On mobile application development: native, web or both?

I’ve been solicited to write this short post by the interesting reading of the article “Mobile Application Development: Web vs. Native” by Andre Charland, Brian Leroux that recently appeared on Communications of the ACM, Vol. 54 No. 5.

Let me first clarify the definitions:

  • Native mobile application: application developed for a specific mobile platform (e.g., iPhone, iPad, Android, …)
  • Mobile web application: web site that has been designed appropriately to fit size, performance, and appearance of a mobile device

I appreciated that someone finally explicitly raised the question of whether is convenient to develop the one or the other. I think that the article mainly tackles technical problem (access to device input/output, performance, usability, and so on), which is fine. But I think that some other issues should be considered. In particular, also taking into consideration some input gathered at the keynote speech that Tim Berners Lee recently gave at WWW 2011 in Hyderabad, India, I’m keen to opt for the mobile option for a few reasons:

  1. The data that are dealt with would remain on the web, instead of being canned into some apps.
  2. The pages would be accessible and indexed by standard search engines
  3. The development would be (almost) platform independent (for sure much more than developing alternative native applications).
  4. Also developing domain specific languages and code generators would be much easier (see experiences such as Mobl-lang)
  5. From a business perspective, except for a few success stories, most of the native application exploit a well known brand to raise the number of downloads. For the rest of the world, the web model of linking and connecting resources is still the best one for gathering reasonable traffic.

As for the possible downsides, I think most of them can be easily solved:

  1. graphical coherency with the plaform of choice can be obtained reasonably easily
  2. integration with the in/out devices and sensors should be granted at the API level by the browser and should not require ad hoc coding

WebRatio also did some industrial implementations of mobile web applications. See for instance the B&B site for iPad.

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