Apps focus: Will web apps overtake native apps?

Illustration by Jeni Rodger

In the latest in The Drum's series of features looking at app development and strategy, we tackle the web v native apps debate.

The Drum spoke to a number of app development experts to determine their views on whether web apps will eventually overtake native apps.Rob Bamforth, technical director, Reactiv AppsOur educated guess would be no. The issue with web apps is that they lack the advanced functionality of native apps and they don’t have hardware-specific capabilities. Web apps do not have access to the same libraries as native apps such as GPS, Push Messaging, Initiating phone calls, controlling audio etc.Web apps require an internet connection, you enter the tube, a tunnel or experience weak 3G signal and your app is rendered useless. We live in an ‘instant society’ where users expect everything to be accessible immediately at their fingertips and will not accept waiting. Ollie Blackmore, managing director, SelestiCreating a native app is a bit like taking sides in an argument when you don’t know whose opinion is right. Who can accurately say which device(s) you should be optimising your message for as lifecycles of products and the solutions developed to serve them get shorter and shorter? Developing a responsive web app accessible to all devices is far from just hedging your bets though; it denotes an agile and proactive approach to serving your audience. You will maximise the number of possible user journeys that will arrive happily at your conversion point. Native apps can however give kudos, along with benefits of features and tools the device has to offer.Mark-Anthony Baker, director & head of strategy, FetchThey’ve already started to. It’s maybe not in the way that many would have considered, but you will find more and more applications built as a wire frame, with the code being pulled down from the cloud. These types of application are effectively web apps. The future or future ubiquity of experiences should be a consumer trend that we should all be taking notice of. Consumers are rarely bothered as long as they can get the same experience at all touch points and this is no different.The next stage is vital and this comes down to how app stores evolve. Consumer trends are vital to this. Consumer are not bothered about how they get their information as long as it is accessible and they can find what they need at the right time. I firmly believe that web apps are our future, but ensuring a ubiquitous experience is vital, in app and on the web. Native features can add great value but is not usually the reason why a consumer chooses an app over a site.James Hilton, CEO, M&C Saatchi MobileThere will always be a role for native apps but their role will be much more defined. The value of native apps will potentially increase as they will be used for much more technically led and security focused operations. However the volume will decrease with web apps dominating. For the moment web apps are still in their relative infancy; the real difficulty is the technology is still in development and is still being worked on by developers. News and information apps are likely to overtake native apps first. These apps rely on push information, which web apps can be better suited to. For graphic intensive apps or apps which utilise some of the phone’s hardware, native will continue to remain the dominant choice.To provide the best user experience from device to device, native is the route to take. Whilst this remains the costly option, it comes down to what you the brand seeks to achieve. If the aim is to deliver a high end, luxury identity with advanced functionality native will triumph. If the goal is to reach the maximum amount of users, across platforms and functionality isn’t essential – Web Apps deliver this without the level of cost involved with native cross-platform development.Garry Partington, CEO, ApadmiNo , there are too many challenges facing web apps at present for them to overtake native apps. Discoverability and Payment are two major issues for web apps – they are just too hard to find and too difficult to engage customers in purchasing. Entering credit card details in every single web app is just not something that people want to do. If a brand really wants to make something that has traction and appeal, going for a mixed route – building in HTML5 but then using a tool such as phone gap to wrap it into an app which can go in the app stores - is a good middle ground.

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