Which type of mobile app should I create for my event? Native, web or hybrid?

Once upon a time, about 13 years ago, the term ‘app’ started to permeate public discourse thanks to the launch of the Apple App store, with Google Play, Windows Phone Store and the long forgotten BlackBerry App World, following quickly behind.

Prior to the invention of the ‘app’, mobile phones usually came with pre-installed applications - like web browsers and clocks, but following the introduction of the mobile app, users could pick and choose from a smorgasbord of games, tools, lifestyle and entertainment apps, without the need to access through their browsers. After the simplest of download and installation, clicking on an icon on your mobile device was all that was required. Now, the Apple App Store has 1.96 million apps available for download and there are 2.87 million apps on the Google Play Store.

Technology has moved on considerably, and although in principle, mobile apps perform in the same way, there are three key types that perhaps need defining. If you’re thinking about developing a mobile event app for your event, here’s a brief overview of the key differences, and the key pros and cons of the three options native app, web app and hybrid app.

Native app

A native app is an app built for a specific platform, (eg. Android for Samsung, iOS for iPhone). They’re usually downloaded and installed via the platform’s marketplace app (eg Google Play, or the App Store) and run directly on the device, and usually have access to the phone’s functions (eg contact list, GPS, microphone). Sometimes you have to pay for apps, but often they are free with in-app purchases available - for premium content or extra levels on games, for instance.

Pros

  • Creates a seamless experience.
  • High performing - can exploit the device’s specific functions.
  • Global market exposure on App Store / Google Play etc.

Cons

  • Use valuable storage and memory.
  • Expensive to produce as you will need to develop different versions to run on different platforms.
  • As well as an advantage, inclusion in the App store and Google Play brings its own problems. You will need to go through the process of submitting and validating your app(s), which is quite stringent and takes time and resources.

Web app

In terms of user interface, web apps look and function the same as native apps, and are accessible through icons appearing on the screen. Instead of downloading through Google Play or the App Store, after entering a url in a browser, you will usually be prompted to add the icon to your home screen. The key difference is that they are accessed through the device’s browser (Safari / Chrome) and don’t need to be downloaded or installed.

Pros

  • Do not take up valuable storage space on devices.
  • Can bystep the Apple store / Google Play compliance and submission process so quicker to market.
  • Cheaper to develop because you will only need to create one.
  • Accessibility - can be used across all devices and platform

Cons

  • As with native apps, there are two sides of the same coin. The downside to not being available in the different platform’s marketplace apps is the lack of visibility. With a well known pre-existing brand or an event-specific app, this is less of a problem.
  • Limited user experience as the universal capabilities won’t take advantage of the devices / platforms unique capabilities.

Hybrid apps

Hybrid apps, as you have probably guessed, are a bit of both of the above. Essentially they have a native app shell, but behave like web apps in that they work through the device’s browser. They take the best elements of both types of apps and were developed to reduce costs but enhance user experience.

Pros

  • The middle option when it comes to budget
  • Accessibility - can be used across all devices and platform
  • Can exploit the device’s specific functions.
  • Global market exposure on App Store / Google Play etc.

Cons

  • As with native apps, the ‘two sides of the same coin’ situation applies.
  • In terms of performance, a halfway house between native and web

But which performs the best when offline?

One issue that’s not been dealt with in the pros and cons above, is performance when offline, that’s because we then start approaching the ‘how long / piece of string’ territory.

There's a lot of overlap and it depends largely on which features are enabled. Generally, web apps are online-only, but some features can also be made to work offline. Native apps usually work offline by default, but in reality are often online-only because the features in the app require access to the application API (for example - mobile banking apps all work offline, but 'working' just means the app switches on, which then tells you that you will need to connect to the internet). The short but not definitive answer would be - it depends on how live the supporting data and content is.

So, if you decide to build an event app, be clear about its purpose and function, and work out what your priorities are. These are summarised for each of the options in the table below, with colour coded recommendations.

(Green - go for it. Orange - why not? Red - approach with caution.)

We work with a range of app providers, to optimise user experience for your academic conference. Get in touch to find out how we can help.