like.

Pretenders have problems

They don’t meet user expectations
Users of pretender apps get an experience that falls squarely in the uncanny valley — it looks like a native app, but something isn’t quite right. Perhaps it doesn’t respond as expected or it doesn’t quite follow the conventions of a native app. Often pretender apps have both of these problems and then some. They simply don’t feel “at home”.

They are a huge drain on development resources
Development teams can spend countless hours trying to make the Web act native. How many times have you heard that HTML5 is “almost there” in providing  a native-equivalent experience? But the gap between “almost there” and “all there” is significant and may never be closed. Just imagine how many hours have been spent trying to improve the performance of scrolling lists. It’s fine to tackle these problems as part of an open source project, but if you’re attempting to solve these problems in your product you are consuming valuable time that could be spent making your product better!

Embrace the Web

If you’ve decided to deliver your app via the Web, you should embrace the capabilities and constraints of the Web. Don’t spend time and resources making a pretender app, spend that time making a great app that works on the Web.

Bagcheck offers a good example of a mobile Web app that embraces the Web. Instead of using floating headers and footers in an attempt to replicate a native app, the page scrolls like any other Web page. A simple anchor link is employed to allow users to quickly jump to the bottom of the page where a set of menu options appears. Because Bagcheck doesn’t pretend to be native, performance is great and the app offers up a mobile-optimized UI that meets user expectations. In other words it acts like what it is — a website.

Bagcheck Mobile Web

Bagcheck's Mobile Web app feels right at home in the browser

Stop Pretending

If you’re making a Web app, don’t pretend to be something you’re not. If you do, your users will notice right away and it will turn them off. Besides, it’s a lot of work doing all that pretending. It’s far easier to embrace the Web’s constraints and capabilities and doing so will result in a much better product.

See Also

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.

Mobile First – Instagram Reaches 100k Users in 1 Week

If you use Twitter or Facebook, you’ve no doubt noticed a lot of Instagram photos flying around the Interwebs. Heck, it’s likely you have already installed it on your phone. In fact, in its first week, Instagram signed up 100,000 users to its service. That number is pretty impressive, but it’s even more impressive when you realize that they did this without having a sign up form on their website. The only way to sign up for the service is to download the app.

Tech Crunch

Adobe Sponsored Study Says Users Prefer Browesr to Apps

In a study sponsored by Adobe, 66 percent of users said they prefer the browser to downloadable apps on their phone when shopping or accessing media. However, the majority favored apps for social media and music. In my own personal experience I use the browser dramatically less than apps, so I’m a little skeptical of these findings. Check the link below for more details.

Fierce Mobile

iOS Now Reaches 19 Million Users, 22 Minutes a Day

An analytics firm found that iOS penetration has reached 19 million users who spend an average of 22 minutes a day using apps on their devices. The reach of this audience now exceeds the audience for Sunday Night Football.

Venture Beat

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