Application Development In The Age Of Mobility

The native vs. browser debate is still raging, with each strategy garnering 74% of respondents to our 2012 Mobile Application Development Survey who plan to deploy custom applications. But don't get bogged down in Apple vs. Android or HTML5 readiness. It's all about the apps.
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The App Flap

Pick up a new iPhone or Samsung Galaxy. These aren't "smart telephones." They're computers. That's even truer for iPads and the parade of Android devices trying to chip away at Apple's tablet lead.

And people with computers want to run applications on them. It's no longer enough for IT to let employees do quick email checks or Web searches. IT needs to stake out an application development strategy and take the lead in optimizing business processes for mobility.

What IT can't do is stand back and passively let each business unit do its own thing with mobile development. There are several viable app dev platform choices: native client apps, mobile-optimized browser apps, and a hybrid approach that places a native user interface around an HTML application. Companies that don't set a strategy around mobile app development will face a manageability and security nightmare, and they'll pay dearly for not being able to reuse code.

IT leaders can't afford to wait for debates such as native versus HTML5 browser-based apps to die down before setting a strategy. Just over half of companies developing or planning custom mobile apps use a Web interface, but another third use a native app for one platform (like iPhone or Android), and a quarter use the hybrid native app skin for a Web app, our InformationWeek 2012 Mobile Application Development Survey finds. And there is plenty of emotion to go with those numbers.

"We have found mobile Web being cheaper than native is a fallacy," says one survey respondent. "We still end up creating many sets of assets for different platforms, and Web browser fragmentation is as bad if not worse than dealing with multiple mobile platforms."

People weaned on slick app store fare may spurn small-screen browser apps, but thanks to HTML5, browser technology looks increasingly promising. Whether mobility means a return to native development for your shop largely depends on the audience. Are you writing for customers who will accept nothing less than the highest-performing, fully featured apps that a native approach favors? Or is it for an employee group that needs fewer features--and wants the option of accessing from many different devices, which argues for a browser design? IT will need to navigate these sometimes religious debates. But it can't let them keep the company from moving forward on a mobile app development strategy.

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