Native Apps or Mobile Web? – You Decide

People love to choose sides. In the world of sports, Red Sox fans loathe the Yankees and the feeling is reciprocated in kind by denizens of New York. Back in the 80’s we (or our parents) argued whether Miller Lite’s best feature was its taste or the fact that it was less filling. More recently, Twilight fans were asked if they were on Team Edward or Team Jacob (If I recall, my wife abstained, deeming both “scrumptious.” But I digress…).

Nowadays, in the world of mobile development, the argument du jour revolves around whether or not – with the onset of HTML5 – mobile web will one day reign supreme over native apps.

Last week our own inimitable Jamie Saine wrote a post citing a prediction that both content and businesses’ desire to be found easily in browser searches are what will ultimately help mobile web dominate in the long run, if not now.

Yesterday, the newest member of our well-heeled uTest team, Katherine Slattery, offered a slightly more virulent rebuttal, citing numerous sources and pointing out that the native app ship has sailed and we’re all aboard. (There are also unverified rumors that Kate issued dismissive comments about the notion of mobile web surpassing native apps. We’re currently awaiting confirmation as to whether there were utterances of “Oh, come on…” or an insincere “Mmm-hmm, sure.”).

So now we ask you our loyal readers – what do you think? Do you feel mobile web will one day prevail? Or do you feel that native apps are going to remain supreme forever? Take a minute to (re-)read both posts and then choose your final position once and for all! (Or, you know, give us thoughtful, nuanced insight into the values presented by each position.) Either way, let us know your thoughts in the comment section below.

How CBS Handles Mobile

CBS InteractiveStill struggling with the choice between mobile web or native app? If you’re a large company, or have several different facets of your business you’d like to represent, it might benefit you to chose on an piece-by-piece basis rather than going with a single, end-all-be-all method across the board.

CBS uses this patchwork method to their advantage and considers factors such as visitor traffic and budget to determine which of their many holdings get which type of mobile representation. For example, CBS.com, CNet and 60 Minutes all have native apps while GameFaqs and ZDnet have mobile websites. Peter Yard, CTO of CBS Interactive, broke down the corporation’s thought process when it comes to mobile media in an article on CNet:

Where’s the traffic coming from?
If the majority of a site’s traffic is side door traffic from Google, Facebook, and Twitter, the site should embrace mobile web and HTML5. Since most of the site’s users are arriving via links, the content must quickly load in the mobile browser. …

If a majority of a site’s traffic is direct but intermittent traffic–meaning users come directly to the site, but only once in a while–the site should implement HTML5 mobile Web. These types of sites are “tourist sites” that are not visited regularly by people and therefore users are very unlikely to download an app. …

If the majority of a site’s traffic is direct traffic where people are regularly going straight to the site’s home page from a bookmark or typing in the URL, the site should use native apps. …

For sites with a lot of direct traffic, native apps also provide useful additional features such as push notifications and offline storage, which are not relevant to sites with intermittent or side door traffic.

Sites that have an even mix of direct and side door traffic should also implement both native apps and an HTML 5 mobile view.

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Pandora Says You Don’t Have To Choose HTML5 Or Native App

You can have your cake and eat it too! While there are concrete arguments both for and against using HTML5 vs. native apps, there is also a hybrid approach. In a recent GigaOM article, Pandora – the booming internet radio service that just launched an HTML5-run website – offers their advice to mobile app developers:

CTO Tom Conrad said that he could see the company developing a hybrid HTML5-native app. “It’s the best way to get the best of both worlds with the technology that’s available right now,” said Conrad. “That gives you integration with the OS and really, really high performance and really fluid user experiences. But integrated with some HTML5 content, whose strong suit is uniform platform dynamics, and rapid turns on user interface development.”

See more arguments both for and against HTML5 vs. native apps after the bump!

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Mobile App or Web for Mobile? [Infographic]

Alterian has published a nice infographic of comparing native apps to web apps for mobile phones.  While native apps have some distribution and marketing benefits there have been increasing complaints from developers regarding app store policies. (We covered an app store comparison in April.)

Figuring out which path to take is certainly a popular debate and with companies like Facebook rumored to be developing “Spartan”, an HTML5-based web app the debate certainly won’t fade anytime soon.

uTest has detailed white papers covers testing of both topics;  testing mobile and web apps.

