Determining Your Mobile Development Approach

iStock_000019073551XSmallIt’s no secret that brands of all sizes are pushing to quickly mobilize their business.  But once they decide to go mobile, the question becomes – what mobile development route should they choose?

Companies can’t afford to have a mobile presence… ‘just to have one’. Mobile quality is more important than ever, as mobile becomes of not only a company’s brand image, but a source of sales and revenue as well. This is why choosing the best possible development approach is an imperative decision for companies.

What can the development team excel at, and what will reach their users best? A native app, a mobile website or responsive design?

Daniel Dern of ITWorld recently did a side-by-side comparison of these three mobile development approaches. Here’s a look:

“Responsive web design

Responsive web design (a term popularized by web developer/designer Ethan Marcotte) means that the site’s code automatically susses out key information about the user’s device and environment, and delivers a view optimized to take advantage of it. In particular, reacting to the width of the browser window — not just flowing the text, but often changing aspects of page layout.

Depending on who you talk to, adaptive web design is either a subset of responsive design, or a related approach. A responsive design will show more stuff or less, optimized for a mobile layout — for example, if you rotate the phone between landscape and portrait, it will change the spacing, but not the content — but is likely to still provide access to the full desktop-view’s content. An adaptive design, by contrast, might show very different content, and also present a different UI, reflecting touchscreen’s tap/swipe/scroll versus desktop’s keyboard/mouse interaction.

In either case, a responsive (and adaptive) web design will be drawing on the same code as a desktop (“classic”) site, and will present the same URL at the browser.

“A responsive site will let us adjust the view of the site to reflect the browser window width,” says Prasant Varghese, Technical Analyst, Icreon Tech, a NYC-based web design and development firm. “Future capabilities may include different rendering for night-versus-day, and reflecting bandwidth and resolution availability.”

Mobilized Websites

As the name implies, a mobilized website is designed specifically for mobile devices — in particular, smartphones.

“The smartphone user often wants/needs a completely different experience,” says Jason King, President and CEO, Accella, an interactive agency that designs, builds, and integrates websites and mobile applications. “For example, on the sites we did for VolvoRents.com, the desktop site presents you with the idea of being able to look around, navigate to equipment you might want. The mobile website starts by finding your location, if possible taking advantage of mobile capabilities like information from the GPS, so we can show you where the closest store is.”

A mobilized website may share some content and back end with a “classic” (desktop-oriented) website, but will have a lot of its own code — and is likely to present at the browser with a slightly different URL, like “m.FOOBAR.com” or “mobi.FOOBAR.com”. For companies with both desktop and mobilized websites, the code may detect the user’s device, and either automatically switch to the appropriate site or offer a choice.

Mobile Apps

A mobile app resides on the device, and doesn’t require Internet access to run (although it may require Internet access to perform most tasks.) Mobile app code may native code, written (or generated) for each mobile platform (Android, iOS, Windows, etc.), or it can be HTML, CSS, and JavaScript wrapped in an “app shell” using a tool like PhoneGap or RhoMobile — or a combination of these approaches.

Aside from the obvious connectivity-dependent things, apps can do some things that websites can’t do (or certainly can’t do as easily), notes Todd Miller, Managing Director, The Archer Group, a web development firm. “For example, you’d need to use an app to take a picture of something — your surroundings, a receipt, etc. — and upload it. Apps also have access to the address book and other core smartphone functions. A mobile site can achieve limited access, including your smartphone’s GPS.”

While all of these approaches offer unique benefits, they all require one thing; good QA.

You can’t develop a quality app without knowing how your app functions in the real world. Testing and indetifying those real world bugs prior to launch will ensure that – whatever mobile development path you choose do go down – your app is delighting your users.

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