Which Mobile Option Do I Choose: Web Responsive Design vs a Native App

It is a very common scene played out frequently between business owners and app development teams; what is the best format to use on mobile devices? Do they go with a web app (responsive) or have a native app built for them?

The choice is not as simple as it seems. Each offers their own benefits but choosing the right one for your business really depends on your needs and expectations.

Startups and those companies moving to a mobile solution have a tough decision to make upfront. Do they want a ‘web-friendly’ web product to display for mobile screens or is it better in the long run to invest in a mobile application?

We will examine responsive websites or web apps first. Later we will take a look at mobile apps that you can download either from an app store or the company website.

It Can Get Confusing If We Go Too Far Into the Desing

A good analogy is a person’s choice of whether they enjoy a car or motorbike to travel. It really depends on their taste and needs.

Before we move forward, you should know that it is not as simple as choosing between two options. Technically, mobile friendly websites and mobile apps have several options regarding development.

Mobile apps have been developed as a native app or a hybrid and web responsive apps can be developed as adaptive or responsive….yes it does get into murky waters here but we will keep it to the most common of the two designs.

To keep things simple, we will focus on responsive web and native mobile apps as these are the most requested, used and complete development apps.

Let's Take a Leap into the World of Web Responsive Desing

Using web responsive design on mobile devices has two main advantages: time and money.

Founders, business reps, product managers etc. will need to consider this option regardless of the project for the most part. Once a deep dive has begun into the benefits versus the needs of the business, key factors in the project will usually surface regarding convenience and usability.

Responsive Desing

Responsive websites came about when businesses began to see that a website performing poorly on a mobile device may cause the user to move to a competitor, thereby losing potential sales and loyalty.

Adaptive websites came about in response to the above as ‘pre-set’ sizes adapting to various mobile screens of various set dimensions. While early on, this was a great solution, in the long run it will not be sustainable given the ever-growing variety of screen sizes available today. Responsive websites are designed to self-adapt to any size of display.

Pros and Cons Of Responsive Mobile Web Desing

Remember above when we mentioned time and money being the biggest benefit over native apps?

This is simply because the investment into development focuses on how your website will display on a mobile device.

Your development team will not need to adhere to any OS (operating system) guidelines or limitations as it won’t be distributed via an app store.

Choose wisely though as it is not all sunshine and roses by saving time and money. This design has several drawbacks that may impede your product from doing what you had intended it to do.

·        Internet Inaccessible

o  Responsive web mobile apps require a constant connection to the internet to work.

o  In plain speak, your product will not be available anytime, anywhere.

o  If you want to be found always, this is not the road to take.

·        Performance issues

o  Responsive web design depends on the internet connection speed of images, animations etc. which can bog down an older to newer mobile device.

o  Users will need to wait for a browser to load an entire page and all elements in order to see it properly.

o  Given the above scenario, users will be frustrated with a larger consumption of data, battery and time wasted.

·        Natural Navigation is Missing

o  As mentioned in our earlier articles on UI and UX designs, the look and feel of normal native apps is missing and will feel different to the user who has grown accustomed to certain elements that are easily recognized.

o  In short, users tend to not go back to an app that does not ‘feel’ natural.

·        No Push Notifications or Other Functionality

o  You will miss out on an opportunity to grab your user’s attention as push notifications will not be available. These are a visible and effective way to consistently re-engage your users.

o  Responsive mobile web design does not allow for access to phone functions or camera or calendar. It is not only about the performance of the product, it is also about how much creativity will be limited in the design of your app prior to your all-important product launch.

o  Additional tools missed will include QR codes, voice recognition, and AR (augmented reality) which require a native app to perform.

Native App Design

By far the most detailed and complex of the two designs yet the most functional of the two.

Of course, as you had guessed already, it is more expensive than responsive web. There is a reason why though as we go along further below.

Pros and Cons Of Native Mobile Web Desing

As mentioned earlier, it is more expensive. Your development team will need to create a unique design and codebase for each of the major operating systems (iOS, Android, Blackberry, for example). They will also need to comply with differing approval processes and guidelines for each OS which ideally can take a couple days to two weeks.

The end result though is a far superior product with quality, speed and almost limitless opportunity for capabilities on the various devices used.

·        Internet connection isn’t always necessary

o  This is up to each business to decide.

o  Once the app is downloaded, all materials are downloaded in the app.

o  Depending on the product you design, the business can request the app to update each time an internet connection is made or as determined by the user.

·        Increased Performance

o  Light and faster, the mobile app is significantly more responsive on the device. Since it is pulling information locally, elements are shown quicker, thereby providing a much better user experience.

·        It’s all about Functionality

o  The native app will be able to access the local device’s functions.

o  A better experience and increased services can now be offered.

·        Security

o  Users connecting to responsive web apps are exposed to trackers on the website and elsewhere when conducting their business.

o  Users on a native app are less exposed as the business can handle the connection without a third-party intervention.

·        Branding

o  Your business is your brand and your brand is your business. You know this. Building a native app sets your business up to be on the main stage, the phones mobile desktop

o  Responsive web apps will force you to go online, back to the browser, perhaps re-type the website’s domain, wait for it to load and repeat each time to get to your business.

o  One downloaded app eliminates all the waiting and is relied upon to be at the ready immediately every time.

Summary

The cons to a native app are time and money. We know this. The obvious advantages simply outweigh the cons as the wide range of development possibilities are virtually endless.

As many websites work toward optimizing their web pages to display on mobile phones, there are some business case where this may be a better option for the interim or until financial opportunities come to migrate to a native app.

Do not be mistaken though, native mobile apps are a tremendously powerful tool used for brand awareness, marketing and creating a quality user experience!