Developing Mobile Applications in 2021. Does your business need a mobile app?

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Almost 70% of all website visits come from mobile devices. The mobile market continues to grow, making mobile apps impossible to ignore. As people nowadays barely leave the room without their devices, mobile app provides a better avenue for your organization to interact with clients, suppliers, and the general public.

Why you should invest in mobile app now

In March 2021, Google switched to mobile-first indexing for all websites. It’s no surprise. About 66% (or more, in some studies) of all site visits in 2020 came from mobile users. The number of people accessing information through mobile devices is increasing, with some estimates putting it at more than 55% of total internet traffic.

The spread is not even across all countries around the globe. Mobile-first markets, like Asia and Africa, are characterized by less access to expensive devices like personal computers and/or to a stable internet connection. However, most people there own a smartphone – a device without which life is more than a little difficult in the 21st century. This means that accessing these users (and keep in mind that Africa is where the most population growth is expected to occur from here on out) is most efficiently done via mobile platforms.

Information consumption on mobile devices happens either through mobile-optimized websites or mobile apps. To reach the broadest possible audience, organizations are finding that they must invest in mobile apps. In China, the number of app downloads has been growing rapidly over the past few years, jumping from around 53 billion in 2016 to almost 90 billion in 2018. Globally, the numbers have grown from 140.68 bln in 2016 to 218 bln in 2020.

The mobile app market is profitable. Worldwide mobile app revenues have been steadily growing and are predicted to reach $935.2 billion in 2023. Users are also spending more money on apps, and in the fourth quarter of 2020 – in the middle of the coronavirus global crisis – they spent more than double the usual amount. It does look like the pandemic breathed new life into the mobile market.

App monetization is a complicated topic, however – if you’d like to know how to earn money through mobile apps, check out our quick guide on the subject.

Is a native mobile app better than the mobile web or a hybrid solution?

Aside from creating native mobile apps – that is, apps available on the App Store and Google Play Store, which need to be downloaded and installed on the user’s device – companies have a number of options. They can focus on the mobile web, using technologies such as progressive web apps (PWA) to create a mobile-like experience in the web browser. They can also build a hybrid app, which is a single app supporting multiple platforms, or a cross-platform app. Let’s take a closer look at each of these options to determine which might be the best one for your business.

Mobile web

A mobile website is, quite simply, a website built with the aim of providing an excellent experience to mobile users (and taking Google’s updated algorithms into account). You can achieve it with the right approach and tools, and results in a responsive website that adapts smoothly to various screen sizes and devices.

The major advantage of mobile websites is that they don’t need to be downloaded. You can access them through the browser on a smartphone, like any other website. This advantage is at the same time the biggest drawback of mobile websites. Because the website needs to be accessed each time through the browser, it:

  • Does not offer offline functionality,
  • Loads slowly if the internet connection is unstable or bad,
  • Doesn’t appear as an icon on the users’ screen,
  • Doesn’t have access to notifications and other device features, such as location.

PWA (progressive web apps) solve some of these problems. They offer app-like splash screens, which can be downloaded from the App Store or Play Store, and are saved on the device with icons on the screen, and offer some offline functionality. They can also send notifications to users, which can have a huge impact on engagement rates, and load faster than regular websites.

When to use a mobile website

PWA are a very cost-effective solution. In essence, you’re developing a website that also acts like a mobile app. And it’s good at it, too! The PWA experience mimics native apps very closely. PWAs and mobile websites are a great option for businesses that are not mobile-first. Because their development cost is relatively low, they may be used as proofs of concept before developing a native app. Finally, they are a good option for companies operating on a budget.

Native mobile app

Most smartphone users spend 92% of their time online interacting with mobile applications. If so, and if it would support your business, developing a native mobile app may be the best option.

A native application is created for a single system (Android or iOS) using the native programming language for that system. For example, to create an Android app, one should use Java or Kotlin. The major advantage of native apps is that they have direct access to device hardware and functionalities such as GPS, camera, microphone, stored media, and many more. Because of this, native apps generate high performance and provide a better user experience.

Difficulties with mobile apps

However, the development costs of this solution are the highest among all the options mentioned in this article. Aside from building the app, maintenance becomes a hassle. If your business involves multiple apps (e.g. a website, an iOS app and an Android app), functionality and content updates, as well as security patches, need to be handled separately for each platform.

