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Is choosing non-native over native mobile apps risky for developers?

What's more risky: developing cross-platform or native mobile apps? One expert chooses sides in the native vs. non-native/cross-platform mobile apps debate.

What are the risks involved in not developing cloud apps on a non-native versus a native mobile platform?

At first glance, it seems choosing between developing non-native rather than native mobile web and cloud applications calls for weighing the strong functionality of the latter vs. the lower cost of development and cross-platform capabilities of the former. Dig deeper, and you'll find that choosing between native vs. non-native applications could be a choice between your organization's ease of use and your users' satisfaction. Let's look at this from the user's point of view.

Just to be clear, native mobile apps are developed on the actual mobile OS -- the primary ones being Android and Apple iOS. In hybrid applications, both web and native OS components are combined to create a cross-platform mobile app that is accessed through a web browser. Native apps can be installed locally, but not hybrid apps.

Typically, native mobile application development costs more than the non-native alternative. In my experience, if a mobile application really requires an outstanding user experience, this is where the native app wins out every time. It also provides you the ability to customize the app to fit your requirements. Most often, performance will be faster on native applications as well.

For companies that are developing mobile web applications, there are risks in making a decision to not develop in this environment. As a business, you need to be able to compete at the highest of levels. There is a difference between the competition in semi-pro football and the NFL. The best user experience for a fan will be at an NFL game because of the excellence of the players on the field. Similarly, you will never be able to compete at the highest of levels, with respect to mobile web applications, without going native.

The biggest risk in going non-native is in not providing your customers with the best user experience possible. Your customer may start looking at your competitor's offerings. Because customers and partners are increasingly becoming more reliant on mobile computing, this could be a major risk for an enterprise. If performance is an issue with your cross-platform apps, come up with a plan to start developing natively as soon as possible.

The biggest risk in going non-native is not providing your customers with the best user experience possible.
Kenneth MilbergPresident and managing consultant, PowerTCO

What about cloud-based, enterprise mobile applications? What are you risking by not developing these applications natively? Getting software to work in a cloud requires an enterprise architecture that is different than that that of your legacy enterprise design. After your infrastructure resides on the cloud, you have choices as to how to develop your applications.

In the cloud arena, the advantages of native mobile app development are plenty, including redundancy and scalability. Native mobile cloud applications are inherently more resilient, so processing can be moved from one data center to another without service interruption. Furthermore, because you can set up a pay-as-you-go type of model, big companies would only pay for computing resources used.

A major risk in not developing native mobile cloud applications is that you won’t be taking advantage of only paying for resources that are used or the inherent availability and reduced downtime for your applications. Minimized infrastructure overhead and more resilient, available systems are key requirements today, and companies that do not develop cloud apps on a native platform are not taking advantage of the latest technologies to increase resiliency, uptime and performance.

While you can make a legacy application "cloud-enabled" after the fact by simply moving it to the cloud, it would not have been developed on or for the cloud. This is where you need to do some preplanning and even consider the development before moving your infrastructure to the cloud -- so as to build in the development costs as part of your roadmap. By developing it on the new infrastructure and building it from the ground up, you will have the ability on day one of scaling resources up and down as needed, as well as better resiliency, performance and redundancy.

In both situations, when we talk about the risks in not developing a native mobile web or cloud business app, there is unquestionably a significant corporate investment required for either option. In both situations, again, you will need to ask yourself: Are the financial risks inherent in any investment of this type? Is it worth more than the risk of doing nothing and letting your competitors outshine you by delivering products that can do more than yours? You know your business best, and only you can answer that question.

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