Native Mobile Apps
Native Mobile Apps are applications that are made specifically for your smartphone or tablet; they have icons on your screen that allow for one-touch access. These apps normally are downloaded from their respective app stores, or come pre-installed on your device. Examples include the Facebook app, the Calendar app and Boopsie’s Native Mobile Apps for Libraries.
Mobile Responsive Websites
Mobile Responsive Websites are websites that are specifically coded to display and function properly on smaller devices, such as your tablets and smartphones. Boopsie.com is an example of a mobile responsive website—the webpage automatically detects the size of the viewing screen and adjusts its content to be displayed in the best manner. Another example comes from the Law Library of UC Irvine and the Ohio University Libraries.
Pros & Cons
Native Mobile Apps
• If you want to be able to access other device or platform specific features (e.g. the camera function or the map function), you can only do so through a Native Mobile App.
• Mobile Apps allow for more complex user-interface and design, which may not hold true across various platforms on mobile responsive websites.
• Personal data can be better secured through a Mobile App.
• Better performance than websites.
• Native Mobile Apps are more expensive to create.
• Mobile Apps can require multiple code bases in order to work across platforms.
• Apps need to be downloaded from the app store, which takes more effort than finding a website through a search engine.
Mobile Responsive Websites
• Mobile Responsive Websites can be cheaper to create.
• Since this is a website and not an app, you don’t have to wait for app store approval—which can take up to a week or longer for approval.
• Responsive websites are accessible across platforms.
• These websites can be easier to find since they are included in search engines.
• Since they constantly pull data from your smartphone or tablet’s data connection, mobile responsive websites are slower at delivering large amounts of data.
• They also have to display large amounts of CSS and html content “behind the scenes” so they will load slower.
Facebook and HTML5
“The biggest mistake we made was betting too much on HTML5 … but it wasn’t good enough. We realized the only way we could get there was to go native“. -Mark Zuckerberg, CEO, Facebook
HTML5 is a HyperText Markup Language—a “code language” that can be used when you create a website. HTML5 is, often, the tool that is used to create Mobile Responsive Websites.
In August 2012, Facebook announced the release of an update to their iOS and Android apps, creating a hybrid of a HTML5 website and a Native Mobile App. Jonathan Dann wrote that “[we] chose to use HTML5 because not only did it let us leverage much of the same code for iOS, Android, and the mobile web, but it also allowed us to iterate on experiences quickly by launching and testing new features without having to release new versions of our apps.” Unfortunately, as Mark Zuckerberg would eventually lament, Facebook bet too much on HTML5. The technology wasn’t developed enough at the time to truly handle the cross-platform performance.
Facebook eventually created Native Mobile Apps, but still uses HTML5 for their mobile websites.
What’s the Best Decision for Libraries?
The best option is Native Mobile Apps for Libraries. You probably think I say that because I work for a company that specializes in Native Mobile Apps; but that’s not the case.
There are several reasons why a Native Mobile App is the best decision for libraries:
• As previously discussed, Americans spend 80% of their mobile time in apps (that’s 2 hours and 7 minutes).
• Library catalogs can be massive in size; a Native Mobile App offers the best solution to handle the size of the information being displayed.
• Patron information is sensitive material; a Native Mobile App offers the best solution in regards to protecting the sensitivity of the information being displayed.
• Although mobile apps can be more expensive than creating mobile responsive websites, many libraries have been able to find grants and funding to help cover the costs associated with producing a mobile app.
• Native Mobile Apps are generally more aesthetically pleasing than mobile responsive websites, if they’re not built well. Look at UB Gent’s mobile responsive website as compared to their Native Mobile App.
Does it have to be Native Mobile Apps for Libraries OR Mobile Responsive Websites for Libraries?
Well, no. Native Mobile Apps and Mobile Responsive Websites are not mutually exclusive; however, a great website is responsive, but an app is still an app. Apps will bring repeat patrons more than a Mobile Responsive Website.
As James McQuarrie, a London-based UI consultant, explained, the concept of a Native Mobile App or a Mobile Responsive Website isn’t mutually exclusive. He suggests that companies should see it as varying levels of support. Companies should always have a responsive website, since users will use their browsers to initially find the companies. From there, the companies should see the creation of Native Mobile Apps as being the next level of support for their users.
Whenever possible, libraries should create both a mobile responsive website and a native mobile app.
Pros and cons were compiled through data pulled from Responsive Website, Native Apps or what? and Infographic: Mobile App vs. Responsive Website