Thursday, August 27, 2009

Apps vs. Browsers for mobile devices

I have been asked a number of times about the pros and cons of Apps (applications) vs. browser access when using mobile devices. The use of Apps is not a conversation when discussing web access on a PC's. When using a PC no one is interested in downloading an App so that they can have access to information. We all just assume that once we get onto a web site we will have access to that web site's applications. This is the exact opposite experience we have with mobile devices. With mobile devices we expect that we will need to download an App to have access to any type of information. So I need to ask, why is this?

I believe that Apps for mobile devices came about for two reasons, one is Apple's lead in the market, the other is the combination of old browsers and poorly designed web sites. Specifically Apple figured out with the iPod that you can make more money selling $1 songs then you can by selling the player hardware. To make this business proposition possible Apple needed to create a well designed, hip player so that their player is the player of choice. Once their player was chosen they could lock their user base into purchasing songs from only their store. Apple receives a 70% commission on every song purchased. Apple controls the market, forcing everyone else who wants to play in this market, including recording studies and artists, to write for the Apple player. When Apple, who controls the music player market along with the download music market, looked at the next logical hand held device to expand to, they naturally looked at the cell phone market. Since they were so successful making money with downloads they naturally looked at how they could repeat this success with the phone market. Naturally they chose to create a solution that requires software to be downloaded from their store to their player.

Helping Apple make the App play is the current state of mobile browsers and web sites. Most mobile browsers do not have nearly the same capabilities as the browsers we are use to using on our PC. For example Windows CE is equivalent to IE 4 while Windows Mobile is equivalent to IE 6. So a lot of functionality we are use to receiving when on a PC will not be available when we are on our mobile device. Also pushing this paradigm is the technology and graphics used on most web sites. Most web sites have been developed to be accessed by the latest browser. Graphic artists develop web sites with big fancy graphics and rich media so that they look nice on a PC size screen. Applications like web forms are being developed using the latest technology like java server pages, active server pages, PHP, or Python. Current web sites have not been developed with the small screen and limited functionality of mobile browsers. Because of this, mobile users are limited when surfing the web.

Organizations that are looking at being available on mobile devices need to understand the pros and cons of each approach. Unfortunately I see limitations with each approach. Understanding the pros and cons, provides you with some of the information you will need to make a decision on which direction to go.

There are pro’s and cons of going with an App solution versus a browser based solution. For the end user and the content developer the easiest solution would be a browser solution. The issue is having a web site that is developed with the limited functionality and download speeds necessary to run effectively on a mobile device.

Pro's and Con's of Apps:
Pro –
• For the app creator – functionality and control – App creators can be assured that all their App’s features work. You can develop your app so that it is optimized to run effectively on a specific mobile devices.
• For the end user – Since the app is downloaded to your device you are not limited by weak or slow WiFi access speeds.

Con –
• For the app creator – you need to develop an application that works on each of the players. Each player uses a different operating system and supports different technology. Porting to different players is not trivial.
• For the end user – you need to purchase and install each application. Many times you do not have the access speeds to download and install on the fly so that you need to think up front what applications you will need. Each App cost money.

Pros and Cons of Browser
• For the app creator – one development cycle works on all the different devices.
• For the end user – access when you want it where you want it, typically for free
Con –
• For the app creator – need to test out and make sure the technology you are using to create your mobile web site is supported by the different mobile browsers. Some features that you may want to add my not be available across the board. Need to make sure that when you are developing your mobile accessible web site that it is slim so that it download and runs fast on a mobile device.
• For the end user - Does the web site/web App work on their mobile device? Does the web site have the functionality and bandwidth so that it works well.

No comments: