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When we look at the the most influential apps since I wrote “On Native and Web Apps in Mobile” last year, native apps have generally won in terms of experience, while HTML5’s limits on experience and performance has become more apparent. Great photo sharing experiences (see Instagram, Facebook Camera), and great social networking apps (see Path and its relentless chain of updates to provide the best native experience) are succeeding. The most recent poster child of native app winning in experience is the revamped Facebook app on iOS, which Facebook rebuilt from scratch to create an experience that is easier to use, more reliable and faster than their hybrid app.
Native apps let you focus on delivering a great native experience that is tailored to the platform while helping you think mobile-first from a product perspective. Making this transition from a strategic mindset while transitioning web services to mobile-first services is difficult to do from scratch. Across verticals like social networking, retail and commerce, incumbents that do not embrace mobile-first are increasingly becoming bit players as mobile usage becomes the primary form of interaction.
Before we get too caught up in the delta in experience, hybrid apps can still be deployed effectively. It is useful to update an app’s functionality in areas where web views don’t degrade user experience (e.g. account management, settings). For that alone, having the ability to plug in web views in a native app in a hybrid approach is a blessing.
As well, web apps and mobile web experiences can co-exist with native apps. They help compliment the experience across devices and also help bring people into the apps. Path and Instagram have great view-only content that is optimized for mobile web. Twitter and Facebook both provide very usable mobile web experiences even on Android and iOS. Apple realizes that they have do a better job of getting people to download these native apps (see Smart App Banners).
While native provides fast apps with great experiences, one issue is how to approach supporting future feature development through app update cycles across multiple platforms. How else will you move fast and break things? Or stay lean? Having innovative ways to manage fragmentation and unsupported features like a using a fallback renderer will help companies transition and forge ahead to a mobile-first native approach.
We’re still at an early stage in mobile platforms and hardware capabilities, so it is very easy to still have native and web apps that are too slow and frustrate users. When was the last time you checked how fast your app works on an iPhone 3GS? Which ever approach you take, make sure your native app has a great experience so your users will use it instead of using the mobile web version. Speed is still king.