Earlier today I was at a job interview where the interviewer asked me what my opinion was as far as whether the future of mobile development lay in native apps or responsive web sites. Not those exact words but you get the idea. Sadly, I not only did not really answer the question but the answer I did provide involved a totally unrelated topic. (You gotta love interviews.) Anyway, I decided to poke around a bit and see what I could learn on the topic not only so that I can be a more educated developer but also to avoid making an arse of myself if it were to come up again in any future interview.
So what did I learn??? Which is the “best” implementation to pursue? What solution will pour the most success upon you and your enterprise? — the Magic 8-Ball says, “It depends.” It’s far from a black or white, up or down, yes or no issue. What might be the best solution depends on the nature of your “app”, what you’re trying to accomplish, and what resources you have available (funds, time, expertise, patience).
If you’re building the next, great, super-interactive, processing-intensive mobile game or application, or you need your “app” to function offline, or you want to push data to your users, or you require significant interaction with the device’s core functions (SMS, GPS, camera, etc.) then it’s pretty much a no-brainer (at least for now) — your destiny lies in native-app land. Otherwise you have serious thinking and self-reflection to do. And by the way, don’t be surprised if “both” seems like the best answer. It may very well be. And if it is, maybe you want to start with a responsive site and work your way up from there. Just saying.
As far as which solution will shine brightest in the future, I think it’s safe to say that it’s too hard to tell at this point. Mobile, web, and wireless technologies are all changing so fast it’s difficult to predict what will be possible a year out never mind five or ten. My interview question would not have even made any sense ten years ago. “What’s a mobile app?” “A what web site?” It may not make any more sense ten years from now.
Below is a cool infographic from tablexi.com that provides a very basic guide for starting the process of deciding which route may be best for your needs.