Apps are really good at reaching your users when they’re on the go …but do you need one? Let’s assume that you’ve done your homework and there are no off the shelf options that suit your needs. For most people a “mobile solution” means a native app that is downloaded to the mobile device.

Native apps are expensive – I’m talking tens of thousands of dollars to start kind of expensive. For some small and medium enterprises that’s their entire marketing budget for the next couple of years. So why should you spend all of this money on a native app? Does it need to be native, or is there some other solution? So how do you know?

“What will this app be used for?”

It is the first question we will ask if we’re discussing options with you and if your answer includes most of the words:

·       “locating”

·       “taking photos”

·       “using apple pay”

·       “tracking”


then you might want a native app

·       “viewing”

·       “searching”

·       “connecting”

·       “marketing”


then you might not want a native app.


You will usually realize within the first 10-15 minutes of this conversation if a native app is the right fit for you. In the past few months I have met with three different companies in three very different industries to talk about “well, we think we want an app… or something”:

  1. Company #1 wanted a tool that K-12 kids would use to learn about conservation. The client wanted it to be flexible enough to scale up or down in interactive complexity for the different age groups and customizable to change the content for each group.
  2. Company #2 wanted a tool that would combine internal and external communications to different audiences with different goals.
  3. Company #3 wanted a tool that would bridge the gap between personal wearables data and an expert medical assessment.

While a native app may have solved their problems, none of these three companies needed it to be native.

What are my options?

You may want a native app if… You may want a web app if…
·       If the solution to your problem requires the additional functionality of the smart phone such as the camera, motion sensing, location services, apple pay etc.

·       You need the solution to run without any access to the internet

·       It will be used over and over again by the same group, rather than just once

·       You want people to pay for it


·       You want the solution to be usable on both mobile and desktop devices

·       You want to be able to customize and manage the content internally

·       Your users will likely use the app once or twice, and then never again

·       You don’t want to pay subscription fees to the app stores

·       You don’t want to develop something for multiple operating system


That still doesn’t answer my question, I need things from both lists!

If you are in the same boat as Company #3 then a combination of native and web application (called a hybrid application!) that works together might be the best option.

The third company wanted a tool that would read personal health data (such as step counting and blood pressure) from its wearables. This data is analyzed and reported back to both the native mobile app for real time feedback use by the patient/user as well as feeding into the larger database where a team of physicians and scientists can assess the data against similar users. The goal is to provide immediate feedback and communicate with health professionals in order to prevent future health issues.

The user/patient has the native app downloaded and the app has access to personal heath data via the wearable. The health professional accesses the larger database through a responsive web app so it looks and feels like a native app downloaded to their device.

If you can dream it, we can do it. However, deciding what kind of app you need for your strategy is something that you must do. Honestly not every coffee shop and yoga studio needs a native application – a web app or responsive site will look, feel, and work just fine.


This article is part of UX101 – a series designed to educate and inspire complete UX newbies.