What is a mobile app?

With an ever growing library of mobile apps, there seems to be few limits to what businesses can do using mobile tools and products. In many ways, it’s never been easier to build a mobile app – but there is still some complexity to it. In this blog post, we will shed some light on the process of app development.

What is a mobile app?

A mobile app is defined as a software application developed specifically to be used on a handheld device such as a mobile phone or a tablet. It can be a genuine mobile app, created for the specific features of a mobile handset, or a mobile-optimised version of a website. Most mainstream apps are listed for purchase or free download on Apple’s App Store, Google Play (for Android devices), or the Microsoft Store.

 

App vs mobile website

Although mobile apps are becoming highly sought-after channels to engage with users, there are many businesses that choose to invest in mobile responsive websites instead of app development. A mobile responsive site is generated from the same core content as a normal website, but it provides the user with a customised experience as it adapts to their device.

So what option should your business choose? Well, it depends on your overall purpose with the service. Let’s take a look at the key benefits of each.

  1. The mobile app
    The app format lends itself well to things like interactive games, productivity tools or for using hardware functionality of the device itself such as the built-in camera. It is ideal for functions that only feature offline content and do not require an internet connection.
    A downloaded app can communicate with the user through push notifications, even when they are not actively using the application, which can improve user engagement.
    In many ways it is also easier to monetise a mobile app, if there is a genuine benefit to it that users are willing to pay for. Free apps are often sponsored by advertising, while paid-for apps can offer additional functionality at a charge.
  2. The mobile responsive website
    With a mobile website, however, your content is instantly accessible to a wide audience across all device types. The user can search and find your website using a standard search engine, and doesn’t need to download or install anything – which means they get immediate access to the information. Also, if you want to edit or upgrade the website, you can publish changes instantly without the user needing to upgrade their app locally. From the perspective of sharing, it is much easier for a user to post a link to a website than to share an app.

The three ways of creating a mobile app
As with computer software, there are different programming languages for creating apps for different platforms. Let’s look at three of the main avenues for creating apps and the tools and languages used:

 

  1. Build an app for each native platform
    When we talk about native platforms, we often refer to “the big three”: Apple (iOS), Android and Windows. Apps for these different platforms require different programming skills, which is one of the main challenges for rolling out a mobile app across all devices.
    This approach is often time consuming – and therefore expensive – but offers a great deal of control over the end result and app quality. On the flipside, it can be a major challenge to manage multiple teams to ultimately build exactly the same thing.

    • iOS
      Apps for iOS are built in Objective-C, which is a language based on C and which uses much of its syntax, or Swift – a newer language, easier to maintain and due to eventually replace Objective-C.
    • Android
      Android apps are most commonly programmed in Java, often using the Android software development kit (SDK) which is a specific set of tools for creating and testing the application.
    • Windows
      Windows mobile apps are most commonly developed using C# and the .NET framework. With the arrival of Windows 10, all Windows devices can now in theory run the same applications, but it is important to ensure a joined-up user experience across all interfaces.
  2. Use a native cross platform tool
    Instead of building the same app three times for three different platforms, these same native apps can be developed using a cross-platform tool such as Xamarin. When creating an app in Xamarin, the code is directly converted into native code for iOS, Android and Windows. This is an excellent way of ensuring a more predictable development process in terms of time and budget.
    Xamarin has quickly become the development tool of choice for millions of businesses, as it allows them to use the same teams and skillsets throughout the entire app development project – while maintaining the true native functionality of each platform.
  3. Use a HTML5 to App converter
    For low-budget projects that require an app output to be created quickly and with limited development, it’s possible to use a cross-platform HTML5 to App converter such as PhoneGap. This framework does not require any skills in native app development, but instead generates the app through the input of web development languages such as HTML, CSS and JavaScript. Although it may be cost-effective in terms of production, a hybrid app built in PhoneGap is prone to perform slower and often lacks the fluidity and responsiveness of the native app.

 

Whatever the mobile project your business embarks on, do ensure that you have a clear vision of what the final outcome needs to be and what the most cost-effective solution would look like for you. As a trusted development partner, we work with our clients to weigh up cost, timescales, and functionality to help them determine the optimum route to take on their development journey.

We’d be happy to have an exploratory conversation around your mobile app needs. Contact us today!