In an age where mobile adoption continues to grow exponentially across borders, demographics, and industries, companies are challenged with reaching their stakeholders on devices of all sizes with varying levels of computing power.
This leaves the tough question of whether they should build a responsive mobile site that works across multiple devices or build a native mobile app instead. Either direction has its pros and cons.
Should we build a native app or a responsive website?
To help advance the discussion, we reached out to a few experts and picked their brain on this topic. Here’s what they said…
Director Engineering, Design and Publishing at Adobe
It would be great to have a universal answer, but I don’t think there is one. It depends on what you want to do, the platforms you are targeting and when you are asking the question.
What you want to do matters: a simple portfolio for a graphic designer would be best done as a responsive application because there are no performance issues. The goals is likely reach and ease of access and the responsive web is perfect for that. By contrast, if you are building an application that requires access to sensors on a mobile device that have no APIs in browsers, then a native application would be the way to go.
The platform matters as well. If you are only targeting a particular platform, then a responsive nature of a web site may not matter because it would not be at play in the solution. Conversely, if you are building an simple application and you want to reach out a large number of people, the web and the responsive web are your friends!
There’s also the question about a moving target. It used to be that the web was much less powerful than it is today, so more things had to be done as applications. Today, with the advances in graphics support in particular, a lot more things are possible (e.g., fast, performant 3D graphics with WebGL). Likewise with various APIs that give access to the platform capabilities, fewer things need to be done in a native application.
Finally, an option a lot of developers chose is a hybrid one. I think that in many cases, it is a very wise choice and technologies like PhoneGap make it easy to leverage responsive web content in the context of a native app.
Computer Scientist, Web Platform and Authoring at Adobe
The one that is better will depend greatly on the specific product you are building and what gives the best experience to your users. It is impossible to pick one of the two in a vacuum. That being said, given the much larger audience that a responsive website provides, you should consider the website approach first.
Group Product Manager, Design and Publishing at Adobe
It really depends on the level integration that is required with the platform. If your content relies heavily on best integration with the platform capabilities, media access (audio or video recording), or performing any expensive computations, or low-level hardware access with the system, native is probably your best bet. If on the other hand, your content relies heavily on web content, with existing HTML content that you need to reuse or that will be created and reach is key, then a responsive website is a better option. Don’t spend your time forcing the use of a tech for a specific use case, use the best tool for the job.
We understand that the answer to this question might be different depending on many variables and from one company or product to another, but we’re hoping that this feedback could help you or your company make a strategic decision that will eventually extend your reach and save you and your company time and money.
How would you answer this question?
Join the discussion by sharing your thoughts and experiences with us in the comments below.