Building a native Android or iOS app is not that expensive if you only develop for one platform or the other. The expense of building an app for both platforms, which is generally double the cost of developing for one platform, is the part where most clients start to consider other options.

There is a constant buzz on tech blogs claiming that HTML5 apps are just as good as or superior to native apps. This is just not the case. Consider this: if HTML5 apps are so good and so much less expensive, why is the percentage of HTML5 apps so small compared to native apps? Why is that even Facebook could not drive mobile engagement through the use of an HTML5 app

There is always a tradeoff, and with HTML5 the lower cost comes with reduced functionality, elegance and performance. Even Mark Zuckerberg learned the hard way that functionality, elegance, and performance are what make mobile apps successful. 

Also clients and colleagues who have built HTML5 apps hoping that it would be a write-once, run cross-platform solution for both iOS and Android have found that it does not work as advertised. The Android marketplace is fractured in multidimensional ways. There are numerous different hardware sets being sold to run the Android platform, and not all devices being sold run the most recent version of the Android OS. This makes it so that one set of HTML5 code cannot possibly adapt to run on all of those different devices. It’s not easy to build native apps in that environment either, but HTML5 is not an easy way around the problem. 

If your intention is to get into the mobile marketplace by extending your existing SaaS service from web to mobile, understand that there are no shortcuts. Native apps are the only choice for you. There are no other options to consider for a professional product. If you care about the clients of your SaaS, then don’t subject them to second-class functionality, elegance and performance.

I’m not the only one who feels this way, the famed John Gruber comments:

One last thought. Lost in the competition between platforms (iOS vs. Android) is the more philosophical competition between native and in-browser web apps. In the early days of iOS, say, circa 2008-2011, it was easy to conflate these two battles in public debate, because Apple was seen as the primary proponent of native app development, and Google was seen as a proponent of cross-platform web apps. No more. Google today (like Facebook) seems all-in on native apps, at least (again, like Facebook) for post-PC devices. Just a few years ago, I used to see a lot more arguments from web-app proponents that native apps’ dominance on mobile devices would be short-lived. I don’t see so much of that any more.

One reason some people argue in favor of in-browser HTML/CSS/JavaScript web apps is that it’s the last bastion for write-once-run-everywhere. The lament I hear most frequently about mobile development is that if you want to reach the widest possible audience, you have to write at least two apps, iOS and Android. If you include Windows Phone, now you’re up to three. My take has always been: Tough luck. The point of making apps shouldn’t be about making life easier for developers, it’s about making the best possible apps for users. If you value user experience above developer convenience, it’s easy to see why native apps are winning the war. But even on the desktop, with PC browsers, write-once-run-everywhere is often just a pipe dream.

I have also heard that if you want to develop mobile apps for your employees in an enterprise, that building HTML5 apps is a good option. People cite the current bring-your-own-device (“BYOD”) reality as the reasoning for developing HTML5 apps. If you don’t care about your employees and are fine with inferior functionality, elegance and performance, then by all means create HTML5 apps. Employee productivity is not your problem, right?

I will point out one market where I would not recommend building native apps to support the mobile market, and that is for small business. For them creating native apps is likely too cost-prohibitive. The best bet for small business is building “responsive” web sites that adjust to the smaller screens. You can build responsive web sites with or without HTML5. Those who have a hard time funding development to make their web site responsive to mobile devices need to consider that a cost of doing business. Just like a new paint job for your retail space or keeping your computing hardware up-to-date, building a website for the devices your customers are using is an investment in running a successful business. 

At Software Ops, we build native apps for clients who are serious about entering the mobile market. We do this because we know that building apps for functionality, elegance and performance is a requirement for being successful in the mobile market. For your mobile development of choice, we work hard to make sure your native Android or iOS app is the best it can be to give you the best chance of success.