Why Native Apps Are Not The Future

I’ve been thinking for a while that native apps aren’t the way forward.

Before I got my iPhone 3GS in November 2009, I looked on longingly at all those people talking about apps, and downloading cool games and doing much more than I could with my phone at the time (a Blackberry Curve).

When I eventually got my iPhone I too joined the millions of people downloading amusing apps, maps for places I’d never go to, camera apps I’d never use, apps for some of my favourite brands and stores, and apps to help me be more productive, and many others too.

Slowly but surely the novelty wore off, and now I’m down to a handful of apps that I use on a regular basis.

Personally, I use the Amazon and eBay apps, the Kindle app, a couple of guitar tuner apps, Sky News, and Sky Football Scores, Twitter, Dropbox and very few others.

My iPad however is testament to the fact that I downloaded 10s of apps, used them once or twice, and and have never used them again.

Listening to Paul Boag today at the Internet Retail Expo tell a room full of ecommerce people that native apps were not a good idea, was a breath of fresh air for me.

Paul outlined several reasons why apps were not a good idea, including the fact that many apps are deleted after a couple of uses (I can vouch for that), that they are time consuming and expensive to create, and that because there are so many apps available across the different platforms and operating systems such as IOS, Windows Mobile, Android and Blackberry, getting an app to stand out is very difficult. Even more so for an ecommerce brand.

Paul outlined 3 scenarios where an app could be a viable solution:

  1. Where there is a clearly defined task, such as Skype or Kindle
  2. Where the app is likely to be used on a daily or weekly basis, like news apps
  3. Where the app makes use of the phone or tablets native features, such as the camera, location detection or the accelerometer.

However, mobile sites have had a bad reputation for many reasons, and the opportunity to “start again” with a native app can be compelling for many brands.

As there are many different types of devices creating mobile sites can be hard. Serving mobile users a “cut down” version of a site or reducing the functionality or making them hard to use will frustrate them, and so lead to negative impressions of the brand, and off to a competitor’s site.

The current solution is that of Responsive Web Design, whereby the website content adapts to the screen size. There is no loss of content, but the layout and navigation will often change to suit the context.

Indeed, this website uses a responsive web design template so that no matter what device you are using to access it, you have a good experience. (whether you enjoy the content is another matter!)

As Jeremy Keith and many others have said, there is no mobile web. There is only the web. If there’s a problem with the way a website looks in your chosen web browser, whether desktop, mobile, tablet or TV screen, the problem is the website, not you or your chosen method of viewing the website.

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