Mobile App Development for beginners: Know before you go

The business world has got to the point where everyone agrees that organizations should have mobile applications developed where relevant. The question isn’t whether you should or shouldn’t have one anymore. It’s all about how you approach the entire process and how well prepared you are before you go into it.

For someone who hasn’t been privy to the process of app development before, it can’t be easy. In fact some terms can seem rather confusing. The fact that there are multiple platforms to consider doesn’t make things any easier either. It’s best to go into it fully equipped with the knowledge required. The more you’re sure of what you know and what you want, the better you can brief your developer.

So before you start off, here are a few basics to peruse through.

 Native Applications

What you need to know
Native applications are built for a specific environment. Examples of environments include iOS, Android, Windows 8 and so on. In order to be used, each native app is required to be installed on the device by the user. This can be done from the respective app store available Google play store, Apple app store etc.

Where they score
Native apps can capitalize on the specific device’s features. These apps can also access all of the device’s hardware e.g. notifications, contacts, SMS and so on. They integrate seamlessly with the devices ,providing a better user experience. The performance of native apps is usually superior to that of their hybrid cousins. Since these apps need to be installed from app stores, the discoverability aspect is higher.

Where they fail
With native apps, you need to build one for every platform – the one you built for Android phones won’t work with iPhones or Blackberry mobiles and vice versa. This adds to the already higher cost that has to be borne. App stores typically retain some percentage of the revenues and they could also levy restrictions in terms of what can or cannot be done.

Web applications

What you need to know
Web applications are specifically built for one environment – the web. Therefore, if your phone has a pre-installed web browser (which all smartphones do), the application will be compatible automatically and doesn’t need installation. Also, web apps are platform agnostic.

Where they score
Consistent user experience is possible with web applications. They need to be built only once and function across platforms and devices. This means that the cost is lower.

Where they fail
Web apps can’t access the device’s hardware like native apps can. If they have to be monetized, a paywall needs to be set up. Also discoverability through app stores is not possible and one is restricted to organic discovery through search engines.

Responsive web applications

What you need to know
A responsive web app is really a web app made with mobile usage in mind. Responsive apps are ideally suited for very large content-driven websites. They’re also used for transactional applications.

Where they score
Responsive web apps have similar advantages as regular web apps. They work well across platforms and devices. Only one application needs to be built and maintained for all environments. The cost of developing the same is also relatively low and it’s easy for non-mobile developers to pick this up fast, as they don’t need to learn mobile specific programming stacks. This is one reason why enterprises prefer responsive web apps.

Where they fail
Responsive web apps are dependent on active data connections. They are also at the outset a little more expensive in comparison to regular web apps. They are not optimized for all devices and cannot access underlying features.

Hybrid applications

What you need to know
Hybrid applications combine the features of both native and web applications. It is often said that a hybrid app is essentially a web app that is packaged like a native app or has the casing of a native app.

Where they score
They are cheaper and quicker to build than native apps. Device-specific functionality can be utilized by hybrid apps. The app can be found on app stores easily and won’t open on web browsers.

Where they fail
In comparison to native apps, they aren’t as optimized for the device. The UI elements may not be consistent with that of the device, often resulting in sub-par user experience. However much is happening in this space that some negatives associated with Hybrid apps (like performance issues) are being addressed by several players.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to developing mobile applications. The decision has to be made keeping in mind your audience, the objectives of creating a mobile app and budgetary considerations. Once you identify the nature of application that is right for business requirement, the clarity provides the momentum for your developer to forge ahead.

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Image courtesy:
flickr.com/camillomiller

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