We all know Drupal as a comprehensive and robust web-based content management system, but did you also know that it can be used to drive the development of mobile applications? Drupal can “contain your content, business logic, user management, and search functionality, and your app can be a front end that talks to Drupal using the Services module.” And in a world that is becoming increasingly more social and open, mobile applications are moving the internet from your desktop to your hands. 

Developing an app is like any other web-based project. It starts with an idea to solve a business need or problem, then is planned, designed, developed, tested, and deployed and released to be used by its intended audience. However, before you proceed through these stages, you must first decide what type of app you’d like to develop -- native or web.

Native vs Web Apps

What are native and web apps? To the end user, they can often be very similar -- they look and function in much the same way, so how are they different from each other? And which might be better for your business’ needs?

  • Native apps are designed and developed for a specific mobile platform, such as Android or iOS, installed directly onto the mobile device, and usually downloaded from the platform’s app store. A common example is a camera app.
  • Web apps, however, are an internet-enabled app that is accessible through a mobile device’s web browser and requires internet connectivity to function.

The development process of native and web apps further distinguish them from each other:

  • Each mobile platform that a native app is developed for stipulates its own unique development process. In the case of web apps running on a mobile device’s web browser, the problem that arises is that each of these mobile devices have unique features and come with their unique problems as well.
  • Every mobile platform uses a different native programming language -- iOS uses Objective-C, Android uses Java, Windows Mobile uses C++, etc. Web apps, on the other hand, use languages such as JavaScript, HTML5, CSS3, or other web application frameworks per the developer’s preferences.
  • Each mobile platform offers the developer its own standardized software development kit (SDK), development tools, and other user interface elements, which they can use to develop their native app with relative ease. In the case of web apps, though, there is no such standardization and the developer has no access to SDKs or tools of any sort. Of course, there are several tools and frameworks available to the developer, which they can use to deploy apps to multiple mobile platforms and web browsers.

And other factors to consider when deciding between a native and web app include:

Accessibility: a native app is inherently compatible with a device’s hardware and features, such as an accelerometer, camera, local file system for caching, etc. Web apps, on the other hand, can only access a limited number of a device’s native features.

Efficiency: native apps are generally more expensive to develop. However, they are faster and more efficient as they function directly within the mobile device they are developed for. Also, there is a greater assurance of quality as users can only access them via their device’s app store.

Web apps may result in higher costs of maintenance across multiple mobile platforms. Also, there is no specific regulatory authority, similar to an app store, to control quality standards of these apps. 

Monetization: monetizing native apps can be tricky, since certain mobile device manufacturers may impose restrictions on integrating services with certain mobile ad platforms and networks. Conversely, web apps provide the full flexibility of the internet to enable you to monetize them with advertisements, charging membership fees, etc.

However, the app store administrates revenue and commissions of native apps whereas you need to setup your own payment system for a web app.

Updates: while a native app works as a standalone entity, the problem is that the user has to keep downloading updates. A web app, on the other hand, updates itself without the need for user action.

 

Image source.

So Which One for Me?

The reality is that neither of the two solutions, native or web apps, are inherently better than the other. Both have their pros and cons and which of the two you choose for your business depends more on your specific needs and what you’re hoping to achieve with your app. That said, though, data shows that “[native] apps represent a small fraction of the total mobile revenue for all but a handful of the biggest brands.”

Does this mean that you shouldn’t create a native app for your business? Not necessarily, but your goals should be different and not solely revenue generating based. Apps are generally for a business’ most loyal customers, so instead of a generic shopping app consider a VIP or loyalty program for your best customers, such as the Starbucks Rewards program, that’s delivered and administered through the app. This will help you to maximize your revenue from them and enhance their experience with you.

The debate between native and web apps can largely be reduced to audience segmentation and user behaviour patterns. While native apps help to encourage loyalty among your best customers, web apps are generally preferred for convenience and reach. A recent Forrester Research report shows shoppers prefer to buy from mobile sites while on the go:

 

Image source.

What this shows is that prospective customers are more likely to use a web app than a native one. A recent Morgan Stanley report showed that, across industries, the web drives double the traffic of native apps. This is largely due to the fact that a company’s mobile website and, therefore, their web apps, are “intimately connected with all its marketing activities including email, SEO/SEM, affiliates, etc.” Native apps, even with deep linking, are not as connected. This gives web apps an advantage in attracting new users as well as delivering a consistent experience across all platforms and devices.

Native Apps Drive Engagement, Web Apps Increase Reach

Users are spending more than 85 percent of the time they spend on their smartphones using native apps; however, 84 percent of that time is spent using one of their five most used apps. Those top five apps will vary from person-to-person, but if you think of your own smartphone use, it’s likely that social media apps and some native functions, such as the GPS or music, make up the vast majority of that use.

A user may have some retailer apps on their phone, though it’s likely that they shop at many more stores than they have apps for. Their choices will be tied to frequency and loyalty -- they won’t likely install many retailer apps, but will use their browser and/or web apps to search for information on the others when they’re on the go.

This illustrates our final point -- that the web is for reaching new and casual customers, and that native apps are driving increased engagement from your most loyal ones. Both types of apps have their benefits and costs, so when choosing which to develop there’s no single best solution other than the one that can best serve your own customers and their habits.