The new world of applications – personal, office, or enterprise – is inextricably tied to mobile. Users insist on being able to access their applications and data at the time and place of their choosing. The new realm of the Social Enterprise mandates mobile access to allow full participation in collaborative endeavors. Recent ESG research found that 88% of organizations that have deployed social collaboration or communications tools think that mobile access is either important or very important. That’s not surprising since collaboration requires that that one be connected to others and that can’t happen when there is no access to the collaboration platform.
There are two ways that most vendors deliver applications and data to a mobile platform. They either construct a native application specifically for the device or write a Mobile Web application, usually based on HTML5, that provides a rich user experience in the mobile endpoint’s browser. Mobile Web applications have the advantage of portability. You can access the application from a smartphone, laptop, desktop, or tablet without using different applications. For a developer, changes can be made to the product without having to push out application updates, an important factor for cloud software companies. More than anything else, Mobile Web means that there is one experience and one piece of software for all platforms of the same type. There might be a different presentation of the application for a smartphone than for a desktop, but it will be consistent across all smartphones.
Native applications can tap the advantages of the platform itself. The features of the operating system and hardware are often not available from anything but a native application. A good example is the native versus Mobile Web version of Facebook. On the native platforms, you can upload photos directly from the smartphone or tablet application. The Mobile Web versions don’t support that. Native applications also tend to be faster, especially on 3G networks, because they include caching and compression algorithms that boost performance. The downside of the native application is cost. Not only does a vendor or IT developer have to develop multiple applications for all the different platforms (or only support a limited number of platforms) but they have to support their applications on all of those platforms. This is a very expensive proposition.
A great example of this is the Zoho mobile applications. The Zoho Docs and Zoho CRM Mobile Web application is well executed with a UI that is tailored to the mobile experience. Even so, the Android applications are superior in performance and fit the Android environment much better. Compared to the native Android applications, the Mobile Web site seems generic.
Since the experience is unique for each platform but the data is not, Mobile Web would seem to have a great advantage. That’s true in the long run when most users will be on 4G networks or WiFi will be so ubiquitous that it’s like electricity. In the meantime, native applications provide the better experience.