Due to size constraints, the infographic has been posted below the fold…
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Testing the Limits With Jakob Nielsen – Part I

What an honor it is to have Jakob Nielsen – the “King of Usability” – as our Testing the Limits guest this month. Jakob Nielsen, Ph.D. is principal of Nielsen Norman Group , a research and consulting firm that studies how people use technology. He is the author of many books, including Eyetracking Web Usability and Prioritizing Web Usability. He has invented several usability methods, including heuristic evaluation, and holds 79 United States patents, mainly on ways of making the Internet easier to use. For more, read his official biography.

In part I of our interview, we get his thoughts on the evolution of user experience; the superiority of native apps; tablet usability; the death of PDF files; iPhone vs. Android and other hot topics. Be sure to check back tomorrow for Part II of the interview. Enjoy!

uTest: Like everything, software usability is in a constant state of change. How have you managed to stay on top of a field that seems to get turned upside down every other month?

JN: The users keep me fresh. I don’t really have to know anything, because I can simply see what our test participants use and how they use it.

uTest: It seems to us that software usability is as much a study of human behavior than anything else. What other subjects would you advise people to study who want to learn more about user preferences? Psychology? Sociology? Others?

JN: The main thing I recommend is to study your actual users: invite a handful of representative customers to your location and run them through simple usability studies of your software. One day in the lab is worth a year in university lecture halls, in terms of actionable lessons learned. (And remember that your “usability lab” can be a regular office or conference room —as long as you shut the door.)

That said, it’s still well worth studying all branches of psychology (perceptual, cognitive, social, etc.). One of the most popular courses at the Usability Week conference is called “The Human Mind and Usability” and summarizes the most salient psych findings for designers who don’t have time to go back to school.

It’s also worth studying visual design, even if you’re never going to draw anything yourself. Knowing the concepts and language is helpful when communicating with graphic designers, both to let them know what you want and to understand their ideas.

uTest: In the world of mobile, there’s been a lot written on the subject of native apps vs. the mobile web. What’s your take on this debate? Do both methods have a role to play in the user landscape? And for companies just venturing the mobile realm, where would you tell them to focus their attention?

JN: Apps are superior for 3 reasons:

  • Empirically, users perform better with apps than with mobile sites in user testing.
  • Apps are much better at supporting disconnected use and poor connectivity, both of which will continue to be important use cases for years to come. When I’m in London and don’t feel like being robbed by “roaming” fees, any native mapping app will beat Google Maps at getting me to the British Museum.
  • Apps can be optimized for the specific hardware on each device. This will become more important in the future, as we get a broader range of devices.

Apps have the obvious downside of requiring more development resources, especially to be truly optimized for each device. If a company doesn’t have enough resources to do this right, it’s better to have a nice mobile site than a lame app.

A second downside of apps is that users have to install them. Our testing shows poor findability and usability in Apple’s Application Store, and many users won’t even bother downloading something at all for intermittent use. So ask yourself whether you’re really offering something within the hardcore mobile center of need: time-sensitive and/or location dependent, and whether your offer is truly compelling in this crowded space. Most companies are never going to make it big in mobile. In some cases all they need is to make their main website somewhat mobile-friendly. Many others should deliver a dedicated mobile site but not bother with apps.

uTest: Regarding tablets, we see a lot of companies taking their current iPhone app, increasing the graphic fidelity, and releasing it as an “original” iPad app. In your view, what the biggest mistake being made by companies developing apps specifically for tablet devices?

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Mobile Web: “I Ain’t Dead Yet #*%$#@!!”

Rumors of the mobile web’s death have been greatly exaggerated. Despite some compelling arguments in Wired’s latest series -  where experts assert that native apps have (or will soon) totally displace the web as a medium of choice – we’re not quite ready to pull the plug. Apparently, neither is the general public. Not just yet.

More on that in a second, but first, let’s examine why some are making this claim. It’s true that there’s been a meaningful shift towards native apps over the last few years, thanks mostly to the iPhone and its offspring (i.e. smartphones). What was once the Great Wide Open, the Internet has been parceled into what Wired calls “semiclosed platforms that use the Internet for transport but not the browser for display.”

In other words:

You wake up and check your email on your bedside iPad — that’s one app. During breakfast you browse Facebook, Twitter, and The New York Times — three more apps. On the way to the office, you listen to a podcast on your smartphone. Another app. At work, you scroll through RSS feeds in a reader and have Skype and IM conversations. More apps. At the end of the day, you come home, make dinner while listening to Pandora, play some games on Xbox Live, and watch a movie on Netflix’s streaming service….

You’ve spent the day on the Internet — but not on the Web. And you are not alone…

Quite true. But you are also NOT alone if you’re still using the mobile web. As part of our weekly “What Do uThink” poll question, we asked our community whether they prefer to get information via native apps or the mobile web. Here were the results:

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