Josh Clark – Mobile Apps: Native or Web-Based?

UIE Web App Master’s Tour – Seattle, Washington – May 23, 2011

Josh Clark (author of TapWorthy) – Mobile Apps-Native or Web-Based
Josh Clark – Mobile Apps-Native or Web-Based?

Josh Clark, Author of TapWorthy

Mobile Apps

Mobile is growing quickly, with many platforms (many cultures)

App design needs to take mobile culture into accounts, how to develop for a iPhone user vs Android user, etc.

Blackberry still has 40% of the global enterprise

  • Text-centric
  • low browser activity (blackberry browser has sucked until recently, when they adopted webkit)
  • how does your app fit into a text heavy culture


  • active
  • high browser activity
  • spenders (big buyers – 70% of ebays mobile commerce is iPhone; eBay accounts for 25% of mobile commerce)
  • older, wealthier
  • according to OKCupid, iPhone users have more sex


  • it’s about the technology
  • it’s about tools and features
  • customization
  • cutting edge
  • technically-proficient, customized
  • younger
  • lower cost of entry, inexpensive, widely available
  • top-selling smartphone platform
  • designed for geeks by geeks

The Start screen of Windows Phone
Image via Wikipedia

Windows Mobile

  • was the market leader
  • Windows phone 7, trying to brand itself as classy, urban, modern

It’s very difficult to get a fluency in each platform because you have to live with it to know the culture.

On the web, we’ve developed a culture of generalists, but mobile developers need to be a part of the mobile culture for which they develop.

iPhone leads all mobile platforms in customer satisfaction. (Do you want your next phone to be the same OS?)

No single platform winner any time soon. Innovation for all will continue to push multiple platforms and users/culture play an important part. The personal nature of these devices means more cultures can thrive.

Less can be more (or just enough). Consider small solutions, such as text message apps.

Web Apps

One app for all browsers (almost all have webkit)

Immediate access (no app market)

Ethan Marcotte (Responsive Web Design)

Apps = Doing; Web = Reference

Web UX has some weaknesses

  • Great Expectations
  • Heavyweight libraries (slow)
  • Slower
  • Clunky Graphics
  • Not enough access to hardware, sensors, system libraries, etc.
  • Were online only, but not anymore

Native apps have an advantage in the fancy stuff. It is hard for something built for cross-platform technology to provide as great as an experience as a native app.

Web apps can reach everyone, regardless of platform.

A mobile web site is the cost of entry. Your mobile site should look good on every device you care about.

Hard to find either one. Over half of users find their apps via word of mouth instead of app stores.

Business considerations: Most companies already have the staff/technology to create web apps.

Web apps – If you can do it in a browser, you can push it to the web without dealing with app store approvals and other complications.

If you aren’t pushing the limits, trying out new business models or are staying in Apple’s pre-defined playground, it’s fairly easy to get your app in the app store.

No real winner in web vs native app fight, but there is a mystery contender. We need both!

Web vs Mobile – You need both! You have to have a mobile web site and create something awesome for your best customers!

PhoneGap – allows you to build web app and distribute as a native app, but it still is relatively slower and doesn’t completely feel like a native app.

If you CAN build it on the web, definitely build it on the web. Building once for everyone everywhere is a pipe dream, even for the mobile web.

It’s not just about design. Content should be specialized to the specific context (mobile cultures). Different content and functionality requires different apps based on usage on a specific device. This doesn’t mean having less content on mobile devices. Designing for mobile doesn’t mean stripping things down, don’t take out useful features. Unnecessary content shouldn’t be on the desktop version either.

When you consider your mobile app, consider mindsets. What are people going to use your app for?

Mobile Mindsets: I’m microtasking, I’m local, I’m bored

Mobile phones are the first TRULY personal computers (PCs). They are equipped with sensors and hold most of your information.

Don’t remove complexity. Don’t oversimplify. Give them just enough. Don’t give users dumbed-down apps, but you do have to cut out the crap.

The expectation now is that the content should be available no matter what your device is. Seamless flow from device to device.

The real winner is: the API!

Think of your interfaces as a spectrum of apps that connect with a single body of content.

It’s not mobile first or desktop first, it’s content and API first.

An app is not a strategy, it’s just an app. You don’t need different strategies for every platform, you just need a good strategy and then implement it across different platforms.

Create a design-neutral content delivery system to allow you to build apps quickly.

Tap-quality is more important than tap-quantity. As long as the content is served up quickly and give the user more pertinent information, extra taps are okay.

NOTE: These are my notes from The UIE Web App Master’s Tour presentations. They were great resources and you can find much more about them and by the presentations on demand at UIE. While I would love to add my thoughts and more details to these posts, I doubt that will ever happen.

What do YOU think? Let me know...