Mobile now accounts for more than 35% of online retail transactions, many of which are done through a native mobile application. In B2B, mobile adoption has been slower, but even so, 16% of traffic to B2B sites now comes is now coming from mobile devices. Nearly 80% of B2B decision makers say that mobile will be an important part of their strategy in the very near future.

Selecting Your Mobile Strategy: Native Mobile Application, Web Application, or Hybrid?

It’s clear: the future of mobile is here. The question is, how can mobile be implemented to work best for your business and its customers? To answer this question, companies must determine how to best deliver a mobile experience to their users and customers, whether as a native mobile app, responsive web site or web app, or a hybrid approach.

Native Mobile Application, Web, or Hybrid?

There are three basic types of apps: native, web, and hybrid. Here’s a quick overview of their similarities and differences between the three:

Native Mobile Application

This is what you typically think of when you hear the word “app.” A native mobile application is downloaded onto your mobile device, usually from an app store. To turn the app on, you tap the app icon on your home screen. A native app takes some time and specialized skill to develop; however, it has significant advantages. It’s fast and easy to use, and it allows the app to take advantage of all the capabilities of a mobile device. For instance, a native mobile application can integrate the device’s camera to scan an item or barcode.

It’s important to note that native mobile apps typically need to be developed for the two most popular platforms, Apple iOS and Android, in order to reach the highest number of users. This makes developing a native mobile application more complex than developing another kind of app.

Web Application

A web app is a mobile-optimized website that acts somewhat like a native mobile application. It is mobile-responsive, which means that its design and user experience adapts to the user, whether on a mobile or desktop device.. The web app may be associated with an icon that sits on your screen, providing an app-like “click to-open” experience, but unlike a true native mobile application, nothing is downloaded to your device. The site is accessed through your web browser.

Web apps are relatively easy to develop using standard web technology; however, being browser-based, they may run more slowly than a native mobile app. They also lack the ability to integrate mobile device functionality. One advantage is that they are cross compatible with Android and iOS, requiring only a browser to operate. However, they may not work as well with either device as a native mobile application would.

Hybrid Application

As the name suggests, a hybrid application is asort of a cross between a native mobile application and a web application. It is built using web technology like a web app but contains some native mobile programming “punch-outs” so it can take advantage of a mobile device’s functionality. A hybrid app can be developed more quickly than a native mobile application while allowing users to switch between platforms.. However, a hybrid app has an important disadvantage: the app itself still runs on a browser and so can only run as fast as the internet connection will allow.

User Experience Benefits of a Native Mobile Application

As we’ve mentioned above, the differences between a native mobile application and a web or hybrid application do have a significant impact on the user experience. Native mobile apps can leverage a variety of mobile device functionality to create a more robust user experience, from GPS tracking that can send alerts based on user location, to near-field communication that allows the app to share information when it’s in proximity with another device. Native mobile apps can even allow for in-app calling without leaving the app.

Native mobile has another significant advantage as well—it’s faster and easier to use. Designed solely for use on mobile devices, the user experience is enhanced by the fact that it does not rely on an internet connection to operate, making it more reliable when internet or wireless connections are poor. In areas with poor coverage, users can still open and use the app. This “play now, sync later” capability is an especially important user experience benefit for mobile eCommerce and sales order management, since orders can be synced when a connection is regained.

Push notifications are another important advantage of a native mobile application. This allows your app to let users know when new items become available, or when they need to take an action, such as reminding them of items left in their cart. This gives you an opportunity to prevent “abandoned cart syndrome” and close more sales, and for apps not related to eCommerce, it gives you the opportunity to improve user engagement in general.

Lastly, a major advantage of a native mobile application is that users prefer to spend more time on mobile devices. Users spend as much as 90% of their time on mobile devices in apps. The majority of time is spent in social networking apps like Facebook, but as shopping apps become more widespread and trusted, a growing number of users are also spending time in eCommerce apps like Amazon, Overstock, and many others.

Drawbacks of a Native Mobile Application

Native mobile apps do have some drawbacks; however, most of these affect developers. The primary drawback is the need to develop separate apps for each mobile platform. Unlike web development that is done using standard development tools like HTML5 or JavaSscript, apps for Apple iOS and Android must be developed separately using proprietary code that is not cross-compatible.

To simplify matters, an app developer might consider only developing a native mobile app for one platform; however, this means that a significant number of users would be unable to use the app. Currently, Apple iOS and Android users comprise about 98% of the world’s smartphone users; Blackberry, Windows and other platforms have significantly smaller numbers of users. Of the two main mobile platforms, about 80% are Android users, while iOS has about 17% of mobile users on its platform.

Android has been gaining market share on Apple for some time but presently, Apple still accounts for significant numbers of users. To become widely adopted, apps typically need to be developed for both platforms.

More than 75% of the US population now owns a mobile device; of these, growing numbers are turning to mobile to make purchases in their personal and professional lives. For many companies, the question is not if they need to incorporate mobile into their overall business strategy, but how. Choosing the right approach to deliver mobile experiences to your users, whether with native mobile apps, web apps, or a hybrid approach, is an important first step in your mobile strategy.

Are you considering developing or deploying a mobile app? We’d love to hear about it in the comments.