Designing and Developing for Mobile Web vs. Native App

One question that is coming up quite a bit these days is whether a company should develop a native app or design around the mobile web for their service.  Does the company A) develop around a fluid mobile browser strategy that their service will work on most smart phone, B) develop an app for one device (like the iPhone) and use a fluid mobile strategy for other potential smart phones or C) develop a native app for a number of devices?

If the company decided to go with Strategy B or C and the decision was based on the largest number of users and with a goal toward future-proofing, the logical choice would be to design for the Android platform first and the iPhone second according to Nielsen’s graph of market share of recent acquires. Android seems to be gaining a huge market share.

Looking at another study that was seen in GIGAOM comparing the results of developer interest the iPhone and Android Phone, it paints a different picture of iPhone first and Android second.  It seems like there’s a hard philosophical division between those that hate Apple and those that are big fans. Business Insider polled a number of their users and came to the same conclusion of those that will only buy Android vs those that love Apple.  Another interesting bit of data collected from their poll talked about how important the platform and features were for them to keep updating their smartphones.

One fairly easy data pull (though not completely conclusive) is to look at the popularity of smartphone cameras being used in Flickr. When a person uploads a photo to Flickr, it is sent with the underlying metadata that contains camera information.  Compiling this information, we see that the iPhone has a huge market share while Android is almost non-existent. Sure there are other photo sites out there that Android people might be using, but in the Flickr world, there’s a huge gap between the iPhone owner’s behavior and Android owner’s behavior. Could this represent other apps usage as well? Are Android users less likely to use native apps?

Going back to Strategy A, a restaurant reservation site talks about designing around the mobile web first in this article from Mobile Commerce Daily: OpenTable exec: Forget about apps until mobile Web site is complete.  What we’ve observed with a mobile web first strategy is that it allows a company to quickly test what works and what doesn’t and find out what platforms their specific users have.

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