Mobile app development: are you tuned in to the right channel?

Collection of remote controlsThe multi channel enterprise

Mobility is the new reality. Customers and employees expect information or services from your company to be accessible on their personal devices at any time of day. How this information or services are actually presented by the System of Engagement on those mobile devices depends on the channel.

In general, these three channels are available:

  • The mobile web channel
  • The mobile native app channel
  • The mobile hybrid app channel

The mobile web channel

The mobile web channel is a content-centric channel; it is basically a website optimized for mobile access using responsive web design techniques. If the Systems of Record do not offer a transactional interface (e.g. a green screen application) then this channel is ideal to quickly offer a low cost dynamic solution.

The fact that it’s the mobile device browser that is delivering the user experience has benefits as well: the user will always work with the latest version of the solution and the user experience will be the same on all devices.

Mobile web channel example
Mobile web channel example

One disadvantage of using the device browser is that the possibilities of leveraging device capabilities are limited. The biggest disadvantage, however, is the dependency on the data connection of the device: if the device does not have a data connection, you cannot access the System of Engagement so the user cannot work. This movie demonstrates that being dependent on a data connection is not desirable 🙂

The mobile native app channel

The majority of native applications are transactional; the application logic is defined in the app itself, and the app will only query or update the back-end when necessary. The benefit of this approach is that a user can still work with the app if there is no data connection available. The native app will use data it has cached and will synchronize with the System of Engagement in the background when the data connection is restored.

Native applications can be installed via the platform specific app store and will offer the platform specific experience a user of that particular platform expects. It will come as no surprise that a native application can leverage all the device capabilities of its platform. A native application, however, has to be developed, tested and deployed for every platform (iOS, Android, Windows Phone, Ubuntu Phone, Tizen…) that needs to be supported. Multi-platform native app development requires different skill sets, and costs tend to be high because of that.

The mobile hybrid app channel

Rocket Rentals App
Hybrid app example

As the name already implies, the hybrid app channel tries to combine the best of both worlds. A hybrid app is a containerized web application that is executed on the mobile device itself. This approach enables the hybrid application to leverage the device capabilities and allows the user to work when there is no data connection available.

A hybrid app can be styled to offer a platform specific UX or offer a generic user experience that is the same on all platforms. Because it is web based it might not offer all the widgets that are available on a particular platform. But it only has to be developed once and can be deployed to any app store so development tends to be faster and cheaper.

Which channel should I pick?

The channels are not mutually exclusive, and they often coexist. Which channel is most suited to deliver an optimal user experience depends on the requirements of the user, the device capabilities that might need to be leveraged (camera, GPS…) and the way information is made available by the Systems of Record. However, because of the BYOD trend, the mobile hybrid app channel is the standard for B2E apps today.

What channels are you considering? Let me know in the comment section below.