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Web vs. apps for mobile services

This post first appeared on the LINE blog on 6th March 2012.

“Mobile apps currently have better usability than mobile sites”, according to Jakob Nielsen’s Alertbox, “but forthcoming technology changes will eventually make a mobile-friendly website the superior strategy”.

Nielsen shows that current users, with access to native apps on their chosen device, perform better than those using generic web-based services. However, this is based on usability alone and fails to take into account that most organisations won’t have apps for a broad spectrum of devices, instead preferring deliver of services via the web to cater for the BYOD scenario. Where organisations address cohorts of users with native apps, even providing the devices to use them on in some cases, Nielsen’s observations ring true.

In the future, Nielsen states, this scenario will change in favour of web delivery as factors such as hybrid ‘phablet’ (small tablet, large phone) mobile devices become more common. Another factor is the need for better integration into full web services – critical for enterprise services. Also important, I think, is the fact that native mobile device features such as geolocation and media recording will, whilst not simple at the moment, be standard in future cross platform HTML5 development. One other behaviour to be taken into account is that devices have great difficulty launching a native app within an app. By contrast, launching a web service from within another web service is pretty standard behaviour for a mobile OS.

However, whatever approach dominates in future, and the debate is very much open, the mantra remains the same: greater usability brings competitive advantage.

http://www.useit.com/alertbox/mobile-sites-apps.html

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