Should You Focus on Native or Mobile Web Apps?

At some point in its existence, every company with an interest in the mobile space must make a crucial decision: invest in building a native app, or focus on a mobile-browser experience?

It’s not an easy decision to make. Browser-based mobile functionality offers several advantages to users: it takes up no storage on a device, it will run on anything that supports the browser, and there’s no need to tangle with the intricacies and headaches of an app store. From a developer standpoint, focusing on a browser-based experience means neatly sidestepping the arduous task of building native apps for iOS and Android, which require a lot of work with different SDKs and languages.

On the other hand, a native app is potentially a powerful thing: instantly accessible via a single tap, capable of leveraging smartphone hardware such as the camera and microphone, and (often) personalized to an individual user without needing to repeatedly log in.

According to new data from App Annie (registration required), native apps are winning over experiences delivered via mobile web browsers, with users around the world spending 7x more time in the former than the latter. “Some successful businesses are now seeing more than half of their sales come through mobile channels, and app users specifically convert at 3x the rate of mobile web users,” mentioned App Annie’s report.

Apps in a variety of categories have seen an increased rate of adoption over the past year, including finance (i.e., fintech), travel, and retail. Consumers are also spending remarkable amounts of money on media and entertainment apps, thanks to companies figuring out how to better monetize streaming and other formats.

The momentum behind native apps will only increase if augmented reality (AR) goes supernova among users, although App Annie reports that only 3,000 AR games (out of 1 million games) are currently available in the Android and iOS app stores. In most categories (such as business), the percentage of AR apps still stands at less than 1 percent of total available apps, but that may change as the underlying technology matures.

If you don’t have the developer resources to build a native app, or if your intentions with mobile are limited—just pushing a few articles of content, for example—consider focusing on a browser-based experience. For anything more robust, however, you may want to consider expending the resources necessary for a smooth mobile experience, even if the overall functionality is relatively limited; this holds especially true if your proposed app will interact heavily with the camera or other smartphone hardware. And keep an eye on the app space in general, which may change radically in the coming year.