This may not be welcome news to mobile app developers, but a recent report released by the market research firm ABI Research shows that the long-term trend in mobile app downloads is negative. Slowly but surely, the demand for mobile native apps will decline in favor of mobile web applications.
HTML5 enabled mobile web applications are driving this trend, as the evolution of this modern web standard has closed the gap in functionality between web and native apps. While there are still some limitations to what is possible on the mobile web, many content and media providers like the Financial Times have already made the shift towards an HTML5 based mobile web platform. ABI Research sees this trend continuing for many news and magazine app providers. News and media apps already account for a large share of mobile consumer usage, so this sector alone can drive the long-term overall trend. Mobile web technology may not work so well for other app categories, like games utilities. In those sectors, ABI Research sees continued usage of mobile native apps.
Although it’s clear that more and more mobile development will move towards web platforms, it doesn’t mean that there still won’t be a need for native apps that can take full advantage of the hardware inside of mobile devices. And the decision between native and web doesn’t have to be black and white, as we’re seeing a trend of ‘hybrid’ apps that leverage both native and web platforms. Services like PhoneGap already allow developers to combine the power of native app access with the convenience of web technology and HTML5.
What does this mean for mobile app developers? Just as we’ve seen the shift from desktop software to web-based applications, we’ll see a shift from native apps to mobile web apps. Both approaches come with their own strengths and weaknesses, and as a mobile app developer you’ll have to evaluate your desired solution and use the right tool for the job. The first place to start in deciding your approach is with the customer and the desired user experience. Once you have a clear understanding of how the end user will use your solution, you’ll know whether a native app or a web app is the right approach for you.