Mobile Products: Native vs. Browser

The increase in usage of digital products on mobile makes it such that many Product Owners are tackling the creation of mobile apps — and the decision between developing a native or browser app.  When creating an app, the differences between native and browser apps become undeniably pertinent.  Of the differences between the two types of apps, one of the most visible categories is capability.  In light of the differences in capabilities, native apps and browser apps each have their own benefits; the decision on how to create and deploy the app is a critical one that depends on Product Owners’ customers’ needs and whether the app is to be user-centric or app-centric.

Native Apps

Native apps are those that are developed specifically for a type of mobile device, be it the iPhone or Android. These apps must be downloaded onto the mobile device in order for users to access the apps’ content.  Native apps have elevated user experience design, relative to browser apps.  As the apps are built for specific mobile devices, native apps are created using languages, development tools, and user interface elements specific to each mobile device, which provide native apps the opportunity to be faster and more efficient for users, and to provide better user experiences in general.  By virtue of being downloaded onto the mobile device, native apps allow better control of the mobile device’s camera, and a higher ability to access the users’ contacts, as stored in the mobile device.  The apps are entirely capable with the device’s features and hardware, which is responsible for the easy access that native apps have to their respective devices’ cameras and contact lists.  Another capability unique to native apps is a potential one for the future — the use of thumbprint reading.  The requirement that native apps must be downloaded onto each user’s device provides vast potential for thumbprint reading to be incorporated into the app.  The capabilities associated with native apps are particularly beneficial for users who want convenience and more control over the activities they complete within apps.

Browser Apps

On the other hand, browser apps, also known as web apps, are internet-enabled.  They are similar to native apps in appearance and operation — they do not have browser buttons, for one — but they require an internet connection.  This key feature of browser apps enables users to access the apps’ content on their mobile devices, by way of the mobile device’s web browser, without having to download the apps onto their devices.  Browser apps are not developed to be compatible with any single mobile device; instead, they are compatible with all types of mobile devices.  Given that these apps are internet-enabled, they are more searchable and accessible, allowing them to have higher discoverability by users.  Relating to the discoverability aspect of browser apps, they are also more advanced than native apps in terms of allowing users to search, share, and bookmark content across multiple browser apps.  For users, this ability to share and bookmark across apps is not available with native apps.

Is One Better Than the Other?

Product Owners may be under the impression that browser apps are a dying type, especially given a recent article on Forbes, but  whether your app is a browser or native app will depend on your specific product goals. Those seeking to develop an app that will have lower overhead costs, less restrictions on content due to lack of an intermediary store, and wide discoverability for the app will likely want to lean towards developing a browser app.  More customer-centric products, with enhanced user experience and design will be more likely to reap those results if they are native apps.  There is also the possibility of building a hybrid app that is between a browser and native app, for those seeking to have the benefits of both types of apps.