Or, Native, Web and Hybrid - definitions that a humble, non-too technical, marketer can understand and work with.
Apps, *the* mobile marketing solution that has seemingly been on every marketer's lips for the past four years. Yet quite suddenly, it appears, as more smart phone platforms have opened up and gained customer share, the need to deliver rich technology solutions that can be accessed on more than just the Apple platform (iOS).
That conversation, until this year, revolved around an app vs website discussion - both of which have strengths and weaknesses - and the answer often being compromised, or affected by the personal preferences or belief systems of the client involved. Not wrong, not always completely right.
As Android has grown to overtake Apple's market share, and as it's app marketplace is set to do the same very shortly, not to mention the increased focus of Blackberry on it's app platform, Nokia's aborted OVI store, MS Windows and so on. And that doesn't include the JAVA apps that (still) work on lower-spec 'feature' phones!
Now, there is a new beast in town: HTML5. This super-charged version of the language used to create web pages, will allow a lot of the functionality seen in apps (use of video, accessing certain phone tools, like the camera, gyroscope/accelerometer etc) to happen through a web page. Which means an update to that old site vs app conversation.
Only it's not that simple. Apps are now "native", "web" or "hybrid". And the choice you make affects the cost of creation, the breadth of customers that can access it, the speed it works at (for now) and the amount of device functionality it can use (again, for now). This is an ongoing and changing conversation, as HTML5 won't be fully active for a couple of years, but it is gently rolling out and available now.
To help, here are some bullet point explanations of the three variants, and a handy 'at a glance' graphic:
- An application designed to run in the environment being used (iPhone, Android, Blackberry etc).
- To use a native app, the customer has to ‘download’ software onto their phone, and the programme runs from the phone, accessing some remote data if needed. Because it’s installed on the phone, such apps can access (and use) phone functions like cameras, contact lists etc.
- Improvements to the app require the user to re-visit their app store and download a new version of the app (“updates”)
- An “application” that uses software already on the device (phone) with which to access the specific programme.
- Typically this is the web browser, using HTML5.
- The application ‘hides’ this by amending what the browser looks like on screen, instead providing a frame which looks and feels like the programme the customer is expecting to use. (e.g you won’t be able to ‘see’ or access the URL bar etc).
- Any improvements to the app to be updated automatically ‘over the air’ whenever it is accessed by the customer, and without their express knowledge (or consent).
- A primary reason that many companies are not already jumping on the HTML5 bandwagon is because HTML ‘apps’ cannot access native device features: they are currently restricted in their access to features such as the camera, microphone, address book, and so forth
- As the name implies - a mix of the two.
- A hybrid app is a native, downloadable app, that runs all or some of its user interface in an embedded browser component.
- To the user, a hybrid app is almost indistinguishable from a native one: it is downloaded from the app store or marketplace, it is stored on the device, and it is launched just like any other app.
- Hybrid apps are also mostly distributed through app stores: you don’t browse to a hybrid app – you download and install it (just like a 'native' app).