The Challenges of Being a Mobile App Developer

Just about everybody agrees that mobile computing is the biggest thing happening in IT these days; it’s just that nobody can seem to agree about how best to go about it. Some developers swear by native applications that take advantage of every feature of the Platform, while others argue for an HTML5 approach that sacrifices some of those features in the name of consistency and the ability to more easily support multiple mobile computing platforms. Others still, make the case for a hybrid approach that combines elements of both development strategies.

Against the backdrop of that debate Netbiscuits, a provider of a platform for developing and hosting mobile Web applications, today released a report in conjunction with the Mobile Marketing Association that suggests the world is pretty divided between two fundamentally different approaches to accessing the mobile web.

Based on a survey of over 5,000 consumers, the People’s Web Report finds that while 74.4 percent have downloaded at least one mobile app, only 27 percent said they always or usually do so. Among those that do download apps, 40 percent of those survey said they preferred working with applications, while 23.2 percent said they wanted a specific application on their mobile device Another 21.4 percent said they assumed they had to, while 23.2 percent said they wanted to be able to work offline.

While there’s a lot of usage of applications running on mobile devices, Daniel Weisbeck, chief marketing officer for Netbiscuits, contends the tide is turning towards Web applications. Not only do consumers get tired of mobile applications, they quickly begin to clutter people’s devices. A Web application, in contrast, is always a search query away. Of course, that Web application doesn’t show up in an app store, but Weisbeck says that mobile search performance has improved to the point where it’s now the number one application used on a mobile device. Building a Web application means that application can be discovered by a search engine, versus a native application that is invisible to a search engine.

Of course, a lot of organization prefer native mobile applications because they invoke application programming interfaces that give them a lot more visibility into not only who is using the application, but also how it’s being used. Weisbeck counters, however, that as analytics tools improve Web-based applications will be able to deliver the same level of visibility.

Right now, however, about the only thing everybody surveyed seem to agree on is that there is no tolerance for a slow mobile application.

All this means there may not ever be a single right answer to going about developing a mobile application. Most likely, organizations will have to build a Web-based application to first get noticed, and then make available a native application for customers they want to build a deeper relationship with.

Unfortunately for developers, that may ultimately mean building two of everything at a time when building a mobile application is already perilous enough.

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