Mobile websites can be very sophisticated, often behaving much like an app. Then why create a native mobile app at all?

There are advantages and disadvantages with both mobile web sites and with native apps. Some organizations may only need a mobile web site; others may be better served by a native application, while others may need both.

Organizations that offer both a mobile website and native apps typically see 4-5 times more usage with the native apps over the mobile website.

These are some of the key considerations when deciding whether a mobile web site or a native application is right for your organization’s goals. Nomad’s platform approach allows immediate creation of a native application from exactly the same content if you decide to use a mobile web site today, but require a native application tomorrow.

Nomad’s solution makes it trivial to have both a mobile web site and native app, with each cross-promoting the other. There’s no extra maintenance effort as updates to one are immediately available to the other.

Ease of access

A native application is significantly easier for a visitor to find on their device compared to a mobile website – assuming you can convince them to download your app in the first place. A search-optimized mobile-friendly website is essential for first discovery, but after that users respond well to a mobile app if they’re going to need your information frequently (even if it’s just during a vacation).2. Richer user experienceA native app can offer interactive features that go beyond what is possible with a web site. A native app has access to the whole library of user interface controls supported by iOS or Android. For example, Nomad’s category search function with its tight map integration enables visitors to find points of interest using a combination of interest and proximity to the user’s present position.

Application speed

A native application has everything pre-installed on the device and is able to run as fast as the device allows, creating a better user experience. A mobile web site has to interact with the web server through the data network and is inherently slower. Try it yourself – download one of our applications and see how it works compared to a mobile web site viewed on the same device.

Cellular data coverage

A mobile web site by definition requires a cellular data network. Your area may not have full cellular data coverage, in which case a mobile web site’s usefulness will be limited those areas with coverage. A native app can be built to function without a cellular network.

Richer more intuitive maps

A mobile web site that uses Google or Apple’s embedded maps is restricted to five different icon types. This limits the type and amount of data that can be displayed on the map. A generic pin icon can be used, but this makes it difficult for the user to distinguish between the plotted points of interest. Alternate web-based solutions require heavy back-and-forth between the device and the server to render a complex map, which is much slower.

A native app is able to use the map library built into the device. This allows dynamic maps with virtually unlimited points of interest to be very quickly constructed and presented to the user with no lag. The native app also has finer control of how the user interacts with the map and its icons, providing a richer context sensitive user experience.

Offline Maps

A native application can use offline maps stored on the device. A Nomad app can use multiple zoomable offline maps allowing you to present different aspects of your area such as walking trail and bike paths, a historical perspective, or a stylized map of a downtown area. Nomad applications accurately place markers on whichever online or offline map is selected by the user.

Multimedia Content

The best travel applications use a lot of imagery, audio and video to communicate the essence and appeal of the destination – a picture paints a thousand words. A point of interest is more appealing when the user can visualize what it is like to be there. In our experience, more than 95% of an application’s size is its images, and a typical destination application has 50-100+MB of multimedia content. A mobile web site solution is required to download the images each time a point of interest is opened; this forces an editorial decision to balance the number of images that “sell” the point of interest against the time needed to download them. A native application can store the images locally, allowing an almost instantaneous display of a large number of images and videos as the user opens a point of interest.

Video streamed through a cellular data network is susceptible to network speeds and the power and bandwidth available to the streaming servers. Each user streaming video impacts the streaming servers, while the native application plays its video from local storage with no impact on or from your servers.

Reliability

A native application is standalone – it does not need a cellular data network or external services to function. Once installed, it will always work regardless of where and when the user uses it. A mobile web site, on the other hand, is susceptible to slowness or service unavailability. While the data networks are generally reliable there are many network components that impact how your visitors perceive your mobile web site and consequently your destination.