I was at a social media event this evening and the topic was mobile marketing. It’s funny because I started a mobile application company over 10 years ago and many of the same conversations that were going on then…are being repeated today.
Buzzwords were filling the room, mostly around the long-standing app vs. mobile web debate. Everyone who is ‘with it’ and ‘knowledgeable’ seemed to be pushing the mobile app agenda while everyone else just wanted to know why they need an app when the mobile web already provides the services they use and need?
Nobody has a definitive answer other than the app developers who enlighten us with: “you have complete control” and “because it’s your app, you can design and brand however you want.” My favorite answer is the non-answer, “oh, if you want to be legitimate or taken seriously, you need your own app.” Are you kidding me? The decision to make an app or not should be based on real business issues or strategic decisions. Not based on the opinion of someone who can’t provide a valid business reason for building an app over mobile web app.
When my company was getting started the mobile web didn’t even have a strong structural base. WAP was just beginning to show up on all mobile devices and many people weren’t sure of it’s power or ability and the mobile browsers where rudimentary at best. There truly was a debate, do you build a full app because WAP + Browser did not = a real app, or did you build it yourself and know that it would work?
Today you have a solid browser that will soon support HTML 5, already supports GPS tie ins, some video and will likely support Flash or comparable soon. In addition, you have much stronger, more stable environments, faster hardware and operating systems with true scalability.
The debate continues but does it really?
In reality there is a fairly simple decision tree for true enterprise level applications in the mobile universe:
1) Does mobile current support it (Yes, continue | No, go back to work).
2) Is your audience demanding it or do you have strong supporting evidence they will? (Yes, continue | No, relax, sit back and chill for a bit until you see how things shake out).
3) Does your ideal enterprise mobile solution have extremely complex logic or require a large amount of data or graphics? (Yes, continue | No, take your pick either a mobile app or mobile web app will work. The real decision is how much branding and control you want over the application).
4) Complex logic and massive amounts of data/images or complex data integration with external sources require a lot of processing. Will all of your users have top of the line, 1ghz+ mobile devices? (Yes, continue | No, you need to wait or reduce your expectations)
5) With top of the line hardware the question is now the limitation of the mobile web browser. Current mobile web browsers are light and powerful. Even a light browser still will carry a weight on your hardware limitations. So the next question is, does your application require immediate response, under 3 seconds or can it take upwards of several seconds to get a full response? (Under 3 seconds on a mobile device is lofty and will likely require you to develop your own application. If you’re lucky, using their programming language but be prepared, you may have to learn machine language or just wait until the hardware catches up. If you are OK with a wait then you truly have the choice of waiting for the mobile web or saving a little bit of time and controlling the app interface and branding through your own app.
The reality is, and short answer to all of this conversation, mobile is NOT a PC or even a laptop. If you expect your mobile device to perform at the same level as your desktop or laptop, you’re dreaming.
If you are perfectly comfortable with this environment to work in then GO FOR IT! Just remember, your mobile device is about 7-10 years behind your desktop and 4-6 years behind your laptop when it comes to hardware. So no matter how great the API, programming languages and tools are, you’re still driving a Pinto when you’re away and a Ferrari at home.
To be honest, my phone currently has a 1ghz processor which is just as fast as my desktop processor literally 10 years ago.
Don’t give up though, that 1ghz processor will still make you feel like speed demon compared to your phone just 2-3 years ago.