It’s no easy task to build mobile apps into your digital strategy. Employees as well as customers find smartphones and tablets make life easier, but the apps they need to get their business data managed either don’t exist, could be hard to port and maybe even create security risks. Questions such as which provider to choose, whether to allow BYOD and how to manage data privacy throw up even more roadblocks. And let’s not even talk about how most apps employees use on the desktop could use a fresh coat of paint for their UI, too. But first things first.
On the surface, the idea of an enterprise app might seem clean cut. But there are different types of apps, each with their own advantages and drawbacks; by understanding the form and functionality of each, you can begin to plan your roadmap to building apps into your digital strategy.
Native apps are bespoke pieces of software that can be installed on the device. This style of app is probably the most recognizable to the average user; smartphone apps from the Apple or Google Play store fall under this category. Native apps work (near) perfectly on the device they are installed on, as they can tap into the full processing power of the device - including graphics acceleration, data storage, and hardware features such as the camera or fingerprint sensor.
For a business use case, however, native apps run into some unique issues. Native apps are proprietary code and need to be developed independently for iOS, Android, Blackberry and Windows devices. Software does exist to help achieve a “code once, deploy anywhere” strategy, but such services are costly and are often imperfect solutions. On top of this, each platform receives updates independently, resulting in a need for bug fixes, patches and even versioning as platform features change.
From a security perspective, native apps are contentious in enterprise. While Apps can be programmed to not allow the user to download content, they still leave a digital footprint on the device. Sensitive data can be exploited by viruses and targeted attacks, even from other apps installed on the device; this problem becomes twofold if it’s an employee’s own device (which could be rooted or otherwise compromised, leading to reduced security).
Web apps use the device’s built-in browser to display websites that are designed to adapt dynamically to the space available on the screen. They use modern web standards like HTML5 and CSS3, as well as browser-independent elements like Google Polymer, to work just as effectively on Google Glass as they do on a desktop without sacrificing form or function.
Web apps only have to be developed once for it to work on any of your devices. However, this requires significant expertise and time investment to ensure a seamless and serviceable app. Additionally, utility services which do not require complex device features like 3D renderings or physics engines are capable of running just as smoothly in a browser as they would in a native app. However, you wouldn’t have access to any advanced device features.
On the flip side, as the app is just a site it doesn’t have the same residence on the device that users typically expect when “using an app.” While this can be remedied by saving the web page to the home screen as a bookmark, the experience isn’t quite as fluid as downloading something straight from the app store. And as the name implies, web apps require an active internet connection to work – there’s no option to develop offline functionality.
Hybrid apps are effectively web apps in a native app ‘shell’. This can be achieved in two ways – by saving a web app onto the home screen, and by developing native apps which contain little active content but instead download data from an online data source. Native apps which download content from online can be easier to maintain, and unlike web apps, this style of hybrid app can use all of the devices native functionality.
While hybrid apps might seem like the best of both worlds, there are downsides unique to this type of app. You can find yourself trying to utilise the features of a mobile platform only to discover that they’re inaccessible because the plug-ins required to use them are unreliable, are out-of-date or even missing altogether. Not only that, but each platform comes with a set of caveats when it comes to displaying hybrid applications – meaning something that might work perfectly on an Android device doesn’t work at all on iOS.
If you want to create a great digital strategy for a business environment, there’s a lot of food for thought. From user needs to mobile security, there’s a lot to consider before your enterprise app can thrive and bring benefits to your organization. But the biggest challenge might be data management – a concept which underpins any software or app.
It’s no secret - your employees produce a lot of data. The problem? It’s likely dispersed among many closed systems. The question (so far) no one was able to answer is “How to combine all of it?” Bundling or consolidating resources to make more data available to your users, in forms of APIs, interfaces and databases is the real challenge and demands IT’s full attention in order to serve the greater goal of fulfilling the user’s needs. Without accessible data, even the fanciest enterprise app is bound to miss its aim.
By choosing to back open standards, your data can stay where it is with the benefit of becoming more accessible. That’s why we based all our software on open, future-proof standards like HTML5, Orchard, Polymer, APIs and Web Sockets. Web apps can provide the flexibility to adopt these technologies, without vendor tie in and without worrying about data stored on the device being vulnerable to misuse.
That’s not to say you cannot or should not create a native app, but it is best to make sure the service you are trying to create runs smoothly as a browser-based service first, before considering venturing into the native app world. Risking the proliferation of parallel versions of the same application as device fragmentation increases, is oftentimes not justified considering the little advantages native applications offer.
So when you hear employees and clients asking for a native app, be prepared to open their mind to the possibility of adopting web apps and open standards to put your company at a favourable position for the future.
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