As the rapidly expanding world of enterprise mobile application development grows, so too grows the myriad of options for developing the user interface for your mobile apps.
At the beginning of the mobile app frenzy, sparked by the introduction of the iPhone, many developers chose to build apps natively, in part due to the lack of maturity in web technologies (HTML5 – what?), and a fairly captive audience centered around one blazing platform – iOS. Investing in a native iOS app meant you were able to benefit from the richness of the device, and provide a top notch user experience (UX).
But, after the introduction of the iOS, Android came as a formidable competitor, capturing a significant market share through openness and appeal to the masses. As such, start ups began to flourish around the concept of building “cross-platform,” or “hybrid” mobile apps.
While consumer app providers have the luxury of targeting a platform or certain demographic, many enterprise apps must be agnostic to device selection in order to transact business.
In a world of mobile-first computing, the mobile app’s intended audience is the key to determining what tools and technologies are best suited for your business’ mobile ambitions.
For ease, let’s break this down into three categories: business-to-business (B2B), business-to-employee (B2E), and business-to-consumer (B2C):
B2B: Often, when building an application/portal for B2B consumption, the primary objective is transactional enablement. Put simply — the end user is leveraging this app to complete a critical business process.
An example: procurement. When ordering office supplies, users are transacting with the back office system in order to fulfill a request. In that case, a hybrid application (web-based) would likely make the most sense, as it is fairly easy to port across mobile platforms, and allows the enterprise to focus development efforts on the challenge of integration, scalability, and transactional performance.
While native is always nice to have, the cost in doing so is likely higher (more resource, maintenance) when considering that ROI is based on transactional efficiency.
B2E: Building apps to empower your employees is typically driven by the desire to increase operational efficiency and employee performance. While these apps have multiple faces, two of the most common types are HR apps (employee benefits, schedules, PTO requests), and line of business apps (CRM for sales reps to capture info in the field).
Exception: Hybrid apps can be limited in ability to tap into native device features. If your business requires a feature that is truly unique to the device, in order to enhance transactional value, then native may be the way to go. In that case, chances are your target audience is more limited in device scope.
For apps delivering HR services, employers must be flexible, as the employee base is likely to have a diverse selection of mobile platforms and devices and access points from which they will utilize apps. In this case, cross-platform or hybrid apps are best.
Using a web-based approach keeps things agnostic, but can limit your ability to deliver a top-notch experience. When considering line of business apps, enterprises often have more control and visibility into the end user’s device selection —providing the flexibility to build natively and target for a specific mobile OS.
When exploring native features, and possessing the ability to focus on a specific platform, you have the ability to truly innovate around that app’s purpose. You’re able to weave together business process with net-new features introduced by mobile computing. In reality, budget is often limited for internally consumed apps, leaving hybrid apps as an option growing in popularity with the office of the CFO.
B2C: Consumer-facing apps are the crème-de-la-crème of mobility. They are your business’ prized possession if your revenue source is the consumer. If ever a business case to invest in the additional effort and resource required supporting multiple mobile platforms, natively — B2C apps is it.
These apps parallel the introduction of corporate websites in the 90’s — exposing transactional functions to empower a consumer for increased self-service. As such, experience is key, especially in a competitive world of consumer-driven UI.
If the app does not behave as expected, it’s likely to be deleted in a matter of seconds. Still, the cross-platform problem persists, and thus B2C apps are a costly endeavor. As the gap between web and native methods narrows, enterprises will be able to consolidate their code bases and streamline investments with the use of hybrid tools. Until then, best practice is to carefully consider impact on user experience when avoiding native for consumer-facing apps.
In order for mobile apps to be successful in the long-run, they need to be built with the intended audiences and purposes in mind—from shopping and networking, to communicating with employees and business partners.
Companies need to build mobile strategies that take cost, design, platform and device requirements into account in order to reach their goals, whether they are brand visibility, internal process efficiency, or increased communication with partners.