Digital transformation

Demand for native apps has gone too far

January 28, 2022 - 5 minutes reading time
Article by Newsroom Insights

Why do companies and organizations ask for a native app by default? Responsive web applications are often more practical and cheaper to develop and maintain. What would Mark Zuckerberg do if he started Facebook right now? And which app is best protected against hackers?

Modern business applications are used in any place and on any device. For companies and organizations, the question always arises: do I have a native app developed for the appstores? A responsive web application that works on my browser? Or a hybrid?

No winner

"There's a reason all these options still exist. It's because we don't have one clear winner," says computer science lecturer Bart van der Wal of HAN University of Applied Sciences. "All the big players in the IT world use apps, but small companies often don't have the resources and manpower to make an app for every platform and go for a responsive web application. Many business apps work just fine that way. Even games are sometimes played through the browser."

When app was still an application

Simon Hanemaaijer, product manager HR services at Centric HR & Payroll Solutions, saw several trends in app development over the past few decades. In the early years of this century, an app was still just an application on the desktop PC. In the years after 2006, apps moved from the desktop to the Internet. "There was a huge push to go to the web. Applications had to be mostly browser-based," he says. "Now we see that reversing and the demand for native apps is growing again."

‘A responsive webapp will do just fine in many cases and is much more affordable'

‐ Simon Hanemaaijer, product manager HR-services

Pushed too far

Hanemaaijer saw how companies and organizations, especially after the rise of the smartphone and the tablet, started to prefer native apps for mobile devices. According to him, this trend has gone too far. Especially when it comes to business applications, for example in the HR world. "Apps that you use to request leave or fill in declarations are not used daily by most users, but usually once a month. That's true for a lot of applications. There are only a few people who use them often. Do you have to develop and install a native app for that?", he wonders.

Double costs

An app like that must be developed for both iOS and Android and sometimes also for the web. That means double costs. "You have to be sure that the business case is right and that you will earn that money back," says Hanemaaijer. "It only works if the demand is very high or if you need to be able to work offline via the app, for example. When developing an application, it is therefore wise to first determine what it is intended for and how often it will be used. Immediately saying 'I want an app' is certainly not logical from a cost and user experience perspective."

Alternative

For companies and organizations for whom the double costs are too high, but who nevertheless want an app that can be used on all devices, there is a great alternative: the responsive web application. This runs via a browser on the Internet and adapts to the device and the size of the screen. Whether it is used on a PC or a smartphone. "The advantage is that you don't have to pay twice and users don't have any problems getting used to it, because the functionalities are always the same. The only disadvantage is that you can't work offline on it," Hanemaaijer says.

Hybrid apps

According to Van der Wal, there are also intermediate forms. For example, a cross-platform app, which automatically adapts to the platform for which it is intended. Or a progressive web app, a website that behaves as an app. The hybrid app, a combination of a native and a web app, is also popular. That works on both iOS and Android, so you don't have to build two separate apps. "Not every app needs to be taken from the appstores. Even with a responsive web app, you get an icon on your computer. In many cases this is fine and it is much more affordable because you avoid duplicate development work. The important thing is to guide your customers in this," he says.

Mark Zuckerberg

The computer science lecturer always tells his students the story of the start of Facebook. "When Mark Zuckerberg started there at the beginning of the century, he really only wanted to build a responsive web application, but that wasn't possible at the time. Years later, he might make different choices, because technology has advanced a lot and more and more is possible," Van der Wal says.

Multiple teams

What applies to business applications, does not apply to games. They often work fastest and best on native apps. For users, they are best found in the appstores. "The problem is just that you incur three times the cost and need three times as many people for a native app," says CTO Youri Trugg of Miniclip Netherlands, developer and publisher of mobile and online games. Miniclip Netherlands has multiple multidisciplinary teams in which all the expertises of iOS, Android and web must be covered. "In 2014 we laid the foundation for the current codebase, but with the current capabilities we would rather choose a cross-platform app from a cost perspective," he says.

Security

Responsive web applications may win out over native apps in terms of cost, but what about security and protection from hackers? According to the experts, that doesn't make much of a difference. Both variants can be equally well secured, although native apps offer more levers for this, according to Van der Wal. With both variants, there is a risk that hackers will figure out the code. "It depends on the design. It's a myth that web applications are more secure than native apps," says IT security consultant Usman Saeed of Centric. According to him, most apps should be tested according to the top 10 security risks and the mobile top 10 of the Open Web Application Security Project (OWASP).

Only advanced hackers can find a weakness in the native app itself, according to him, but if the app is coded correctly, they wouldn't be able to get very far. "That's why you have to have a good security mindset to develop apps. Everything has to be secure,” says Saeed. “Not just the app, but the interface, the API. That is often the most vulnerable."

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