With more and more people browsing online from smartphones and tablets, it's no longer a question of whether one needs a mobile application for their business or E-Commerce site, but rather how to get it developed.
There are a few different options available for your mobile app development project, depending on the budget, target demographic and other factors, all outlined below. In short, there are 4 main routes to go:
Traditional Responsive website (Simple, cheap and effective)
Native or Hybrid Mobile application
Progressive Web App
This is one of the most common ways to go about ensuring a proper user experience for anyone browsing from tablets or smartphones. By using the existing website design, and making that look beautiful and work without problems on smaller devices, costs can be kept down and the existing look and feel can be kept more or less intact.
On the other side of things, users will not be able to browse the website while offline, nor save functions or data locally either. This means that targeting users without stable or frequent internet access becomes difficult, and often leads to businesses looking for either mobile apps or progressive web apps when looking to expand their reach.
Native mobile apps are programmed specifically for using on a particular operating system, the two most popular being Android and iOS. This means a higher cost of development compared to the other alternatives, but in turn ensures the very best user experience and integration with hardware functions on the devices targeted.
Hybrid apps are designed once, and then “translated” into specific operating system code. This means that developers create an application similar to a website, and then uses automated software to make the app work on various operating systems. This can cut down costs compared to native development significantly.
The downside of the hybrid apps compared to native apps is the fact that hybrid apps are a sort of workaround solution, often being wrapped inside a web browser and thus performance can be worse than native apps, and the overall integration can be lacking as well.
For both these types of apps however, users get the option of using the app in offline mode, saving the app to their local devices once installed, and offers a complete experience. Both of these types are also eligible for app store submissions, possibly attracting hundreds of thousands of views from people regularly browsing app stores for new and interesting applications.
This is the latest concept to be of interest for business owners, originally developed by Google the technology is comprised of a few different ideas bundled together to emulate the native mobile app experience, while keeping everything on the web server.
In short, a progressive web app is a normal website with extra functionality which allows website visitors the option of browsing both online and offline, and access certain common hardware features such as the camera or microphone for instance.
Just like a native or hybrid app, it’s possible to download a progressive web app to local devices, but this type of app can not be submitted to app stores. Instead, downloading the app happens via the website, with Google Chrome, Firefox and Opera being some of the browsers automatically asking users whether they want to install the app or not when first visiting the web site.
This type of app usually costs somewhere in between the cheapest option; responsive websites, and the most expensive option: native and hybrid apps.
For very simple needs, without the need for shopping carts or other custom functions or programming, using an app builder can be the best option for some business owners. This will allow for basic tabs and pages to be created with ease, using drag and drop elements to design and develop the mobile app.
While not particularly customizable, it’s possible for a business owner with a penchant for DIY tools to learn an app builder and develop a fully functional app in a matter of days or weeks, eliminating the need for outside help, if the project is a simple one.
These days, it’s possible to develop an application specifically targeted for the user demographic one is pursuing. Even if you were to have an unlimited budget for your app project, a native app might not be the best route to take, although it certainly caters to most people on average.
Another thing to keep in mind is how the existing website or online presence attracts visitors and leads. Responsive websites and progressive web apps rely heavily on existing traffic, or at the very least, the possibility to run paid ads and other traffic-driving campaigns, whereas having a great native or hybrid app in the stores can drive traffic from app store customers.