A couple of years ago I wrote about which format is right for your mobile customer care app. Web, native, hybrid. I sketched a “decision tree” for some guidance. I said at the time that this question would never cease to be asked, which I still believe to be true. However, I think there is one simple question everything boils down to:

How often will your customers need/use your app?

We are seeing what can be called “app fatigue.” Mobile apps are software as complex as our desktop programs used to be and still are, except with a simplified (and improved!) UI. While the process of downloading them has been made exceptionally easy with the introduction of the App Store, the proliferation of high bandwidth cell networks, and widespread availability of Wifi hot spots, it couldn’t keep up with our never-ending search for convenience. You could call it laziness. You could call it being overwhelmed with the options and distractions.

Downloading and configuring a mobile app is still a process, however easy you make it. And when you need it, you might not have the bandwidth or connectivity to get to the app. Furthermore, every app takes up storage and screen space. Yet we seek simplicity, a clean home screen, and space for our photos, videos, music… So why would I want to have a piece of software from my car insurance provider on my phone, for the one or two times a year I need to pay my bill? Or asked differently: how many times do people have accidents that they need readily available specialized software on their phones 365 days a year that lets them file a claim?

If your app will only rarely be used, Web apps are better. They don’t take up any space on your device, they are cheaper to build, work across all smartphone platforms, and they can be sent to you proactively when needed: via a short URL in a text message. Simply text your insurance provider on the same 1800 number that you call, with your intent (“I need to pay my bill,” “File a claim,” “I need a document”), and the response comes instantly:

HTML 5 or Native

These apps are disposable apps, as they exist only for a dedicated purpose and then “go away.” Your customers cannot text your 1800 number today? Or they can, but need to learn cryptic keywords vs using everyday English?

If your apps are used frequently (say at least once a week), as your business model requires frequent interaction with your customers, then native apps are for you: they perform better, they provide the richest interface, and are quick to access. Banks are great examples: banking is a part of our lives, so native apps make sense.

At the end of the day, do what’s right for your customers. However, sometimes it takes thinking outside the box to show your customers the art of the possible…

PS: Agree, or disagree with my position? I’d love to hear from you. Either here, or on Twitter: @tpgoebel

This post has been reposted with permission from the Aspect blog.