If your company has been looking to improve the user experience for your channel or consumer incentives programs, you have likely (and correctly!) been looking at mobile as a great delivery method.
Mobile lets you meet your channel partners and consumers wherever they are physically as well as fitting perfectly with the trend in mobile usage for accessing the Web. The decision most companies face comes down to building a customized native application versus a responsive web application. To help frame up the decision, let’s start with a lightweight definition of each:
A native application refers to software that is meant to run solely on a specific platform. Games and other applications that need to access a phone’s hardware tend to be the best examples of native applications. Many developers will start by releasing an iPhone-only version of their game, promising “Android is in development and we’ll keep you posted.” This means that they have launched into the marketplace with an application that has been built to run on an iPhone and will run most optimally on the phone’s most current operating system (OS) to the exclusion of other devices and operating systems.
What is a responsive web application? For our purpose of delivering a user-friendly interface (e.g., your rebate program), think of it as a modern and light way to easily develop and deliver a digital brand experience across a multitude of different devices and screens. Above all, think of responsive design as a device-agnostic way to scale the desired user experience for your application. If your goal is to make your brand universally available to your channel or end-customers, a responsive web applications is the way to go.
Global Enterprise/Global Marketplaces
Global brands already know that global marketplaces can vary to the point where they are often unrecognizable from one place to another. In the case of delivering technology, it is critical for the global enterprise to remember that the devices we commonly use in North America represent only a tiny sliver of the total devices being used around the world. If you are building platform technology for a global audience, a responsive app is definitely the way to go.
Having said all of this, the below considerations apply to every size of business.
Native apps And Total Cost of Ownership
One of the most obvious drawbacks of building a native application is the cost. Each time you deliver the application to a new platform (iOS, Android, Windows, etc) there will be a cost to build. This also drives up your cost of ongoing maintenance and upgrades as incremental improvements need to be rolled out to each platform independently.
Think of a responsive approach this way: you don’t need to set out to build an iPhone app and then make sure that you are keeping it updated as the platform evolves. Likewise, you don’t need to do the same in order to deploy for Android or other platforms you may want to offer.
The best feature of responsive web application is that it can be deployed across all web-enabled devices and, in the presentation layer, be coded with the logic to know what sort of device it’s on, whether it’s being held in portrait or landscape position and then render itself accordingly for that device. By building a responsive site, you know you’ve built in the viewports to allow your interface to scale up or down appropriately to deliver the best possible user experience.
Service At The Speed of Updates
With a native app, if you decide to make a small update or add a new feature there is the added friction of requiring your users to update to the latest version in order to realize the incremental value.
The responsive web experience is more seamless because, even as new updates may be regularly released (our own team releases enhancements each week, for example), your users are getting the latest and greatest version of your application each time they log in to use it.
With a native app, you are building for one platform in a world that has millions of different hardware configurations and screen sizes with new ones being released constantly.
When It Makes Sense To Build A Native App
Building a native application is great when you need to access the hardware of the phone, such as the GPU or other components that are specific to a certain platform. Keep in mind that more common hardware needs such as cameras and locations services can be accessed through most web devices and have come to be less of a consideration for this.
Consider the breadth of distribution for your application. If you need for it to be specialized and to leverage the device's hardware, then native is the way to go. If you need for your app to have a broad reach and be supported on multiple devices for a reasonable cost, then responsive will get you there more quickly and easily.
Dave Findlay is the Director of Professional Services at 360incentives.