We conduct a lot of product strategy workshops with companies preparing to launch their mobile initiatives, and invariably an hour or two of each conversation is spent discussing the merits of mobile web vs. native solutions. Unfortunately, these discussions usually focus on an “either/or” deliberation between the two options and often miss the more important topic of how to best leverage the capabilities unique to each platform.
From a project management perspective, these discussions are warranted – it’s important to understand how cross-platform mobile initiatives will stage. For example, how much sooner will the mobile web solution launch before the iPhone app goes live? Does it make sense to launch simultaneously if the project schedules are close enough?
But from a tactical perspective, it can be damaging for teams to constrain themselves to one option or the other. Product strategists often fixate on the benefits of one particular platform to justify a toe-in-the-water approach, thinking along the lines of “let’s test the value of mobile with a mobile web app, and if that works we’ll go native.” This is wrong for two reasons:
- It rests on the assumption that user expectations on mobile web and native are the same (which studies have shown time and time again, they are not)
- For large companies, waiting for the results from the first release will delay kickoff-worthy mobile product efforts
Mobile web and native applications reach distinct audiences and serve unique purposes, making them difficult to compare and challenging to prioritize. Further, the development time for any initiative could involve a multi-month investment, making the wait-and-see attitude an exorbitant data gathering exercise, costly in terms of missed opportunity and light on insight.
One solution may be Create Once Publish Everywhere (COPE), where planners lay the foundation for multiple platforms without having to design the apps at the very start. This simplifies future development projects while still not limiting early rollouts.
“While some believe this is a fundamental “either/or” choice, current consumer behavior suggests that consumers are using both… …The mobile web and apps offer different benefits and serve different audiences. For now, mobile apps make the most of smartphone features because they integrate more deeply and more widely with the unique features of smart mobile devices that use an operating system… …Apps will remain the best tools for engagement and will offer new business opportunities. Mobile apps currently present better opportunities for stronger engagement — not only because they offer richer services and experiences, but also because they place the brand icon on the user’s home screen. When coupled with a strong analytics tool, they also enable companies to better capture consumer behavior and even to develop more actionable CRM programs.” - Forrester “It is through the mobile web that consumers will initially interact with a retailer from a mobile device. Mobile web allows customers to benefit from a fast, easy-to-use interface for browsing, searching and buying while on the go. The retailer can then engage and transform the customer from occasional visitor to loyal customer by having them download the app for faster, more frequent and higher value experiences whether they’re in the store or on the move.” - Mobile Beat
While companies may be hesitant at the gates, it is a mistake to believe that a single-tiered rollout is the preferred option. As companies’ mobile capabilities mature, the discussion will unfailingly shift in focus from a) which platforms to build for, to b) how to emphasize specific functionality within each interface. If the capabilities are there, don’t limit yourself at stage one.