The best way to build an app has been the subject of fierce and intriguing debate. Professional and popular opinion is split into two main camps: those who favour ‘native’ and those who advocate ‘web based’ apps.

The difference is relatively simple: the native app is built for a mobile platform, whereas a web application can be used on a variety of different machines and hardware via an internet browser.

Ostensibly, the choice seems an obvious one – why create a native application which can only be used on, say, mobile devices, when you have the option of creating an application which can be used on iOS, Android, Linux, Mac and PC platforms?

With web capabilities continually evolving and now the dawn of HTML5, people are starting to wonder whether this marks the beginning of the end for the native app. Whilst this may initially appear to be a reasonable conclusion, it is important to look a little closer before nailing your flag to one mast or the other.

I was interested to read John Lech Johansen’s somewhat oversimplified views on this topic in a recent tweet where he voiced his support for HTML web apps. In a very bold statement he implied that web apps will supersede native apps, stating that by “next year HTML5 will replace native apps” altogether. A good headline, certainly, but a claim without a great deal of weight in my opinion.

Let’s consider why many users still prefer native apps. I like the software development consultant who recently commented in a Guardian article, using a greeting analogy to illustrate his views. The author quite rightly states that if web based apps only offer a “handshake” to the consumer, when native apps offer a “cuddle”, the latter will always win the day.

HTML5 and web may be convincing on paper and in engineering terms, but as far as I can see, native apps still appeal to the consumer. So, why are native apps still a firm favourite with the end user?

  • For users, both aesthetically and practically, a native app is more natural and easy-to-use
  • Native apps often have a quicker loading time
  • Native apps can more easily store data locally to the device, thus allowing you to go “off line” whilst using the app

Consequently, I would argue that native applications do still have the edge – at least with the user. However, does there really need to be a strict dichotomy between native versus web? Surely, it should be about using the best technology to put the user first and offering the best experience possible.

HTML5 certainly marks an important milestone in the web vs. native debate and native apps can’t afford to stand still. However, despite a semi-convincing argument on the part of the HTML5 supporters, I still find it hard to believe that next year will see the end of the ‘native’ applications which clearly still appeal to the user – and in my opinion, will continue to do so.