Types of Mobile Apps

Mobile applications are downloadable products that are receiving great popularity in the mobile computing industry and are now prevalent on most smart phones.  Perhaps the wider usage of these products attests to the many functions and features it provides such as applications for communications, games, multimedia, productivity, travel and utilities. In a more technical description, mobile applications are categorized by the operational environment in which they are executed. These include:

1. Native platforms (i.e. Symbian, Windows Mobile, and Linux)
2. Mobile Web (i.e. Webkit, Mozilla Firefox, Opera Mini and RIM)
3. Other platforms and virtual machines (i.e. Silverlight, Flash Lite, Java/J2ME)

This article will focus on the first 2 types of mobile applications (apps).

Native Platform: native platform applications are basically designed to operate on a computer, tablet or smartphone of a specific operating system (OS). For example an app that is developed using Objective-C as its main programming language, can only operate on Apple’s iOS devices (i.e. iPhone, iPod, iPad).

Mobile web: mobile web applications are designed to operate across all platforms (i.e palm, HTC. Nokia, RIM, LG, Apple, Sony, Motorola, LG) because they are accessible from a browser.  The necessary software required to operate the app can be downloaded from the web each time the user accesses the app. This type of app is normally written in HTML/CSS or Java Script (web language).

Native apps provide a more vivid and speedy experience for users as compared to web apps where page load times, download delays and badly designed sights can slow down the interaction resulting in a poor user experience. Results of tests performed on mobile users, showed that apps were used or accessed more often than websites. This would suggest that native apps are more beneficial on mobile devices than web apps.

Although native apps provide a more user-friendly experience, when considering maintenance and display of content, a mobile web app is superior. It may take up to several weeks or months to update native apps because it includes re-programming, re- testing, and the app store approval process. When that’s all complete, users must still actively opt to install the updated version. On the bright side, with web apps the maintenance is less tedious with the programming and testing and users will be automatically updated with newer versions.

Furthermore in comparison, currently only native apps can access native device features such as the microphone, address book, video / camera etc. Such features are chief constituents of many innovative apps. It would be rather difficult to create top quality game graphics using HTML language. However, if you were looking into creating an app for shopping services, you’ll be better off using mobile web.

Which type of app is the best? Marketing or business-wise? There’s really no crystal answer. Cost is really what breaks the ice when it comes to choosing which type to develop. Native apps are reasonably more costly because there are numerous platforms the app should support, distribution fees are more pricey. As a business owner seeking a developer, developers warrant higher compensations for their specialized skills.

An interesting resolution to the cost issue found when comparing web and native apps is the introduction of hybrid apps. These types of mobile apps may not be appropriate for all app development needs but they will allow for a more cost-effective approach. There is a lot that can be done with hybrid apps also termed, offline HTML apps. We will save that discussion for another article.

Roni Snow, is a writer who loves apps and specializes in mobile computing. You can check out her latest website at iphone game development, where she provides a brief overview of a course offered to new developers who have zero programming skills as well as some guidelines on different types of mobile apps that can be developed for Apple devices such as the iPhone and iPad.

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