Mobile applications. HTML5 or native solution?

With the rise of the mass use of mobile devices the importance of mobile applications has grown dynamically. They are applied in a variety of areas, such as trade, finance, travel, transportation, media, and education, and go far beyond being just about fun or communication in social networks. When used for remote work, they are helpful in solving different operational problems and in receiving information in real time.

The spectrum of mobile technologies is as wide as that of mobile devices. On the one hand, there are purely native applications built specifically for an operating system of a specific mobile device. On the other hand, there is a universal HTML. In terms of user-friendliness, HTML 5 is catching up with native applications. In terms of cost-effectiveness, it often surpasses native applications. Each technology has its advantages and disadvantages.

In this article, I would like to familiarize you with the current issues of mobility and give a high-level comparison of native applications and HTML 5.

Mobility rules the world

According to statistical data, about one third of the Czech population uses smartphones, a phone with its own operating system. Mobile operators report that up to 80% of phones sold today are smartphones.

According to estimates, the penetration of mobile devices in the Czech Republic will double in the near future. However, we are still a few years behind the most advanced countries of the world. In Sweden the world’s leader in the use of smartphones, the penetration is already more than 70%.

Globally, about 37% of users have moved their normal activities from a desktop to a mobile device - a mobile phone or tablet.

In addition to smartphones, tablets hold a significant and steadily growing share of the mobile market. Their penetration in the Czech market climbed to 8% in 2013. It is also worth mentioning eReader or Smart TV that follow smartphones and tablets in the list. However, in terms of interactivity they ‘stand in the shadow’ of smartphones and tablets.

The agency ZenithOptimedia has carried out a research on the spread of mobile technologies in 19 countries, namely: Australia, Brazil, China, Denmark, France, Ireland, Israel, Japan, South Korea, Canada, Germany, Hungary, Netherlands, Norway, Russia, Spain, Sweden, Great Britain, and USA. The following chart shows some of its findings and shows the situation in the Czech Republic.

Hand in hand with mobile devices, the mobile internet comes. According to Cisco estimates, the mobile internet traffic will grow by a factor of 26 by 2020. We also anticipate a significant increase in the speed of the mobile internet.

Emphasis on UX and mobile context

Mobile devices differ from desktop computers mainly in terms of user interface. Their screen is smaller and the control is less accurate because of touchscreen. The size and mobility also entail a limited battery life. Another feature is unstable internet access because connection is made from different places with different coverage and speed.

With the development of mobile platforms, User Experience (UX) is growing in importance. UX causes the need for the device to have an intuitive interface, be easy to use, provide high quality interactivity, and offer different effects.

A key aspect of mobile devices is mobile context that is the context of place, time, and user. The phone knows its location through GPS. It can adapt to specific conditions. It offers interaction with the environment, is good for remote operation, both online and offline. Mobile devices are used during natural disasters, serves not only for emergency services, but also for example for insurance companies to reimburse damage.

 

Specifics of mobile devices

  • Smaller screen compared to PCs or notebooks
  • Touchscreen with less precise control
  • Limited battery life
  • Unstable or slow access to mobile networks
  • Emphasis on usability
  • Mobile context

Native applications

Native applications are built to suit mobile devices or to be more exact, for a specific operating system (Android, Windows, iOS, etc.), offering a high degree of interactivity, sophisticated design, and user friendliness. Running in native code, this system is fast, reliable, and able to work with all features of the phone.

Use of native applications, however, faces the problems of diversity of the mobile market and of fragmentation of its users. For each platform and hardware, you need to create and test its own native solution. The application must also adapt to the constant updates of the operating system. This the advantage of native applications becomes also their fundamental shortcoming.

HTML applications

Universal HTML offers web solutions as an alternative to native applications. Although designed primarily for a desktop, HTML 5 is able to meet the specifics of mobile devices. HTML 5 overcomes the disadvantages of an original website. It can work offline and is able to control the basic functions of mobile phone’s hardware.

An important difference between native applications and web solutions is the way users access them. While a web application is accessible to anyone, has its URL, and takes into account search engine optimization, a native application is available at special stores (Google Play, AppStore). They are accessible to potential users but should be downloaded first.

Users can see native applications as an icon on the desktop. They can also interact with the user via push notifications. Web applications are normally started via web browser.

The following diagram illustrates the benefits of native and web applications in several key areas (the better the solution, the higher the proportion of the total scale is).

Be mobile

Given the universal spread of mobile devices, the question is not whether to be mobile, but how to be mobile. Before choosing between a web or native application, a thorough analysis of the target market and user behavior should be conducted, as well as financial objectives and expected benefits be assessed. For ease of presentation, web solutions are suitable. Complex applications with a high degree of interaction usually require native applications.

It is also necessary to take into account the development and testing costs for different platforms. Based on the experience from the projects implemented by IBA CZ, testing of mobile applications is up to three times more expensive than testing of desktop applications. 

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IBA Group provides software development, migration, maintenance, support, and IT consulting services with 3,000 IT and business professionals. Its focus areas are mainframe systems, enterprise applications, web solutions, SAP, BI, and mobile applications. Headquartered in Prague, Czech Republic, IBA Group has offices and development centers in 11 countries. IBA Group serves clients in more than 40 countries across diverse industries, including banking, railway, telecommunication, and manufacturing.