The App is Dead, Long Live the App!

Native apps, the software that you generally download from an app store like iTunes or Google Play and then install directly on your device, are becoming obsolete for many of their common uses.  A primary benefit of an app has always been the ability for a developer to tap into the device itself to access things like local storage, GPS, accelerometer and camera as well as register and receive push notifications.

The Problem with Native Apps

You have to convince users to download and install your app.
Even if your app is free to use, the perceived time it will take to install, combined with user worries about permission settings or wasting storage on their device can be a significant psychological hurdle to overcome.

You have to retain users.
In 2015, there were some 75 Billion app downloads from Google and Apple but interestingly enough, about a quarter of those apps were opened once and then never used again and 90% were abandoned within 6 months.

You have to develop across multiple devices.
Native apps have to be programmed for the operating system they will be running on.  This means a Java app for Android, Objective-C or Swift for Apple and C# for Windows. That's a lot of programming.  There are some workarounds for this, usually called “hybrid apps” which end up being written in HTML/CSS/JavaScript like a traditional web page and then run through a compiling wrapper software like PhoneGap or NativeScript.  This method can help cut down on costs but may loose some of the performance and speed benefits inherent in native apps.  It also still requires customizing each version for the specific device and submitting them to the indivual app stores.

The Good News: Web Apps Can Be Just as Powerful

Depending on what you want your app to do, it can more than likely exist as a web app; that is, a website running HTML, CSS and JavaScript designed with interactivity and a mobile-first user experience in mind.

It turns out that most modern web browsers have access to a lot more device sensors than they have had in the past, for example the web browser can access location information and the accelerometer as well as access the file system to upload files and images. HTML5 lets you store data locally and the cloud keeps it all synced in real time.  Sites running in the Chrome browser can even take advantage of Google’s Cloud Messaging service (recently renamed “Firebase Cloud Messaging) to send individual push messages to your registered users even when the browser is closed!

Responsive web design means that the same web page that serves your desktop users can work on tablets and mobile devices.  Over the past several years, the need for separate “mobile only” web sites has all but disappeared.  When your website looks just as great and is just as usable on a mobile device, there are no longer design or UX needs for a mobile only app.

The Native App is Dead, Long Live the Web App!

Ok, well maybe saying that native apps are dead is a little bit of a stretch. Fast paced games need the hardware performance afforded when running natively and many other apps still need access to the sensors and other device features that are not available to the browser.  Your IR Remote control app or flashlight app, for example, will probably need to remain as native (or at least hybrid) apps for the foreseeable future.

That being said, if a web app can accomplish everything you need, why risk isolating your audience by forcing them to download and install a native app?  Chances are, you can save a lot of time (and money) with a browser-based app that accomplishes the same goals while allowing your users instant access.

Are you interested in creating a productivity or marketing app for your business or organization? Let's talk about how you can engage your users with a custom built, cross-device, responsive web app.