Thinking of building your own mobile app?
I’ve had a number of conversations recently with business owners who are either looking for something special to attract new businesses, or beginning a new venture.
Without fail, every time, the first question they ask me – how much will “my sweet app” cost to build? And even if it isn’t the FIRST question, something along those lines always comes up.
It’s a difficult question to answer – mostly because the term “app” is so difficult to define. Let me explain.
There are three fundamental ways to get some presence on a mobile devices.
- Build a native App – this is what people generally think of when they think App – it’s installed from the relevant App Store (iOS, Android, Windows).
- Build a mobile web App – this is a “non App” app – you simply build a website that is very mobile friendly, or with “mobile-first” design. It feels like it was built for your device, but you access it within an internet browser.
- Build a hybrid native/web App – this one is considered a super cheat! You are essentially building a native App which just acts as a portal to an underlying web app.
There are advantages and disadvantages of all three options.
In the most general sense, a native App will give your users the best user experience, but they are also VERY expensive to build, distribute, and support. For instance – an App to run on iOS devices and Android devices would require double the work, two sets of design, development, testing, support, and updates! The user experience is good – but often not worth it unless you have tens of thousands of dollars to throw at the problem.
The cheapest option is the mobile web App. This does not give your users as nice of an experience – savy users will know that they are on a webpage. But it is much cheaper to develop (i.e. you only need to develop once, for all platforms – including a desktop version!), much easier to distribute (no App Store approval required), and design changes are instant etc. However, this version also does not handle “offline” modes as well as the other options.
The middle of these two options is the hybrid. The hybrid essentially creates a local App which acts as a window to view your mobile friendly web app on the device. It feels like it’s installed on the device, but it’s not. Hybrid apps still require the App store for distribution, but the “App” that is installed is tiny, and very rarely requires updates. I.e. updates happen on the underlying web app that you maintain. The cost of a hybrid sits somewhere in the middle based on the complexity of the thing that you’re trying to build.