Posted by: snowflakeshona | April 18, 2011

Native v Web apps: What’s best for your venue?

Native or web?

Thinking about creating an iPhone app?  Which way do you go?  Native or web?

I recently went to a conference  (The Big M) where my good friend Aral Balkan (@aral) talked about the benefits of native and web based apps.  For museums, mobile is something that we are only just getting involved in, despite being an old technology.  But that technology has changed massively over the past ten years, so that now we have a vast range of platforms, Operating Systems, and sites you must choose between.

The iPhone market in the UK only makes up about 5% of all phone sales, so is still only a small percentage of phone owners in the UK.  However, other operating systems, such as Android, are hard to develop for as the screens sizes and software used are different depending on the phone Android is install on.  With an iPhone you know exactly what it will look like and only have to create one app for it to work on most iPhones.

What do we mean by native and web?

Native apps are those that are completely downloaded on to the iPhone and do not necessarily need a 3G or WiFi connection to be used.  These mean that if you lose signal you can still continuing using the app.

Web based apps require access to the internet to work.  These are usually created using web technologies, like html and CSS, and require less coding.  However, if you lose signal, you cannot use the app.

There are ways to mixed both native and web to create a semi-native/semi-web based app.

Web-based App

For this you are simply asking people to access the internet at a specified web page so that they can access content.  By simply following a link, they look at a webpage with content.  This can be written using HTML or hosted on an external site (such as WordPress).

Native/Web App

This is an app that is a mixture of both native and web.  Basically, it is a web app that looks like a native.  This requires a certain amount of coding, but there are programs out there that can help with this.

With this, you can create the appearance of a native app, without the hours of coding.  It will run slower than a native, and a experienced iPhone user will notice the stutters as it moves from one content to another.  However, it may only be slight and is an improvement on using a web-only based app.

With this however, you will still need internet connection, and without it, the app will not work.

Native app

The benefits of native apps is that they don’t stop working if you lose connection.  This is good from the user experience point of view as it won’t frustrate them that they have to stop using because they have no signal.

From the developers point of view, a native app takes considerably more time and effort.  There are developers tools on the apple website that can help when building an app, but some knowledge of coding would be an advantage.  It is not for the faint hearted!

There are hundreds of developers out there who can create iPhone apps for your cultural organisation.  So shop around and find one that is right for you!

What are you trying to achieve?

What you decide depends a lot on what you want to achieve from your app.  If you want an app for sharing comments with other visitors, then you would need an internet connection.  You can use all of these, although having a native/web app would probably work well as they would already need to access the internet.  Or even an online shop app, then a web app is better.

However, if you want an app that is for in gallery use only, then a native app would work well.  A native app is particularly useful for those venues where signal is a problem.  This allows people to download it before the arrive (or in the one area where you have signal) and then use it on site.

What ever you choose, do you research to find out what would be best for you.  Check the signal strength in your venue to find out if you can even have a web app.  My best advice is to talk to other organisations that have created similar apps to what you would like.  This will help you decide on the best course of action for your organisation.

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