The same is true for promotion. Keep in mind the huge competition you’ll have to face on the App Store and Play Store. Users generally only download a selection of apps, and ignore the rest. This means that your app not only has to be of top quality to attract and then retain users’ attention – it also needs to be advertised very effectively. Promoting a separate platform means extra costs – but there are strategies for affordable mobile app promotion.

When to choose native mobile app

It involves higher costs to prepare native apps, as you need to maintain separate teams for each platform on which you will publish the apps. Developing multiple apps also costs extra time. As such, a native solution may be the best choice when:

  • You have a large enough budget,
  • You don’t mind budgeting for the maintenance of each app in the future,
  • Your business idea requires you to access device functionalities such as GPS or camera,
  • The mobile experience you provide to users is the core of your business.

Recommended tools for iOS:

  • XCode,
  • AppCode,
  • Atom.

Recommended tools for Android:

  • Android Studio,
  • Android IDE,
  • Intellij IDEA.

Hybrid mobile app

In comparison to native apps, hybrid app development is quite economical in terms of both time and cost. They run from within a native app, which has a built-in browser window, and renders the view of the app with the help of WebKit. Android uses WebView and for iOS, there is WKWebView.

You can download hybrid apps just like native apps. They also provide similar performance and user experience. The application development team embeds code written in web programming languages (HTML, CSS, and JavaScript) into the application using plugins such as Cordova. The challenge can be to deliver the desired quality of UX, access to device hardware, and user-friendly navigation. 

When to use hybrid solutions

A hybrid app can be a great option for emerging startups. The higher speed of development as well as much lower costs can be key so early on in a company’s lifecycle. If UX and performance is not a top priority for the app, going hybrid will be a better option than splurging on a native app.

Recommended tools:

  • Cordova

Cross-platform app

Many people mistakenly think that hybrid and cross-platform applications are the same thing. The similarity between both solutions is the sharing of code for each platform. However, the ability to run the same code on multiple platforms is unique to cross-platform solutions. 

With UX similar to native apps, a high level of security, and easy to maintain feature iterations, cross-platform apps have a clear advantage over hybrid solutions. The plethora of cross-platform libraries available and the popularity of this type of apps determine the rapid growth of this approach.

Cross-platform apps allow access to devices’ hardware resources. Sharing code across platforms significantly reduces the time and budget required to create an application that is very similar in operation to a native version. You can also download Cross-platform apps just like hybrid and native apps. It means that they you can distribute them through the App Store and Play Store.

When to use cross-platform solutions

If one of your key business goals is to reach users on multiple platforms at the same time, the project budget is limited, but performance and user experience are very important, then a cross-platform solution is the ideal approach for you. 

Recommended tools:

  • Flutter,
  • React Native,
  • Xamarin 

Foodsi – developing a mobile experience based on the client’s business situation

Foodsi is a socially responsible startup that helps reduce food waste. Through an attractive mobile marketplace, restaurant owners can sell excess food. At the same time consumers have the opportunity to buy it at lower prices.

When we began working on the project, it was clear that Foodsi’s previous vendor left them in bad shape. Due to heaps of spaghetti code, which is very difficult to maintain, the platform was difficult to scale. And it had to do so quickly – Foodsi had just acquired their first big fish client with a network of restaurants and bakeries.

We refactored existing features, mate the interface fast and intuitive, and advised Foodsi on how to make the project as cost-effective as possible. The results? We continue to support Foodsi as their long-term partner. In the meantime they have quadrupled their revenue and closed the funding round for further investments. Read the full case study to learn more.

Main takeaways

Developing mobile experiences is challenging before it even begins. Choosing the right technological solution for your business can have a major impact on your company’s growth.

  • Mobile apps are not a good investment for everyone, but the mobile market is growing – it’s the main source of online traffic.
  • If you can sacrifice performance and UX, consider a hybrid solution.
  • Cross-platform apps are often optimal, as they have native functionality at a lower price.
  • Mobile web solutions can be the right option when your budget is limited or when you don’t need to focus on mobile users first.
  • Developing a mobile app can be a pleasant experience with the right technological partner and the right strategy, Find out more about how to plan the development of your app.
  • And if you’d like to know what the mobile app development process looks like, check out our guide.

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