Wave 2 Blog

Native apps vs HTML 5 web apps

Consuming media content via smartphone now outstrips print, desktop, tablet and laptop. As Ofcom announced last year, ‘The UK is now a smartphone society’. You could replicate that statement across the Western world and beyond.

It’s not just readership numbers either – mobile ad revenue is soaring. By way of example, mobile ad revenue is almost twice as high as print advertising revenue for Schibsted’s Aftonbladet (Sweden’s biggest news brand).

Which brings us to the thorny question of whether publishers’ mobile content is best served up via a native app or HTML 5 web app. The problem is that it’s not a black or white argument. In fact, the title 50 Shades of Grey would be an apt expression! Yet whilst there are strong opinions on both sides, we’ve come to realisations of our own that we would like to put forward.

Moreover, these realisations are based on extensive experience out in the field in the US, UK and further afar in the Middle East and Australasia. Indeed, we have developed both native apps and web apps, so our opinions are finely honed and we’d like to think unbiased (we’ll leave others to judge that!).

One of our chief criticisms of native apps is the ability to test them across the ever-expanding range of smartphones now saturating the market. We defy any app builder to tell us that they have tested their apps on every phone model. It’s simply not possible. There is always a nagging doubt therefore that a publisher’s native app is 100% usable throughout the smartphone ecosphere.

HTML 5 web apps don’t possess that problem. A fully responsive web app is exactly that – it responds to the screen size and software within each phone and content is served up seamlessly through the phone’s web browser. Better still, the troublesome and sometimes lengthy app approval process pioneered by Apple is sidestepped – using a web app, a publisher is beholden only to itself and not a third party based in Silicon Valley.

Native apps also come with data concerns. We know of one major UK DIY brand that would make its latest catalogue available via its native app. It was only when customers complained, that the brand in question realised the sheer size of the data file being downloaded used up almost the entire phone’s memory. Customers simply deleted the app. Not surprisingly, the brand reverted to a web app the following year.

The chief downside is that web apps can’t be used offline whereas native apps can. In our view, this will become less of a problem moving forwards as wi-fi coverage expands into areas previously seen as no-go areas such as train tunnels, underground metros and planes. By 2020 this issue might not even be regarded as a significant problem. We’ve also been able to develop features into our web apps which don’t actually need robust online access e.g. taking pictures, entering text etc.

So, for us, at this point in the ‘great publishing disruption’, our favoured automated mobile publishing solution is the HTML 5 web app. Indeed, we will be making an announcement on the topic soon with regards to our very latest mobile publishing developments.

In saying all the above, we recognise that technical developments are moving very fast, and we remain flexible and fluid in our views. With some of the world’s biggest publishers using our portfolio of automated publishing solutions, our ability to respond quickly to developments is paramount. We also recognise that one size doesn’t fit all.