November 25, 2012
If you agree that native apps will offer the better user experience (and I believe that, with practically zero exceptions, they will), the gut instinct is to build out native apps for your chosen mobile platforms. But which platforms? Well, you need an iPhone and iPad app, and you need to support both the retina and non-retina versions of each, and yeah, Android support is pretty important these days, and maybe a lot of your target uses Windows on the desktop so you want to cover your bases with a Windows RT client.
You've just signed up for about 10 developer-years of extremely expensive effort. If your business is still in the "if we build it they will come" stage, this is probably ill-advised.
The TimeTiger web client running in mobile Safari
So maybe for now, you can put optimal user experience on the back-burner and develop a nice mobile-friendly responsive web site. This comforting idea is a dangerous illusion, as:
Your choices boil down to diving into the bottomless pit of native mobile development or sacrificing your app at the altar of crappy user experience. Not ideal.
The only way forward is to consider, deeply, your users. What are they using now, what are their expectations and what are they willing to accept in order to gain the functionalty you're offering?
"What you tolerate defines your community." - Heather Champ at Web Directions South 2012
If you are developing an app targeted at a design-conscious, consumer audience whose attention you need to grab and hold, it is absolutely essential that you provide a magical and delightful experience. Don't trick yourself into believing that HTML5 is enough: learn from Facebook's mistake.
On the other hand, if you're providing a hard-core business tool where the appeal is in the actual functionality or data you're offering, you can probably get by with a responsive web solution for now. If your users are thankful just to be able to get what you've offering on their device, no matter the form, you're good. If your users are typically not very design conscious, in that they don't care whether you have nice smooth transitions between pages and maybe can't even tell whether they're looking at a retina device or not, you're good.
Good for now because everybody likes to use great software, even when they aren't consciously aware of what makes the software great in the first place. All things being equal, a competitor will eventually develop a native experience that, even if it provides less functionality, will still start pulling users away from you. Unless and until browser technology improves and converges, providing your mobile experience in the form of responsive HTML5 is a shunt: good enough for now, but that's it.