Mobile Apps Looking Forward

With the markets for mobile devices and applications growing and changing so quickly, it’s difficult to see too far into the future except to say “more.” An article from FastCompany shows that the average smartphone user is consuming 435MB each month, increasing 89% over the last year. Popular apps such as Netflix and Pandora can certainly be fingered here, but this is a trend that will certainly continue. Gartner a 20% growth in mobile sales over the last year. Data use is way up and device consumption is still growing steady.

From an application producer’s point of view this is very encouraging! Users have embraced mobile devices and the ability to read email, watch movies and play games everywhere they go. The opportunities have never looked so good. The real question that’s been floating around in my mind lately is which platform to rally behind. Most companies want to provide their content in every format but lack the budget to do so, at least in the short run. Several cross-platform frameworks have jumped in to try to provide a more economical way to do that, but are largely unproven despite their growing portfolios. Many companies have also augmented their websites with mobile versions in an attempt to engage their mobile audience without choosing sides, but those websites don’t have the same level of interactivity and polish that we’ve grown accustomed to from our mobile apps. In short the question facing us is go native, go cross-platform, or go web? Certainly this isn’t an either/or question but we’d sure like to have the answer today for where the market will be next year.

Go Native
Think of the best app you’ve every used. It was beautiful. It was easy. It was just what you wanted. It was probably native too. The look and feel of your phone extended into some specific realm of usage that met your needs with style to spare. Nothing beats the native experience and many companies still insist on focusing to a native app and most of the time an iPhone app. As Android apps catch up we start to realize that developing two apps is nearly twice as expensive. But it’s not just doubling the development effort, the design has to be changed, and the user experience rethought. For example, consider the implications of the Android’s “back” button on app navigation. Developing two great apps for two great platforms can be expensive, and with Microsoft’s innovation and contributions we’ll have to seriously consider them in the next year as well. Looking for something simpler? Enter the…

Cross-platform Frameworks
Titanium, Rhomobile, PhoneGap and webOS have come to try to capitalize on the desire to create once and publish everywhere. It makes sense and saves considerable time and energy, particularly if you are just trying to tap a market or make a first foray into mobile. While these platforms can’t take full advantage of all of your phone’s functionality, they do support the shared features like geolocation, accelerometer, shaking and vibrating. We’ll be offering a cross-platform solution in the near future to meet the market demands and although it can be tricky to develop a user experience that is consistent with the user’s expectations (think Mac and PC) but I’m sure we’ll get there because this hasn’t been a problem for…

Mobile Websites
Websites have long enjoyed the creative flexibility of serving up their content in different ways and with different conventions. It was a natural extension to customize website to work on a mobile device, but some have gone further and have created completely unique user experiences for their mobile users. They’ve gone so far that most have to offer the ability to view the mobile or original version of the site because people aren’t finding what they’re looking for. At any rate, your phone’s operating system has little or no bearing on how the site is rendered (with the exception of Flash on iOS). With HTML5 just around the corner we’ll see more and more interactivity and animation – the kinds of things that we’ve come to expect only from apps. Over the long term, I’m putting my money here. History’s had a funny way of moving from client to server and back again. The only solutions that have the staying power to last longer than your hardware are the ones that stay online.

So what’s a mobile development company to do? Well, the same thing that development companies have been doing for decades. Be the best at picking the best tools to best serve your customers. Pretty simple really, the names just keep changing.