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.
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.
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.
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.